This week we take up Anneke’s story again. After a year of soul searching, job searching and negotiating both her exit strategy from company A and her new contract in company B she finally took up her new position. Now she was in Hudson and McLean’s ‘Go For It’ phase – excitement, enthusiasm, new goals and a new lease on life. Despite moving sectors into an entirely different consumer industry she managed to stay in the same geography so only one part of her life was uprooted. However, much to her dismay she found it wasn’t all plain sailing and for reasons that took her by surprise.
When you uplevel to a new role or start a business, guess who comes along with you? The ‘grinch’ – also known as the inner critic or just that voice in your head that chatters away telling you all kinds of stories that have one objective – performance anxiety. “What were you thinking? Of course – your success was all luck not ability/ your skills aren’t transferable/ you won’t meet the expectations in the new role” – and on, and on, and on. That voice gradually subsides as you come to grips with the new role but it’s energy draining for quite some time. If you’re newly appointed to a senior role you will not be wanting to show vulnerability to your new colleagues so although this is almost a universal experience, it is not talked about.
Coming into a new company is also challenging in terms of getting to know and work within a different culture. Although Anneke stayed in the same city, the two companies’ motherships were in different countries with very different corporate cultures. Added to that she had been appointed to head up a new business unit servicing a different market segment from the rest of the company and almost everything about her business did not fit naturally into the existing corporate culture. That makes it very confusing. “You are not only finding your way in a new company, you are pioneering a new way for the company in your unit, so on a day to day basis it can be tricky to work out whether you are simply resisting assimilating into the culture or genuinely pointing out what needs to change for the unit to be successful. When you’re the new kid on the block there are plenty of people telling you ‘that’s not the way we do things here’.”
The group of people very prone to that criticism were the ones reporting to her who had been passed over for the role she was now occupying. This is always a difficult situation to manage and can be even trickier when one person is promoted internally over his or her peers. The best thing is to manage it head on. Speak to the people involved, chat about their aspirations and how they can position themselves for future opportunities. It takes energy and effort and understanding at a time when the new appointee has a lot on their plate but it’s well worth the effort. Anneke’s advice is, “Don’t let it become the elephant in the room. It can derail you so the quicker you can get the team on your side the better.”
Despite the anxieties to manage this is not a doom and gloom scenario. There are a whole lot of pluses. “Once you realise that you are up to the job, it’s liberating. You then realise that you do have the skills and abilities, they are intrinsic to you and that gives you confidence that spills over into feeling more in control of your career path and more inclined to take risks earlier to achieve ambitions or even to take business and investment risks outside the company.” Anneke goes on to say, “I’m also exposed to a whole new industry, exciting experiences, travel to different places, new clients, new challenges, different people to work with and a new adventure to broaden my skills. I think if I had to move again now, I would probably face similar issues but I wouldn’t find it as difficult as the first three months here. I would get through it quicker – oh the benefits of hindsight!!”
Anneke’s experience of mid life career change is not uncommon and can create enormous growth for the person financially, socially, personally – in every possible way but organisationally it poses challenges when companies lose senior people in whom they have made a significant investment over a number of years. It’s an interesting dilemma in an era of talent scarcity.