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Career Transition In The Time Of The Coronavirus

Prepare for the unknown. Have a contingency plan.

I had prepared a more general text for executives in transition to share with you. However, the recent developments with the coronavirus pandemic made that material feel less urgent. In normal times, I would pay greater attention to making distinctions between reasons for transitioning and what circumstances or life milestones push executives to consider such career changes. But, today, we are facing a global business environment where many executives may, in the coming months, be facing transitions that are not of their own choosing. In this context, I have put together a few recommendations below (an article that is the first in a series I plan to write) that I hope will serve you well in the coming weeks, months and years.

Prepare for the unknown. Have a contingency plan.

Though it’s not an overly positive message, it is critical that business leaders be prepared for a situation where the impacts of the coronavirus on the global economy are devastating. Every day we see more sectors impacted by the current pandemic and the truth is we don’t know where the current situation ends. This means that certain business sectors that had been thriving until recently may take longer to recover and some industries may not bounce back. In this light, I would advise taking time, where possible, to think through the market. Look at what sectors are going to need critical leadership in the coming months and start making checklists of the leadership skills, or specifically the leadership qualities, that these industries will need and assess whether you have the ability to take on such roles. I can imagine a few areas where prepared executives will have an opportunity to let their talents shine: organizational restructuring, interim management, critical service sectors – healthcare, insurance, public administration, etc. The bottom line here is for you to imagine along the lines: I know I am secure in my current role, but what if that isn’t true tomorrow? Where can I help out most?

Polish your crisis management skills.

Crisis situations both test and make leaders. Sometimes executives who had been more hands off or uncertain in leadership positions find their voices in dire times. So right now, even if you think you might not immediately need one, work with your business’ leadership team to create or refresh your company’s survival plan. Talk with your top managers and figure out what steps you will take if your market (product demand) disappears tomorrow. In some cases, you may want (or have) to go full-on war room scenario and confirm that your business has the “generals” to lead you into any potential battle: can they handle business repurposing, production adaptation for new product delivery, or streamlined communications to rally employees and your customer base? Although it may not be your ultimate goal, your ability to deliver proof of a well-planned, and in some cases well-executed, crisis management strategy will make you more attractive to future employers.

Reinforce your network and HELP your peers.

If the current pandemic situation does force you out of a job, your next role will depend greatly on how you are remembered by past colleagues and business associates. That is why it is so very critical in the current economic environment to reinforce your image as a team and community player. Working to help others in your sales, channel, supply chain or any other similar networks will pay off in the future. Many of your board members, department heads and suppliers will develop long memories during the coming months and years, as businesses face unimagined difficulties. If you find yourself choosing, or forced, to seek a new role during that time, you can bet the people who remember you helping them will be quicker to lend you a hand.

With all that said, I would like to end this piece with a couple of tips that I believe can help with executive career transition, regardless of the circumstances.

Write a daily journal* on your career transition thoughts; use it to explore why you stepped away from your previous role: e.g. what were the high points of going to work; what about your organization’s leadership team inspired you most; what past successes would you like to replicate in a new role?

Get creative: mind map your ideal leadership role or unleash your inner Da Vinci and sketch out your vision of your future organization and its executive team – draw yourself and your colleagues, sketch out the office plan for your C-suite floor and team roles, and scribble down a paragraph about what you know you and that team could achieve or deliver and word map it to visualize your future plans.


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