The Exit Strategy – 5 Positive Steps for a Long Game

Mar 12, 2024

You Need an Exit Strategy

When a key worker quits or retires, businesses can be left bereft in more than one way.

The owner or decision-maker in a business prepares the strategy for the operation, growth and health of their business.

They already have in their mind what they want to do about the business when they feel the need to step back, step out or sell, so the strategy takes this into account.

[If you haven’t considered this, now is a good time!]

However, employees also want to retire, change roles, have an easier life. When they want this to happen is largely up to them. A company that understands its own employees as human beings as well as working staff will have a good handle on this.

[If you don’t, it really is time to start having a meaningful conversation or two!]

But all too often, someone that you rely on in the business decides that they’ve had enough or want a change, and at that point you start to realise what impact that’s going to have in many ways, including social and financial.

What can you do? Here are five steps to keep on top of it.

1 Don’t Lock the Door!

Image shows high security lock on door with door left open - not blocking departing employees from ever returning

The instinctive reaction to anyone who says they want to leave, is to find a way to make them stay and maintain the status quo. This can be from offers of increased pay and perks, change of job function. Sometimes this can work, but it’s only temporary. The status quo has gone, and the relationship is changed. Sooner or later the decision will make itself more resolute.

The main thing is: You didn’t see that coming!

Sometimes, an employee leaves and after a period wants to return – possibly the grass wasn’t so green on the other side, or their circumstances have changed. But in the interim, they’ve acquired experience and knowledge that you may find invaluable, so don’t lock them out.

2 People are an Investment not a Cost

Most businesses will say that their people are an asset, and they invest in them.

Investment comes in different forms, such as perks and benefits through to training for the future.

Many businesses just focus on specific job-related training, but where an employee shows a desire to branch out into more personal development, there’s a reasonable case that their selected training could bring a return on your investment through new services and skills, but at least it’s an investment in goodwill.

Image shows display screen with financial market figures in different colours to represent growth or reduction. This also applies to investment in employees and people.

Even mature employees benefit from investment in their development, so they shouldn’t be written off.

Interestingly though, the workforce only ever appears on the financial records as a “cost”.

Where is the asset value of the people? A topic for another time.

3 Tame the Time Paradox

Time is a precious commodity and is something that we can never get back, so we need to use it wisely. Many small business owners spend a lot of time working in and managing their business, because that is where they see the tangible value is for their time. Strategic planning is often relegated to “spare time”, which isn’t spare at all.

However, the majority of strategic planning centres on profitability and cash flow, but only provides a passing recognition of the value that each employee can add as a person. In reality, the flexibility of the human beings in your business means that investment in those people WILL benefit profitability and cash flow, but it also adds stability and is self-regenerating.

Unfortunately, the greatest investment needed is time, and you don’t have a lot of that spare, do you?

Image shows man's wrist with watch. Man is making an adjustment to the displayed time. Time cannot be recovered so using it wisely to prepare a strategy is a good idea.

4 Locate Your “Spare Keys”

Not the security feature, but people.

Once you identify who are your key employees, you can begin to share and transfer knowledge and wisdom to other members of your team so that in the event of the loss of that central hub of skill, there are others who can step in.

Of course, you’ll never be able to replicate your key workers – and why would you want to, because their unique application may not be the only way – but retaining the skills in-house means that you won’t experience the bump so badly.

Image showing mix of informally-dressed adults being briefed at a stand-up meeting in room with brick walls. These are the key personnel in a business.

When we start on our career journeys, we might be enthusiastic to learn, but once seen as an expert, it’s tempting to make sure you’re indispensable. Bizarrely, people like to share their knowledge when they feel secure in their job and when they don’t want to be on call all of the time anymore. The idea of mentoring someone who’s interested in making our lives easier becomes more attractive.

Having an understanding of what your key workers want to do allows you to anticipate and build in their exit strategy. They’ll even help you do it because their departure won’t make them feel guilty, they would probably relish the extra responsibility and authority, and because they won’t be responsible for having to carry out these tasks, they’ll probably spot some improvements that someone else would be more willing to adapt to.

5 Plan for the Transition

Image shows arms and hands of people around a pine table with papers, a laptop, notepads and coffees. Discussion of a plan is in progress.

With the knowledge that these life changes are certain to take place, and the planning to make sure that you have some level of control, you’re creating a managed transition so your business can move forward without experiencing major shocks or undermining its reputation.

You might even find that your key workers or senior team would want to continue to input and share their skills, but on a less onerous basis, which could be a win-win for everyone.

Articulating an intent to depart the company can be a personal wrench to the employee themselves, and also to their colleagues. Opening up the conversation at an early time to start creating an exit strategy is quite healthy and needn’t be seen as a disloyal or treacherous act.

Of course, for the busy business owner, finding or making the time to find out what your employees plan for their own futures and what their strengths and aspirations within your business are, can be an impossible task.

You don’t want to leave it until time creeps up on you and your best worker suddenly announces they want to pack it in and go and live on an alpaca farm in Peru for their retirement.

Give MAT a call and we’ll find you some additional time you didn’t know you had, and we’ll even help to put some of your ideas into reality.