When Career Transitions Go Sideways, Keep it Cool

by | Dec 19, 2020 | Career, Career Transition, Leadership, Networking | 0 comments

The social contract between employer and employee that was in place for generations has pretty much fallen by the wayside. In the past, people worked in one company for a lifetime believing that the company would “take care of them”. Today’s C-Suite needs to be prepared for a bumpy exit no matter how unlikely he or she may think it is.

Don’t believe me? Here are just a few stories of some of our clients:

A CEO of a $400M healthcare company was fired without warning. The news was leaked to the press before he could reach his family. A local television reporter called his home, his 16-year-old daughter answered, and the reporter asked, “How do you feel about your father being fired?”

If that doesn’t make your stomach turn just a bit, how about this one:

The chief operating officer of a private company had been promised that he would succeed the chief executive officer when the time came for a leadership transition. The founders called him into a previously unscheduled meeting, fired him on the spot without cause and then dared him to do something about it, saying: “We are not going to honor anything in your contract. If you don’t like it, sue us.”

These are just two of the many stories we have heard from our clients and each one makes us angry because it is avoidable.

No matter how poorly a termination is handled you must keep your cool. Take it in, control your emotions, let the person know that you need time to process what you have been told, and terminate the meeting as soon as you can. It is important to remember that every action you take while in, and after that meeting, may well determine everything that happens later.

Most of the clients who come to us are at the top of the leadership ladder – a Board Member, a CEO, a direct report to the CEO, or a Division Officer – but no matter who they are, they need a solid reference from the organization they are leaving. It is important to maintain a professional business demeanor because that is the final and lasting image that people will have of you. No one wants to help an executive who “kicks the furniture” on the way out the door.

Listen. I get it. We are all human and we’ve had situations where we let our emotions get the best of us. But don’t let this situation be one of those situations. How?

Breathe. Reach out to us. Using our confidential process, we can debrief you and help you understand what happened and examine appropriate next steps. We will ask a lot of important questions.  How was the situation presented? Who was in the room? How did they present it? What did you hear? How did you react to it? If we sense that our client took the low road, we offer solid counsel on how to regroup. Most senior executives are smart enough not to do anything rash or make idle threats, but they are justifiably upset – particularly if they didn’t see the termination coming.   But, our client has to go back to his or her former boss, apologize for the emotional response, and ask for their help to make the dissolution of the partnership as fair and equitable as possible to both sides.

Our clients have small but highly influential inner circles. When they later run into friends and colleagues, they are often asked, “What really happened?” It is our role to make sure that our clients have that answer ready to go – a truthful, carefully constructed, positive (or at least neutral) story that provides an opportunity to say good things about both the company and herself or himself.

After all, job loss is viewed as one of the top three most stressful situations in a person’s life – preceded only by the emotional disruption of a death and or divorce. That is why if you can’t rush through or repress the healing process that is required. Our team of coaches, advisers and executives have significant P&L expertise and understand the unique needs of the C-Suite. Armed with that knowledge and understanding, we help clients neutralize the emotion that can be so close to the surface when someone asks why he or she left. Once we have achieved that, clients will be ready to re-enter the marketplace with confidence.

Once that emotion is resolved, these very smart, talented and successful people begin to regain their perspective about who they are and what they have accomplished during the careers. As the process moves forward they will say, “Good grief. I’m not so bad, am I?” Or “Wow! I’ve really got a lot done, haven’t I?” They also recognize that they are in good company, because transitions are part of the risk/reward equation that is part of any top job.

Then it’s time to prepare for interviewing by developing compelling stories about the challenges they faced during different parts of their career, what actions they took to resolve them, and the results of their actions. This puts the “fire back in the belly” and they are ready to engage in finding the next opportunity.

This phase includes developing relationships by reaching out to those they know and meet, expanding their scope of influence, and interviewing for roles that are interesting and challenging. When negotiating for that that new role we are behind the scenes conducting compensation studies, recommending employment lawyers to review contracts (with appropriate severance provisions) , and developing a detailed On-Boarding Plan to ensure early success.

Signing on the bottom line to accept that new role is a moment we all relish and celebrate together. These men and women have learned from what came before, increased their self-knowledge, and developed fresh insight into what the market needs. They also know they can handle any unexpected change to their employment status with confidence.