Procrastination can be fatal to your career

Bill went through the motions during his leadership meetings or when speaking with analysts. Most weekends, he left the office on Thursday evening and headed to his home In Connecticut. He thought about making a move but couldn’t get himself started. Meanwhile, the company he was supposed to be leading was drifting with lackluster results.

Chase was in a state of shock; he was fired with no warning. Over a year before, he had been alerted by his boss that a member of the board wanted him out. But over the past year, Chase drove his business to be ranked #1 out of four within the company. He believed that the distraction of a job search would be detrimental to his career.

Susan was the CEO of a large subsidiary, but her boss still treated her like his #2.  She thought about starting a job search, but never took the necessary steps.  Two years later, her boss was replaced, and she was demoted. Her new boss concluded that she was better suited for a #2 position.

The new CEO and Bob didn’t see eye to eye. They often disagreed in staff meetings. Peers took Bob aside and told him to back off, but Bob felt that the CEO didn’t know software from soft drinks and Bob knew the products inside and out. The conflict with the CEO went on for a year. During that year, Bob took calls from executive recruiters, but  he never entertained  one opportunity. So, the decision to leave was made for him.

Jim was the COO of an acquired company. He strongly suspected that his job would disappear soon after the deal was completed. It took nearly a year to get through the deal process, and Jim worried about being fired for an entire year of ambiguity. Once the deal was done, he was let go.

Eventually, Bill, Chase, Susan, Bob and Jim admitted that they put their careers “at risk.” All four procrastinated for at least a year, even though there were clear signs that a Career Plan B, or a career “back-up plan”, was in order.

Do you need a Plan B?

C-level careers often have bumps and transitions. In 2013, the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO was reported as 4.1 years and CEO direct reports was 2.4 years.  So, it makes sense to actively broaden your playing field on a continuous basis. Then, during good times, tumultuous times, and bad times, your career will be managed by you.

Most senior executives are extremely busy with job, civic, family and other responsibilities, so they often neglect longer term career planning. All senior executives should devote 10 percent of their professional time, on a continuous basis, developing their career and their potential next move. Senior executives should spend more than 10% of their time on their Plan B if their career circumstances warrant a greater sense of urgency. Your need for urgency can be assessed by looking at your present situation.


“Yes” to any of the following …

  • Do you report to a new Chairman or CEO?
  • Do you no longer carry the weight of your position?
  • Do you have difficult relationships with powerful internal adversaries that may not be fixed?
  • Do you have difficult external stakeholder relationships that may not be fixed ( major customers, partners, shareholders)?
  • Are there circumstances on the horizon that will lead to your career being stifled or ended at your present company?
  • Are you competing for a position that may not go your way?
  • Is the company losing ground or is a project or initiative failing, while you are being positioned to take the fall.

…indicates a need for an urgent “Plan B”


Chase was prepared with a Plan B…

Chase’s former mentor, the Chairman of a foreign-owned $12B U.S. rescued him from a six month transition by hiring him as his #2.  Chase promised himself he would never be caught off guard again. Two years later, his mentor announced retirement shortly after a large corporate acquisition, and many believed Chase would be his replacement. Two weeks after his mentor’s announcement, Chase was informed that the CEO of the newly acquired company would be his new boss. Two days later, Chase resigned to take a Chairman/CEO job leading a $6B ingredients company (a supplier to his company). Everyone crooned at Chase’s brilliant and seamless move. The rest of his mentor’s old team were let go within three months.


“Yes” to any of the following …

  • Has your job become boring? Do you dread going to work most days?
  • Do you dream about your next step being outside your present company?
  • Is there no next step for you internally?
  • Does the Board discourage you from making changes?
  • Is there a competitor that will beat you no matter what?
  • Is your business sustainable given what is happening in the marketplace?
  • Is your company being sold? Or is there a merger planned?
  • Are you close to “retirement age”?

…indicates a longer term but necessary “Plan B”


How do you Jump Start your own Motor?

First, find a way to schedule 10 hours a week to broaden your playing field-make it a recurring commitment. Then, do one of the following:

1) Join or start at least one C-level networking group, roundtable, or course. The setting should give you ample opportunity to build strong face to face relationships. Make sure the group is exclusive enough to make a difference to your career. These are not “job search” groups. These are executives that know how to learn from one another and network at your level and above.

2) Hire an exclusive C-level coach that will give you the encouragement and guidance you need to put together the strategy and tactics for your “Plan B.” Make sure they have the talent and the experience to do so at your level.

3) Educate yourself on all the channels, tools and contacts needed to pursue your target role, geography, and industry. Meet and greet many career influencers.

4) Invest in yourself. Get in fighting shape; hire or utilize your trainer. Invest in an upscale and current wardrobe for your industry. Check out your hair style, accessories and technology. Make sure you are up to date. Get the rest that you need. Eat a healthy diet.

If it is impossible for you to devote the time necessary, hire a C-level career services firm that can take on some of the burden of your marketing effort and eventual job search.

A personal commitment to your “Plan B” will build upon itself and success will follow. You will feel  a sense of relief and more confident when you take the first step. Those feelings will encourage you to take more steps toward your own back-up plan.


Share Article: