Executive Outlook: Planning for Your Career’s ‘Next Act’
Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth
For many of us, it is in our nature to change, grow, learn and evolve. If it wasn’t, we never would have made it to where we are today. We are hardwired to keep moving forward and to adapt when things get a bit too comfortable or too stale. It is this drive that enables us to build our careers, improve, grow and climb the ladder.
But what happens when there’s nowhere left to climb? This is a wall that many senior executives will hit after reaching a certain role or level of acclaim, or after some years have passed. You have worked hard and risen through the ranks, but now find yourself at a level where there are few, if any, other roles you can visualise moving up to. This creates a dilemma for many, and offers two diverging paths. Do you stick it out and continue on the course you are on, or do you pick a new direction?
The majority of senior executives will reach this point and wonder “What’s next?” Many might feel that they still have more to offer, more to accomplish, and more to give but just aren’t sure what their options are. Others may be focussed on optimising the best earning years left in their career. In both cases, something has to change, but it is unclear what.
Taking your career into ‘the next act’ is an opportunity to shape the next key period of your life and career the way you want them to look. Reaching this stage is not some sort of identity crisis or panic, but rather a chance to reap the rewards of the work you have already put in and to shift your focus towards the things that will bring you the most fulfilment as you continue on your career journey. You’re far from done, but where do you begin? What are your options, and what shape might your career take in this new chapter?
What Does Fulfilment Look Like?
Most of us will have started our careers with the same goals in mind. Perhaps the aim was to earn a certain amount of money, or have a specific title, or wield a certain amount of gravitas or power. No senior executive will have reached where they are now without possessing high levels of ambition and enough personal drive to make it happen.
But as we get on in years and seniority, priorities change and it is likely that many of the things you initially wanted will look different now. That amount of money you wanted may go towards providing for your family now, or perhaps the nest is now empty and those financial pressures have lifted. Maybe it’s no longer about seeing your name on the door, and more about what you can contribute to the world outside the office.
As you contemplate your next act and begin plotting the reinvention of your career, you have the choice to shape it however you so choose. Your ‘why’ and your purpose has likely evolved, and so the things you may be looking for in your career from this point on will likely need to evolve as well. It is critical that you take time to determine what fulfilment will look like for you in this new chapter. Why are you continuing on in your career path, making a change, and evolving rather than staying complacent or simply plateauing? What is it that is going to make this next chapter feel rewarding?
Planning for your career’s next chapter begins with being able to answer those questions. Determining your purpose and what fulfilment looks like for you will help you to determine the best course of action and point you down the right avenues for achieving your goals.
The things you are looking for in the next stage of your career could lead you down one of several different paths. Your options are limitless, but here are some of the most common ones we see in our work with our senior level clients:
- Renumeration: For some executives, their career pivot will be driven by a desire to increase their earning potential. These individuals may be comfortable in their current role and settled within their organisation, but may feel as though they are not receiving an adequate reward for their work or may be facing changes in their financial circumstances that their current role or organisation cannot match. There is nothing wrong with making a financially motivated career move, and for many people this ends up being the little push they need to step out of that comfort zone. Recent research has found that executives looking to earn more this decade will likely need to change company to do so. Even if you seek out your same job just somewhere else, this simple change of scenery may be enough to give your career that refresh you are looking for. It will be a new environment, new team, and new challenges even if the nature of the job is not different. And you may find that your higher earnings help to improve your overall quality of life outside of work and bring you fulfilment there. Maybe this will come from less stress about certain financial strains, the opportunity to invest more in your hobbies, the opportunity to travel, and so on. So do not write off a money-motivated career move as not being an opportunity to reimagine the next step in your career!
- Reinvention: That said, when people think about career ‘second or third acts,’ they tend to envision full pivots. Yes, it is true that some executives reach the highest levels of the organisation and decide to start over elsewhere, but this is not the most common course of action. However, know that it is an option for you if you are truly unhappy with your lot and want a drastic change. We choose our careers young and start that climb to the top with different priorities than we will have once we get there. Perhaps you pursued your current path out of financial need rather than passion, or you felt it was the career you should do rather than the one you wanted to do. It’s okay to change your mind, and there is no reason why you cannot have the career you want in your next act even if it wasn’t what you had in the first place. Change can be intimidating and choosing this path can be daunting, but it is an option for you. More commonly, you will see executives choose to ‘reinvent’ themselves within the parameters of their existing career, and may choose one of the following paths instead.
