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Pivoting out of the downsizing slump into action

“I was downsized recently from a management job I have enjoyed for many years. I know I will be all right as I have received a generous severance package and a lot of support. I have to admit that I have days when I can see that this is a good opportunity to move forward in something else. So I am trying to make progress in that direction.

“However, on other days, it is very difficult to see the good in this situation. Sometimes I feel very hurt, upset and anxious about the future. What now?”

While downsizing is a common occurrence these days, no one would wish for this to happen. It is a very upsetting, anxiety-provoking experience. Getting through it—and landing successfully somewhere else—means going through a lot of ups and downs.

“It’s very natural to feel anxious and insecure at this moment,” says Jenny Blake, a career development consultant and author of a new career book called “Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One.” 

“Career changes threaten our most fundamental needs. It’s very natural to experience a lot of fear.”

In a chapter of her book called “Pivot or Get Pivoted,” Blake describes the end of a life that many people used to live, where they kept the same jobs for 40 years, receiving a safe pension plan at retirement. Today, the average tenure of employees in America is now only four to five years and their job roles during that time often change dramatically. Among workers 25 to 34 years old, studies show the average tenure decreases to just three years, she says.

Many jobs that disappeared during the recession are not coming back, and changes in technology have resulted in the loss of many positions. “Job security has become an antiquated idea, a luxury most people today do not enjoy, whether they are aware of it or not,” Blake writes.

“Corporate loyalty has given way to uncertainty. Companies that seem too big to fail have collapsed, along with many smaller ones. New ones have taken their place. With the advent of app marketplaces, crowdfunding, the maker revolution and sharing economies, we now see billion-dollar valuations for companies that would not have existed 10 years ago and many smaller businesses cropping up in parallel.”

Given that amount of change, and the number of people who go through something similar all the time, it’s important to recast your thinking around career transition. Taking the next step doesn’t have to feel like a leap into the abyss if you approach it methodically, as a “pivot,” rather than a major crisis, Blake says.

If there’s a gift in your situation, it is in your severance, which gives you a longer runway to execute a pivot in your career than you might have otherwise, she notes.

If you have been in your job many years, you will want to take some time to decompress and re-charge. If you can afford it financially, give yourself permission to do that. “There’s also a grieving process that occurs as well,” she says. “When you can allow time for that phase, you are more likely to move out of it naturally.”

As you consider what to do next, begin to think about your interests and your strengths and ask yourself some questions, Blake says. Look at your broad work experience, your marketable skills, the results you’ve achieved and your reputation. “Ask yourself, ‘what do people ask you for advice most often?’”

And then see if you can make progress in developing a vision for yourself, she says. See if you can begin to identify what will work for you and how you can get closer to your vision. Is it possible, for example, to identify opportunities to work remotely, do a project or moonlight to cover a financial gap?

Blake suggests giving yourself deadlines for each step in this analysis, taking care not to limit your options or brainstorming time in the beginning. “Go broad in your exploration first before trying to land on the best next move.”

Then, depending on your risk profile, do some experimenting,” she says. “Take a class, do a little consulting or freelance work on the side—anything that helps you experiment without having it become a full-time solution yet.”

As you consider your options, plan your time. Ask yourself, “What are the three most important things I can do this week?” By breaking it down into small steps, the process of making a change becomes way less intimidating. “Take small steps in small time frames,” Blake says.

Her four-step process, called “plant, scan, pilot and launch,” can help you “systematically bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be,” she says.

In basketball, a player keeps one foot firmly in place while moving the other in any direction to explore passing options.

“Much like a basketball player, successful pivots start by planting your feet—setting a strong foundation—then scanning the court for opportunities, staying rooted while exploring options,” Blake writes. “Scanning alone will not put points on the board, so eventually you start passing the ball—testing ideas and getting feedback or pilotinggenerating perspectives and opportunities—and eventually launching in the new direction.”

By thinking about it along those lines, Blake believes that a career transition like this doesn’t have to become a crisis. “Calling it a crisis can compound on itself,” she says. “By calling it a pivot, I can plan what’s next and it’s OK.”

“Since we are all experiencing this more frequently, I wanted to introduce language—like ‘pivot’—that is gender-neutral and judgment-neutral,” she says.

Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585)249-9295 or by e-mail at kadriscoll@aol.com.

10/7/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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