Being told your position is redundant is a difficult conversation for anyone. For many in senior executive roles, added to the personal disruption and uncertainty is the more visible and public nature of their departure. The way in which they leave the organisation is critical, for the executive themselves and for their employer.
Executive transition coaching helps those in senior roles to work through the emotional and practical issues associated with redundancy. It takes a highly skilled coach, but the results can be truly transformational – helping the individual to see new possibilities and helping the organisation to retain and even enhance its reputation.
From stigma to sharing
When the outplacement industry started, driven by the US bank mergers and acquisitions of the 1950s and 60s, redundancies of senior people were handled like state secrets. Everything was very ‘hush hush’, done on the quiet and kept in the background. Help may have been offered, but if so, it was focussed primarily on avoiding the community finding out that the person had been ‘fired’. There was a massive stigma and shame to not having a job and people went to great lengths to craft a story to explain their circumstances.
Since the 2000s, the business community has understood that redundancy is the new norm for many people, and that it doesn’t have to be hidden away. Which in turn means that help can be offered, and accepted, in a far more open and healthy way.
The challenge of vulnerability
Nan Dow, Executive Leadership and Career Coach and Director of RiseSmart’s Executive Practice in Australia and New Zealand, is one of the country’s leading experts in the field of executive transition coaching. Her experience has given her an in-depth insight into how senior people react to the news that their position is no more;
“When an executive faces the transition-point of redundancy, the challenge is about so much more than just finding the next job”, she explains. “There may be complex emotional issues, vulnerability and challenges to beliefs, self-image and resilience. They really value having someone they trust to support them through the process”.
In Nan’s view, the real value of an effective executive transition coach is to help people overcome their fear of being vulnerable.
“Fear and vulnerability are debilitating, but they are not uncommon – and particularly in people who have held the highest positions, been in their roles for the longest and, dare I say it, have very healthy egos. Redundancy can cause them to feel exposed, because they can no longer ‘hide behind the title’, and their confidence too can take a hit. Their coach works with them to reduce the level of fear and discomfort and to develop the clarity to make good decisions about their next step.”
Redundancy often opens people’s eyes to the fact that the world of work is changing, and at a faster pace than ever before. The way we work, the organisational structures we build, the skills we need are all different now to even a few years ago. Whilst millennials have embraced this, it sometimes comes as a shock for senior execs to realise that the skills that got them to where they are won’t necessarily get them where they want to be.
“Executives facing redundancy realise that the some of those skills they have spent their career developing may not be so relevant for their future”, agrees Nan. “Deep down there can be an angst about their marketability in the outside world”.
This is particularly true when an executive has come up through a single organisation and had the advocacy and sponsorship of a senior leadership team (sometimes even to the point of being put into roles without necessarily being the being best person for the job). The risk of sponsorship is that they may be without protection if their sponsor moves on, all the more likely as the frequency of CEO turnover increases.
In this short video, Nan Dow shares her personal experience of redundancy and how it turned into an opportunity.
The power of personal brand
Nan sees ‘personal brand’ as being key to addressing these issues, explaining:
“Anyone in transition has to be able to articulate what they bring to the table. So executives need to figure out who they are, as the person, not the title. They need to understand and communicate their intrinsic commercial value, their identity and their purpose. Thanks to social media, information about them is out there whether they like it or not, so it makes sense to control that information, and how they are seen. This is what we mean by personal brand. “
It’s not always a comfortable process – it requires being vulnerable, letting go of the title, letting go of what they were, and focussing on who they are and what they want to be and do over the next few years. But it is the first step to opening up a new world of opportunity and uncovering underlying skills.
Through the coaching process, executives come to recognise and hone their ‘hard skills’ – the transferrable attributes that help a company navigate the changing economy. Skills like digital literacy, high EQ, being comfortable with ambiguity, leveraging the power and value of machines but valuing the human touch. Research shows that a person’s IQ doesn’t change and it doesn’t generate success in the workplace, but EQ, or habits of thinking can be developed and is closely linked to career success.