- Choosing a Niche: It is common to think of one’s legacy after reaching this career turning point. What do you want to be known for? What impact do you want to leave behind? Many executives will choose to dedicate the second half of their career to thought leadership. If the first act was about the climb, the second and third will be about sharing the lessons learned along the way and the views from the top. You put in the work to get to where you are, and with very few places left to climb, it might be time to focus in on your passions instead. Perhaps there are certain elements of your job or your industry that you particularly enjoy or are deeply knowledgeable about. You may find fulfilment in owning those topics in a professional capacity and serving as a guru whose insights will help the next generation of the workforce or the organisation to evolve. Discussing these topics online could attract larger scale opportunities on the speaking circuit or within academia. So, while your job itself may not have changed, you may find your fulfilment from focusing more on the topics you are truly passionate about and from sharing that knowledge with others.
- Innovation: There is a great opportunity at the moment to pivot towards a future-focused niche. By now, we are all aware of the fact that technology is reshaping and disrupting business life as we know it. Investments in technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are at an all time high, and businesses are racing to keep up with the rate of change. There is an obvious gap in skills, capabilities, and understanding when it comes to digital transformation, thus creating a major opportunity for senior executives wondering “What’s next?” This was the case for Rialto consultant Katie King. After 30 years in marketing, PR, and communications including over a decade of running agencies, Katie reached that turning point of wondering what the rest of her career could look like. At the time, AI was still in its very early stages, but she saw the opportunity it presented and the impact it would have on industries world and made a pivot towards becoming an expert in the adoption of AI in business functions. She now regularly consults businesses and delivers keynotes globally on the subject, has delivered several Rialto webinars on AI, and has published two successful books on the topic. There is still a major opening for forward-thinking executives to become champions of change and technology within their organisation or industry. What better way is there to reinvent the future of your career than to prepare for the future of business itself?
- Continuous Learning: While every executive should at least have a basic understanding about the changes and disruptions technology will bring about, the path of innovation may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For you, your path might be focused on a concept that some experts have described as becoming ‘forever employable.’ These executives keep their finger on the pulse of change and continuously adapt, developing new skillsets or taking on new roles as needed. You might spend your next act as a chameleon of sorts, adapting to the environment around you as necessary in order to keep fitting into it. It’s about understanding that the world of work is changing and being open to changing along with it. For example, automation will be able to take over several of the most common day-to-day activities of senior leaders. Instead of throwing in the towel, you might choose to spend your next act honing in on soft skills like creativity, strategy, leadership, and so on in order to fill the gaps that technology cannot satisfy. By adapting and developing your skillsets to match the needs of the marketplace, you will be able to maintain your place within it for as long as you’d like.
- Take a Risk: You may reach this turning point in your career and decide that you have had enough of the corporate world or following organisational structures and hierarchies. Those wanting to have an equity stake in a business, build share capital, or take an entrepreneurial business idea forward may decide to take the leap and start something of their own. Having spent your first act building capitol, reputation, knowledge, or prestige may help you get your venture off the ground in this next act.
- Outside Ventures: Or, you may find that you can reinvigorate your career via opportunities outside of your role, organisation, or industry. Non-Executive Director (NED) roles are a great way to take on added responsibilities or make an impact for an organisation other than your own. You may choose to get involved in the board or leadership for a charity, your child’s school, event, or initiative. You may also find that the work you put in to establish yourself in the first half of your career has provided you with the freedom, flexibility, or financial abundance to be able to dedicate time or resources to causes you care deeply about. You may also find that you are able to command more time for yourself to pursue outside interests and hobbies.
At the end of the day, the next act of your career can be whatever you want it to be. But for it to offer the most fulfilment, you need to be clear on your drivers, values, and what you need as a return. You have put in the work to get this far and have decided to keep going. You are in control of what you do next, so why not shape your career to work for you? You’ll be happier and more fulfilled for it.
Over the last decade the Rialto team have successfully assisted over 6,000 senior executives to navigate to the next act in their career.