2004 - Self-reporting questionnaires
One of the hardest realities
confronting executives who have had a long and
successful career is facing up to the possibility
that their corporate life has come to an end.
A few years ago this understanding
was easy to digest. The opportunity to go a year
or two before the official retirement age, at
60, say, was seen as a perk of the job. Today
fewer and fewer senior executives are staying
with their jobs long enough to reach 60.
Some even find themselves out
in the cold in their 40s if they have been passed
over in a reorganisation.
The pressure to step aside in
your mid-50s or even earlier is increasing as
companies merge or re-organise and the path to
the top becomes narrower and more competitive.
Suddenly the succession pool has become populated
with younger guns armed with significant advantages:
their reward packages are often cheaper and they
have too little experience to threaten the incumbent
chief executive (unless the young gun has already
made the top job).
Many executives in their 40s
and early 50s who have previously enjoyed six-figure
salaries have lost out in the past two or three
years, sometimes opting to take an outplacement
package only to find that their prospects of another
salaried post are limited.
The alternative for some is interim
management but this option has become less open
in recent years as more people compete for fewer
opportunities. Most interim providers and managers
I speak to believe that the market for temporary
managers in the corporate sector has contracted
markedly in the past two years. Only the public
sector has shown any signs of growth.
Andy Austin, managing director
of Interim Leaders, a UK provider, believes that
the number of temporary appointments at the top
end of the market - for jobs attracting an equivalent
permanent salary of more than Pounds 100,000 a
year - has shrunk to a quarter of the level two
"At the same time the number
of people wanting to do interim work has quadrupled,"
he says. "So the chance of finding work for
most people in the market has become eight times
more difficult than it was.
"The baby boomers, that
big post-second world war population bulge, have
become the backbone of industrial and corporate
life but they have reached the stage where they
are being discarded and this trend is going to
escalate in the next five or 10 years."
So what are these people to do,
faced with dwindling opportunities for permanent
re-entry and the thin market for interim managers?
Twiddle their thumbs for the rest of their lives?
All across the western world there are thousands,
probably millions, of highly qualified, capable
men and women still with plenty of productive
ideas, work and commitment to offer society who
would appreciate some guidance about what to do
Instead of banging away fruitlessly, trying to
re-enter permanent corporate careers, says Mr
Austin, people can explore other avenues - such
as going into venture capital enterprises, taking
a non-executive appointment, setting up a business,
working in the voluntary sector or teaching.
"There are all kinds of
areas where you can bring to bear your interests
and enthusiasms," he says. "Unfortunately
many people simply do not know enough about themselves.
A lot of people we meet who have led successful
working lives have spent their whole careers as
square pegs in round holes.
"They went into a career
many years ago that was suggested by their parents
or a teacher and never questioned whether they
were doing the right thing."
The need to prepare people for
career transformation has led Mr Austin and his
partner, Anthony Broadhead, to establish a new
business that they describe as an alternative
to conventional outplacement.
Dobson Lyle*, they say, is concentrating
on equipping executives to change the way they
work. The first part of their process is a psychometric
assessment called the Birkman Method.
Having put myself through nearly
all the most widely used personality tests over
the years and having undertaken various forms
of psychological profiling, I was intrigued to
find out how well this process would work. The
test here is being used not for recruitment but
in personal profiling, so there is every incentive
to answer the questions honestly.
The results in my case were just
about spot on according to those who know me well.
Not only does it record preferences between the
arts and the sciences - and most of us ought to
know that anyway - but it also reads how we adjust
our personality when we are under stress. It registered
what it called my "undue sensitivity"
and "over-directness", both traits I
have been slow to acknowledge over the years.
So while it was prepared to describe
me as "sociable, communicative and at ease
in groups" for most of the time, it detected
that when stressed I can become unsociable.
This is a feature of personality revelations.
You read something such as "likes to be flexible",
which seems quite complimentary until you realise
that this very flexibility in extremis can lead
to "resistance to routine" and "neglect
of system and order".
"You are definitely not corporate,"
said Mr Austin. Well that was a relief. I have
yet to find a journalist who is.
It is as if every positive attribute
has its possible negative side. So "thoughtful"
and "reflective" - both reasonable traits,
you would think - can be manifested as "indecision"
in a crisis.
This makes a lot of sense and
demonstrates how certain behavioural traits can
be either attractive or potentially disastrous
depending on the circumstances. In an emergency,
the last thing you want of a colleague is for
him to tell you he needs time to think.
Roger Birkman, the developer of this test, who
is still actively promoting his Birkman Method
at the age of 84, appears to have created something
genuinely revelatory for those who feel they need
to understand what it is that makes them tick.
The test report even matches ideal jobs against
But what is the point of finding
a second vocation if there are no jobs out there?
Dobson Lyle says it can call on the experience
of some 4,000 executives on the Interim Leaders
database if a client needs some consultancy on
a particular career path.
"We are in touch with people
who have done everything under the sun,"
says Mr Austin. "There may not be many suitable
salaried posts for the people we see but there
are all kinds of opportunities out there for second
careers. What we want to do is help people to
take control of their lives."
as a pdf file