“Many executives, when they recognise these skills and can see new horizons, feel they have spent their past on a treadmill”, says Nan. “in the sense that they have let the job carry them along. The coaching process helps them to review what drives and motivates them and then to reshape their view of the world of work and the place they want to have in it”.
Empowerment and choice
At the end of this process, Nan has seen executives decide to stay on the same track in the corporate world, but as a “considered choice”. She has seen others find themselves empowered by the coaching process to make bold decisions and to take a new direction.
“I’ve coached executives who have taken advantage of our ‘borderless world’ to work in other countries. I’ve had some who’ve opted for a flexible, portfolio-based working life; some who have started their own businesses and some who have embraced retirement. The point is that they have all made informed decisions, based on a holistic understanding of their personal brand, their values and what they want to achieve”.
Nick Kirk, a RiseSmart Elite program participant generously shares his experience of working with a coach.
A positive experience
So what makes a good coach and a successful process? Having worked in this field for over 25 years Nan has in-depth insights on how executives can get the best from transition coaching:
“First and foremost, the relationship between an executive and coach must be one of trust and credibility” she says, The best outplacement organisations will have accredited and highly experienced career and leadership coaches, who work holistically across all aspects of transition. The organisation will take the time to understand the individual and match them with a coach who best fits their personal style. Ideally they may even offer initial meetings with more than one coach, so the executive can choose the one they think they will work best with. Executive coaching is very much about building a partnership. If the coach understands the executive’s priorities and needs, they can build the required rapport and trust that allows them to guide and advise, and also to constructively challenge. ”
“Another important consideration”, says Nan, “is the extended support available alongside the coach. The exec works with the coach to make strategic decisions, and at RiseSmart every executive also has access to a team of other experts and specialists to help to put those decisions into practical implementation”.
An executive program checklist
According to Nan, some of the extended support services that executives find most valuable are:
- Assessment tools, used by the coach to help the executive gain a deeper understanding of their value, their style, their goals.
- Specialist writers who can help implement the executive’s personal brand in a resume and LinkedIn profile.
- A digital/social media footprint report – an assessment of the exec’s current personal brand, which can highlight any issues so they can be included in the coaching agenda.
- A job concierge sourcing potential market opportunities that fit the executive’s future role brief
- Open plan, contemporary workspaces to encourage collaboration and socialisation
- Local and global networks – access to other executives, alumni and industry experts or advice, perspectives and insights
- Technology platforms for access to supporting resources, webinars, research and thought leadership articles
- Onboarding support to ensure a smooth transition into the executive’s new role/new career.
“Of course coaching is centred around the relationship between executive and coach”, says Nan, but it can be enhanced with the right support services”.
“I found the advice, support and assistance from my coach during the period I was preparing to leave, and then after leaving the firm when uncertain about which direction to take, to be of exceptionally high quality and value. I was guided through assessments of my strengths, value and interests to assist me in confirming what was the appropriate and “best” course for that time. The personal touch was particularly appreciated as a late career change is quite highly emotionally charged, at a vulnerable time for an older person and I felt you understood that and provided the right level of support.”
Partner – Law Firm
Making a difference
Executive transition coaching can make a real difference to an individual’s life, career and outlook. Times of transition points provide a strategic opportunity to regroup and reconsider, before moving on stronger than ever. The coach’s key goal is to set the executive up for success – giving them the opportunity to find a role suited to their skills, a role where they can succeed and be as effective as possible.
Nan sums it up:
“I’ve had executives say to me: ‘I’ve re-discovered my purpose, my identity. I am happy, emotionally’. That’s the point at which I know they will get their desired outcome. That’s when I see that they have embraced the transition as an opportunity to re-energise, refuel and reframe in a way that equips them to re-engage with their future and career. And that is a very successful outcome”.
RiseSmart’s borderless Executive Transition Coaching programs are provided by your employer. Please contact Nan Dow to begin a confidential conversation by calling 1300 72 4343 in Australia or completing the contact form.
Our thanks to Carol Benton from Words2Win for crafting this article.