I’m a CEO…I don’t need outplacement Featured

6:43am EDT September 29, 2005
Top-notch employment lawyers attempt to protect their senior executive clients by writing executive outplacement services into employment contracts in the unlikely event that the executive’s later departure is involuntarily. This outcome is far more common than you might think. Depending on the source, CEO tenure has slipped to between 2.9 and 5 years.

Despite having an outplacement benefit available, few top executives take advantage of it. A recent survey found out why.

  • Reality of retirement. Executives pictured retirement as days filled with endless rounds of scratch golf. Only in hindsight — after their outplacement benefit had expired — did they realize the need for greater intellectual challenge and engagement, and then they had no support system or structure to pursue other alternatives.

  • Unrealistic expectations. Executives who wanted to move into another top management role had been courted by executive search firms throughout their careers. They fully expected their phones to ring as soon as headhunters learned they were available. That didn’t happen — they allowed their networks to grow stale, and didn’t know where to turn.

  • Limited value. Senior executives viewed outplacement as a service designed for entry to middle-management staff. A one-page psychological profile, a 30-minute meeting with a junior consultant every couple of weeks, a shared office and a basic resume were considered a waste of a senior executive’s time.

The last reason is the most common, and traditional outplacement models really have become a waste of a senior executive’s time. Typical outplacement has become a cost-driven commodity where service is limited, consultants have little personal contact with clients and their approach is one-size-fits-all.

Clearly this approach does not meet a senior executive’s needs. For them, a career transition represents a life transition that raises questions about the future they had once imagined. The complexity of these issues requires highly customized service designed to address sophisticated and complex choices.

Research demonstrates that most senior executives want to remain actively engaged in some type of work, but only 50 percent want a job like they held before. In many cases, executives seek multiple roles where they can reduce the pressure but utilize their hard-won knowledge <\m> a life of variety as a member of a board perfectly describes it.

And let’s face it, the traditional job market isn’t friendly to senior executives whose career horizon only spans another five or ten years. That means that executives have to find resources that connect them to nontraditional channels. After advising hundreds of top executives through successful transitions, we know that 83 percent did not hear about their next career opportunity through a recruiter or an ad. They learned about it by networking at the right levels — the top.

Although executives know many people, most focus on the challenges of their business and fail to keep their personal and professional networks current. Although they network at business club meetings, they do it to promote their businesses, not to develop relationships that could be called upon at a time of transition. At the senior executive level, active networking is the name of the game and there are only three degrees of separation between an executive and the next opportunity. If someone is pursuing a nontraditional role, networking is the only way to be considered for something new, whether it is consulting, board work, an entrepreneurial venture, academia or leading a not-for-profit.

It is possible to successfully translate your life’s passion into your life’s work — but not through traditional channels. A lifetime in a specific industry doesn’t limit what you do next if you work with transition advisers.

Gail R. Meneley is a principal in Shields Meneley Partners, a firm that provides confidential career and life transition services to senior executives. Reach her at (312) 994-9500 or at gmeneley@shieldsmeneley.com. To learn more about Shields Meneley Partners, visit http://www.shieldsmeneley.com