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How to carefully execute a forced exit

by on
in Career Management,Workplace Communication

When Olympus Corp. CEO Michael C. Woodford got fired recently, he fought back by going to the press with claims of financial wrongdoing by the company. Olympus cited other reasons for the firing.

Woodford, as whistle-blower, told the press his version of events and even handed over documents that backed up his story. Probes followed, which brought down Olympus’ stock and led to dismissals of other execs at the company.

Woodford believed that staying quiet would have tarnished his reputation. “A lot of people think I am mad,” for speaking out, he admits. “You can hurt yourself by doing the right thing.”

His is a lesson in how to carefully orchestrate a forced exit.

How to preserve your reputation after being fired—and land on your feet:

1. Retain a public relations advisor before you really need it. Example: The day after Carol Bartz, former CEO of Yahoo, was fired, she called Yahoo directors “doofuses.” Though she later hired a crisis-communications pro, it was a little late to minimize the hit.

2. Have a hand in publicly explaining your exit. What will the corporate announcement say is the official reason for your departure? And what sort of legacy will it say you’re leaving behind?

One strategy: Delay agreement on your severance package until your em­­­­ployer agrees to include in the announcement the points you want included, suggests Gail Meneley, co-founder of career-transition firm Shields Meneley Partners.

3. Let powerful allies come to your defense. Brief acquaintances about why you left and what your strengths are, so they can help alert potential employers.

Example: When Hewlett-Packard let go CEO Mark Hurd, Oracle Corp chief Larry Ellison sent The New York Times an email deploring the HP decision and praising Hurd for “a brilliant job.”

4. Encourage others to look into your ousting.

“When you’re pushed from the executive suite, inviting outside scrutiny is a very intelligent move,” says leadership consultant Gail Golden. “It reflects confidence that you are a class act.”

— Adapted from “Damage Control for a Forced Exit,” Joann S. Lublin, The Wall Street Journal.

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