Insights Blog

Executives in Transition: Opportunity for Reinvention

By Doug Fisher

Recently I have spoken with several executives in the midst of a transition. This has included people entering into an expanded role in their existing organization, taking a role in a new organization, dealing with changes related to having been acquired, and, for some, the transition to retirement.

By example, someone I know took over a C-level position and within two months had her executive team focused and taking action on ground-breaking initiatives taking new territory for the company.  Another made a very smooth transition into retirement, spending more time with his wife and family, finding an outlet to make a difference in emerging economies and getting back to playing guitar.

With such changes it’s natural to focus on, “What am I going to do?”  While we must do this, it’s worthwhile to relate to such transitions as opportunities for reinvention.  Reinvention requires taking time to reframe what one is doing, and even more important, to reframe who one is.  There are four areas to focus on that our clients have found useful in such transitions.

1 – Bring closure to the past

Taking stock of what has been accomplished and what hasn’t been accomplished can provide a clean slate for moving forward.  Start with a simple statement of the facts, without any story about – or reasons why – something didn’t get done.

When doing an exercise like this, one of the most important aspects is acknowledging what has been accomplished – particularly by oneself.  Most executives are so focused on what’s not done, or on acknowledging the team, that they rarely acknowledge themselves.

In case you’re worried that acknowledging what you have accomplished will go to your head, that has not been the case with any effective executive with whom I have worked.  Rather, taking stock and owning what has been accomplished leaves people with a foundation of humility and gratitude on which to reinvent.

2 – Formulate yourself in the new role

Formulate: to express in precise form; state definitely or systematically 

Take the case that this new role is a new opportunity to express yourself.  Even if it’s the same organization, there will be opportunities to express new aspects. The question then is, what aspect of this “I” is to be expressed?

Articulating what’s important to you expresses the essential aspect of you that is the bedrock for your success in the new role.   While this may look like a straightforward exercise, in practice it is more challenging than it initially seems.  Most of us can give a fairly quick answer to the question, “What about the new role is important to you?”  Yet if I take any one of your initial answers and ask, “What about that is important to you?” most of us would have pause to look more deeply to provide a meaningful answer.

Take the time to ask yourself this question iteratively.  What most people find is that they eventually get to an answer that “goes clunk” for them – that really says it for them as a genuine expression of themselves.  While it may take some time to get to this, it is time well spent.

In the transition to retirement, this is especially important.  For many people in this position, their job and career has provided the opportunity for self-expression, the opportunity to fulfill what’s important to them as an individual.  I have seen executives who have done reflection on what has been important about their job and career have an easier time in finding meaningful and fulfilling activities after leaving their jobs.

3 – Articulate your vision for the future

Given what’s important, what is your vision for the future?  Take the time to consider, if I am successful with what’s important, what does that look like?  Have this be a creative, speculative exercise.  Consider many dimensions, not just the obvious ones.  Initially, don’t attempt to set any goals or targets, just paint a picture in words of what a compelling future state looks like.

As you are developing this, feel free to speak about it with others.  Share what you see is important and what it might look like.  Ask them what they hear possible and what about that might be meaningful to them.  You can use these interactions to expand your view, as well as begin to develop alignment.

This exploration can provide the spark of inspiration that can propel you into action and provide the foundation for engaging and inspiring others to step out.

4 – Create relationships newly

When moving to a new organization with new relationships, it’s pretty easy to pay attention to establishing those relationships.  What is often missed when taking a new role in the same organization is creating the existing relationships newly.  It’s powerful to take the time to have conversations about what’s important to you in the new role, asking others what is important to them and then setting expectations – you of them and them of you.  In the absence of doing this, there are often subtle lacks of alignment that can grow over time.  Doing this work upfront can accelerate progress.

In moving into retirement, this attention to relationships is especially important.  Many are the tales of spouses who have rued the day the other has retired.  What makes a difference in the workplace also applies to personal relationships – discussing what is important to each and setting expectations.  As in the workplace, having these conversations early on, even before retirement, produces immeasurable benefits.

Wherever you are at in a transition, whether in the midst, on the cusp, or wanting to do a “reboot”, try out these four areas of focus.  Let us know how it goes!