Quitting: How to exit gracefully

By Anne Fisher, contributor


FORTUNE -- Ray Ozzie, who is departing his job as chief software architect at Microsoft, has stirred up a big buzz in the blogosphere with a lengthy farewell post dubbed "Dawn of a New Day." The title is borrowed from the 1939 World's Fair, which, as Ozzie notes, took place at a time of economic tumult yet "evoked broad and acute hope" of "a glorious future."

So let's say you too are an executive who's heading out the door. Should you follow Ozzie's lead and write a detailed disquisition about the state of your industry?

Probably not, says John Beeson, principal at New York City-based Beeson Consulting. Ozzie's long good-bye, outlining what he sees as the future of computing, is "very unusual", Beeson says. "It seems a bit defensive. It's obviously an attempt to establish his legacy."

Beeson coaches executives and draws up succession plans for clients like General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Dell (DELL, Fortune 500), Aetna (AET, Fortune 500), and Fidelity Investments. He's also the author of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level.

Far more typical than Ozzie's discourse is "a brief good-bye email" to the world at large, Beeson says, and a private meeting "where you say good-bye in person to your team."

"If you feel you must put your farewell in writing, keep it short, sweet, and to the point. These days, you never know when something could go viral. People will be looking to read between the lines, so give them fewer lines to read between."

The first step in a successful exit is to "agree on a story line. What will the company say about why you're leaving? It's best if you can portray it as a mutual decision."

By Beeson's lights, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) chief Steve Ballmer hit a home run with his all-staff email: "By praising Ozzie's achievements, signaling that his leaving is a mutual choice, and reassuring people about a smooth transition, he covered all the bases."

Above all, he adds, "you want to avoid strong emotions, or any suggestion of rancor or intrigue. These are red flags to recruiters and prospective employers."

Of course, Ray Ozzie "isn't your average bear," Beeson notes. "He doesn't have to worry about finding his next job." To top of page