I went out on a social event with a hospital CFO. During the course of the day, it seemed that all I heard was griping about the CEO. Then I heard that the organization was ‘giving back’ most of the last year’s gains, how most of the leadership team were idiots, and on and on. Finally, I told my friend that I thought he was in burn-out and that if he did not do something to alleviate the stress he was bearing, things were not going to end well. A couple of weeks later, I received a call from my friend. The conversation started with, “You will not believe what just happened.” My answer was, “How many guesses do I get?”
In hindsight, it was easy to see this transition coming. I know. It has happened to me – more than once. The circumstances, emotions, and process leading up to a transition event are relatively consistent in my experience. People stop listening to you. You start feeling out of touch with the rest of the organization. Your relationships with peers begin to cool, especially the relationship with the boss. You learn that you are increasingly not invited to important meetings or summoned to participate in matters that are clearly within your scope. You begin to sense divergence of political and or philosophical views with the core leadership of the organization. Your boss and others start going around you to approach your staff directly.
These processes continue until you get invited to an unscheduled meeting where you learn that you are about to be freed up to seek other opportunities.
First, a disclaimer. I am assuming that the termination is not for cause, i.e., violation of policy, violation of the law, or behavior unbecoming. The majority of separations and terminations I am familiar with have little if anything to do with cause and occur primarily because of lack of fit or growing disagreement between the incumbent and their manager regarding the organization’s course. Sometimes, the incumbent’s area of responsibility is no longer meeting the needs of the organization. Too often, internal corporate politics are responsible for deals that started well souring. Sometimes, a transition follows an executive, usually but not always the CFO, digging in over their interpretation of the organization getting too close to crossing a compliance red line. Instead of greasing the squeaky wheel, the organization decides to address the problem by getting rid of the irritant. I have been in a situation more than once where I had to decide whether my integrity was for sale and what a fair price might be. In every case, I elected to avoid the disaster that has befallen executives that flew too close to the OIG’s flame, and in one case, it led to a separation from the organization.
One of my favorite Zig Ziglar quotes is, “Failure is an event; it is not a person.” Just because someone ends up in a transition does not mean by definition that they are a terrible person. Time and again, in these blogs, I have stipulated that for me to follow someone that was ‘bad’ in some way is extremely rare. In these articles, I address termination from the view of the ‘victim.’
I am speaking from experience writing this as I have been through an unplanned transition more than once. I know my problem; I get frustrated with politics, BS, sub-optimization, the toxicity of culture, and eventually lose my sense of humor or ability to eat crap without gagging. Not too long after I start telling people what I really think and, . . . . well, you know the rest of the story. What I believe is a growing risk of being an employee is why I decided to leave permanent employment and become a career Interim Executive Consultant. Regardless of the cause of a turnover event, it is gut-wrenching. Even if you sense it coming, it is no easier to bear. In a matter of a few minutes, you go from someone whose expertise and perspective are in high demand to someone that has no reason to get out of bed. The pain is increased exponentially by those that used to dote on you refusing to return phone calls or answer emails.
More than once, I have received a call from someone looking for help because their deal either has gone bad or is in the process of deterioriation. Invariably, a few weeks later, I get the call. Upon answering the phone, the conversation starts, “You aren’t going to believe what just happened to me!” My first thought is not again! It pains me almost as much to witness someone else go through a transition as it is to go through it yourself. As I said before, my response is, “How many guesses do I get?” I ask this question with a high degree of certainty that the answer is a forgone conclusion.
Sadly, people going through a transition process do not fully appreciate what they are facing, especially the first time. The first problem is the amount of time the executive is going to be unemployed. When this happened to me the first time in the ’80s, I was shocked when a mentor told me to expect a month for each $10,000 of pre-transition compensation. I could not believe this was possible, but I have seen it happen time after time. With the inflation that has occurred since then, a good rule of thumb is probably a month for each $20,000 of pre-transition compensation. Thinking back to my principle that the time to start planning for a transition is now, one of the things to be prepared for is up to a year of interruption in income unless you are fortunate enough to have a severance agreement.
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