Lessons from the Past 38: Can Exits Be Pleasant?
In a changing world, exits from personal and commercial relationships need to be pleasant. Or, as pleasant as can be, in the given circumstances. Fifty years ago, there were not as many exits as they are now. Also, the possibility of the two parties crossing paths with each other were remote. Not any longer. 
 
With more frequent job changes, with turnarounds within corporations, with greater interaction among the sexes—socially and in the workplace - exits from relationships are more frequent. Therefore, it is important how one deals with them—to preserve one’s own sanity and to improve the general mood!
 
I had friends in college—Rohit and Anita—who were friendly through all the four years in college—and thereafter too, when they had graduated and found jobs. But strangely, this relationship of over six years came to an abrupt end. We never asked ourselves – Why? 
 
Some years later, they both married different people that they met and liked—and got on with their lives. I still meet them 40 years later at social functions, where we are all invited together – and I notice that the two couples get on very nicely. It would seem to have been a pleasant exit—even though it was an association of over six years. 
 
More recently, I had a relative, a young man who met and married a charming young lady after a one-year courtship. We all thought it was an ideal couple—and we were all so happy. The marriage lasted only two months! They separated and filed for divorce. 
 
What happened? 
 
We don’t know or dare not ask! They have both gone their different ways. Neither talk to each other—or meet. As a contrast to Rohit/Anita, this was an unpleasant exit!
 
When I resigned my job as marketing executive in Glaxo, after a stint of six years, having started as the first management trainee (MT) in the company from India, there was both shock and disappointment. 
 
They expected MTs, selected after a long and difficult process, to have a long relationship with the company. It was so gracious of the staff of the sales department to organise a farewell tea meeting in the canteen with nearly a hundred people—and presided over by Mr McKinnon, the managing director (MD).
 
He said in his speech that my resignation was a sign. “A bell had been rung - that other in the industry were keen to pick up people from Glaxo - and now they should therefore be careful to ensure proper career advancement, especially for this group.  However, what is done is done. Glaxo will wish Walter the very best in his future career and thank him for the contribution he has made to the company during his tenure.” 
 
A pleasant exit! 
 
And I remember Glaxo and McKinnon fondly even now, as I look back!
 
Rohan, in another company, however, had a very different experience. He had resigned after a three-year stint with a multinational. 
 
When he was selected, he had been promised promotion from general manager to vice-president (VP), provided he achieved the set targets of performance. He did. 
 
But the chief executive officer (CEO) did not keep his word. He brought in a VP from outside, to whom Rohan would have to report. 
 
Reason: Rohan was too young (but the CEO had known his age all this time!). 
 
When Rohan resigned four months later to take up a job as VP in another company in the same industry, the MD was shocked. He took it as a personal affront—that Rohan could 'slap back' and so fast! 
 
So he tried to find out where Rohan was going. Rohan pleaded with him that he would tell him before he left—but not so much in advance. There was still a three-month notice period during which the MD wanted him to stay and work. 
 
On continuous insistence by the MD, Rohan finally told him the name of a company (and this was false). Right enough, five days later, he came to know that his MD had phoned the MD of the company he had named and told him that he was making a mistake recruiting Rohan—and he would be wise to keep him out. 
 
But when the MD found that that he had been misled, he was furious. But shamelessly, he tried again. 
 
He told Rohan that he knew he had bluffed him earlier—but where was he joining? Again, Rohan bluffed him. 
 
And they went through the same process again. Now, the MD was really angry with Rohan and with himself too! Finally, Rohan left after the notice period and moved on. 
 
But it was a most unpleasant exit!
 
All the time in life we have the opportunity to make exits in relationships—pleasant or unpleasant. The unpleasant ones just make you bitter and unhappy, and do not achieve the purpose of making this a better world. In the commercial world, there is, of course, the palliative remedy of the 'exit interview' which helps to make future exits less unpleasant—and keeps the 'human connect' as strong as possible. 
 
In the present environment, we should at least focus on improving our skills at exit interviews- beyond our study of entry interviews. In the new age, exit may be as important as the entry!
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
 
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