So What’s Your “Plan B”?

April 1, 2014 Lucy Vasic

By Lucy Vasic, Principal, Career Solutions, Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge

What would you do if you suddenly found yourself out of a job?  Despite the volatility in the current job market, many executives find themselves blind-sided by an organization’s decision to re-structure, re-focus and replace their top talent.  And while most executives know friends or former colleagues in transition, few believe it could happen to them. 

A growing number of executives are finding confidence and piece-of-mind in having a Plan B, even if the plan is never implemented. In fact, the very process of creating a Plan B can unearth valuable information that can help reveal future opportunities. 

An effective ‘Plan B’ is a strategy that embraces the current job market volatility and turns it into opportunity. Your Plan B is what allows you to read the writing on the wall, and lay the groundwork for career advancement even if it means leaving an organization you are comfortable with.

A Plan B is a good idea at any time, but it is essential if volatility is headed your way. Three key signs that you may want to step up your planning efforts:

  1. New boss – These days, many newly hired bosses have a short timeline for reaching lofty goals. That means they will turn to people they can trust to get them there quickly. If for whatever reason you’re not seen as one of those people, you might find yourself looking for a new opportunity elsewhere.
  2. Business or industry pressures – You’ve just lost a major customer, business results missed analyst expectations again, or you see mergers or acquisitions taking place regularly in your industry. These are often signs that organizational changes are on the horizon.
  3. Being out of the loop – It may be as subtle as not being copied on an important memo, not being invited to a meeting, or suddenly being introduced to a new colleague when you didn’t know your boss was recruiting. A lack of self-awareness and political savvy can be very costly.  Do you know your brand equity?

Developing a Plan B requires executives to do work inside and outside their current organizations to build contacts that will help identify new opportunities. The good news is that social media has made a lot of the Plan B spade work a lot easier than it was for previous generations.  Social media, particularly business oriented sites like Linkedin, offer an opportunity to develop contacts, promote your brand and otherwise create the conditions necessary to make a successful move from your current position.

However, while the tools necessary to develop a Plan B have changed dramatically, the methodology remains very much the same. It’s all about being prepared and aware of the conditions that might require a change. Often, executives will engage a career coach in the journey. But whether you go alone or are guided by an expert, there are some important steps in creating a Plan B that need to be considered.

Know who are you - Start by examining your unique strengths, development gaps, interests and values. This insight will be critical to guiding the direction of your career and ensuring meaningful conversations when networking or interviewing. Instead of focusing all your energy looking outside for new opportunities, start from the inside out and define yourself. Your personal brand is the anchor for any Plan B; without it, you may find yourself out in the job market unable to differentiate yourself from other potential candidates.

Know your industry - Pay attention to trends, be a voracious consumer of information about your company, your industry and the economy as a whole.  When you see changes and emerging needs combined with the personal insights gained above you can start to identify and articulate how you can help. Knowing what’s valued in the marketplace allows you to identify the best available opportunities

Build your network - Networking is an important life skill and critical for career success.  Good executives know how to network and develop contacts to further the goals of their organization; fewer employ the same techniques to build a personal network. These days, social media will play a critical role in building contacts and extending your network. You need to have a presence on sites like Linkedin.

Finally, keep your eye on the ball: In an environment of great change, it’s easy to become distracted and neglect current responsibilities while planning for future opportunities. This is a huge mistake. Even when you may sense that change is coming, and that it might impact your current position, don’t neglect your current position. Nothing will limit your ability to move to a better job more than putting in a poor effort in your current one.

Long before volatility and change became the buzzwords for executive career management, it was prudent to keep a Plan B simmering on the back burner. There is nothing more unnerving than suddenly facing a seismic change in a current job without any idea about who to call or where to go next.

The good news is that talented executives are interacting, and in the process building valuable networks and contacts, more than ever before. Evolving social media tools can aid this process by making it possible to broadcast your brand to a large, targeted audience with a just a few clicks.

However, social media will not replace critical self-assessment, research on market trends, and good old-fashioned networking. In fact, social media has amplified the need for this important preparation.

The opportunities are endless, with the right plan in place. These days, change may come often, and suddenly. Don’t get caught without a Plan B.

About the Author

Lucy Vasic

Lucy Vasic is Principal and National Lead for Executive Career Solutions with Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge. She manages Knightsbridge’s office in downtown Toronto which caters exclusively to executive-level clients. Lucy specializes in the areas of executive coaching and career management and transition.

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