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Exit Or Egg-Sit

Exit_signSteve Alford announced last week that he was leaving his head coach position of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes Men's Basketball team and was heading to New Mexico.  Nobody around here seems to care much.  Give it a year from now, and (regardless of the new coach's performance) people will be saying, "Steve who?"  The long and the short is that he overstayed his welcome.

Why the animosity?  Well, Alford hasn't really been doing the best job for the past few years (some would argue, since he arrived here).  He leaves with a losing record in the Big 10 conference over 9 years of coaching.  His legacy is one of mediocrity.  He started out with a lot of promise, but it all just sort of fizzled over time, and people tired of him quickly.

I've been talking recently with a few people who are considering employer switches.  Surprisingly, there is very little out there on the topic of creating a good exit strategy.  Even my two favorite career advice sources, Penelope Trunk and David Lorenzo, both had alarmingly little advice, and even then I had to go back to last July to find anything relevant on their sites.  I'm not dogging either of them, mind you, but I did find it surprising, given that around 2/3 of the American public is dissatisfied with their jobs and would switch, according to the Herman Group.  A lot of people have advice for finding the right job, but few have advice for leaving the current one.

One problem is that each exit is unique; hence, giving blanket advice on how to exit in a short blog post is difficult (but Penelope comes darn close).  I'd like to offer some suggestions for helping you understand when it's time to leave the job, the department, the project, or the organization:

  1. When it becomes physically and emotionally painful to go to work.  If it's become so bad that your very wellbeing is adversely impacted, it is seriously time to think about an exit strategy from your job.  Nobody needs to work themselves to death.
  2. When it becomes obvious that it's just a bad fit.  That doesn't mean that you are bad, or that your employer is bad.  It just means that the two of you should not be together.
  3. When you've tapped out your value proposition.  This is a hard one to admit, because nobody likes to think that they are not adding value.  If your primary job contribution is "cubicle warmer" then you may want to consider the factors that brought you to the position in the first place.  If the only praise on your last review was "remembers the inhale-exhale sequenc without prompting" then it is time to update the resume.
  4. When a "dive" is inevitable.  If you know that the company, project, or department is going down in flames, unless you've made some kind of sweet golden parachute contractual agreement, don't be a martyr.  Too many good people stay in bad organizations until the bitter end... and in the end, they're bitter.
  5. When there's another opportunity.  You are your own career project champion.  If somebody presents you with a legitimately sweet deal, and you honestly think it will help your career, go for it.  Playing it safe has a time and a place.  If opportunity knocks, it's occasionally OK to throw open the door and go running into its arms with wild abandon.
  6. When you perceive a significant lack of integrity.  I've been in situations where my superiors' integrity has been called into question.  The bottom line is that it stinks worse than semester-old gym socks stuffed in a locker.  If you don't trust those who direct your day-to-day activities, there is very little to remedy it.
  7. When there is no direction.  A lack of leadership is frustrating for all involved.  If you don't know where you are or where you're going, then the answers should be:  A.  At my desk updating my resume, and B.  to the best fit next employer I can find.

HdwallSteve Alford, for all intents and purposes, has been not much more than an over-glorified Humpty-Dumpty for the past three or four years.  It's a good thing he found a job and resigned.  I doubt he had too many minutes left on his parking meter.  He was a fragile egg, sitting precariously atop a very shaky wall.

(By contrast, may I point out the splendid job Tom Davis of Drake University did with transitioning his coaching job to his son, Keno.  Once again, go Bulldogs.)


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Dr. Tom is a class act, any way you cut it.

Hunter Arnold

Great tips, Timothy. I think what a lot of these point to is a lack of passion for and dedication to the situation an employee is currently in. It is indeed a case-by-case situation, but you've identified many ways in which a lack of passion can identify itself.

I've attempted to offer some suggestions at my own blog on the best ways to leave a job. It is hard to prescribe the best way to quit without individual context, which probably explains the lack of advice out there. Perhaps Alford would've had a more successful exit had he run across some sound advice earlier in his tenure at Iowa!

Timothy Johnson

Dana - who WOULDN'T love Dr. Tom? Drake is lucky to have the Davis "boys"

Hunter - great observations! I checked out your site, and you have some insightful and useful tips there on career management. Well worth checking out.

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