Executives leave employers out of career change loop

by 22 Jan 2008

FOR MOST executives, big career changes come about as a result of realising that a different kind of work would make them personally happier, however, such career changes often bring about conflicts between their professional and personal lives.

Recent research from McKinsey found that the single biggest career defining moment happens at around 30 years of age and originates largely at work, and not from family considerations or changed personal aspirations.

Regardless of gender and family status, the research found that nearly 40 per cent of executives said that an outcome of this career-defining moment is a new job in a new industry, and the vast majority believe that the change had a positive effect on their careers, with higher compensation, a better title and renewed interest in work.

“People realise what their true passion is,” says Rufus Black, a consultant with McKinsey. “So, it’s that internal recognition – what they were doing and what they were passionate about weren’t aligned, so they found a way to make them more aligned.”

In today’s job market where choices are plentiful for good executives, Black said those who followed their passion and who were bold in their choices were most successful.

However, executives seem to be basing fewer career decisions on work-life balance than might be expected, while almost 40 per cent of executives experienced difficulties in work-life balance following a career change.

Black said there was an opportunity for organisations to help executives understand what drives their people. “The earlier and the more accurately organisations understand what really drives their people, the better they’ll be able to create career opportunities.”

Given most successful executive career changes involved employment with another company, Black said the research suggested that most companies were not systematically creating the opportunities people are looking for to renew their careers.

It was also important to build relationships with executives, according to Black, as the research found that many executives did not talk to their companies when it came to decisions about career changes. Instead, executives were more likely to talk to their spouse, partner of friends outside work.

Only 2 per cent of executives talked to HR professionals within their companies. “There’s a huge opportunity for improvement there. Often there just isn’t the depth of relationship between HR and some of these senior executives. HR doesn’t have the kind of counselling-type relationship necessary for these people,” says Black.

“This is the challenge for HR professionals. They are being stretched to be service providers on the one hand, and talent managers on the other. It is very hard to do both really well.”

It was important for companies to have solid processes around talent in order to identify top and up-and-coming executives and to be able to establish personal connections with them, he said.

“There must be a strong culture which supports this as well,” according to Black. “Talented people have got to feel comfortable in having those types of conversations.”

While Black was reluctant to put a specific number on the percentage of companies that understood the importance of developing such relationships with its executive talent, he said it was common to find it in parts of organisations. “They’re often the most successful parts, where the executives have fostered and developed those quality relationships with people themselves,” he said.

Black said there was no shortage of evidence about the staggering difference that talent makes to the bottom line, and added that profit per employee was a much better way of thinking about performance.

“We’ve seen a massive shift over the last 10 years in the levels of profit per employee … That says talent is a stronger performance differentiator than ever before, and I think this is just getting bigger and bigger.”

Black likened talent management to passion management, and said that talented people simply bring their intrinsic passion to work.


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