The Turnaround Runaround: Consulting for Executives in Transition

C level executives in the New World Order of Business are really long range temps. When Return on Investment trumps company loyalty every time, when large corporations can be evaporated, absorbed or taken over on any given day, you need to travel light and hedge your bets along with your funds. Even when all goes as planned, if you don’t deliver miracles, you can find yourself seen as yesterday’s news. If you do deliver miracles, you have made the company an excellent target for merger, takeover or purchase. Either way, you could find yourself reading the fine print on that Separation Agreement.

Okay, so you’re in transition, possibly again. Having lifted some heavy weight in several different and challenging corporate scenarios over the past few years, you’ve learned quite a lot and enjoy sharing your knowledge and methods with those who have found themselves in the deep end of the pool. So you market yourself as a Turnaround Consultant, a hired gun who can save the company from ruin, or a rainmaker who can bring in needed revenue.

There are two pitfalls we have seen in trying to do this in the middle of the current economic extended hiccup : (1) the management team believes you are really just looking for another job and either won’t take a consulting engagement seriously or will drop them mid-stream when you get an offer, or (2) they see you as an inside guy, because of your stellar corporate background, when they were really looking for a professional consultant. Because you, technically, have no record of achievement as a consultant, you’re an unknown quantity.

Then the other shoe drops (actually, both shoes): (1) companies in deep trouble know they need help, and quickly, but cash flow becomes a serious problem, so they want you to work “on spec”, and/or (2) they can’t afford not to hire you and yet they can’t afford to pay you, so they don’t do either and you both lose out (probably typifying the business logic that got them in trouble in the first place).

So, what to do?? Here’s the latest thinking from Barrett Central:

  • Never fight a losing battle, and always stack the deck in your favor: Lay out the (extremely) negative consequences of not hiring you, in which the company continues to lose money, never breaks into the new market, and/or ultimately fails. Out of pity and good sportsmanship, restructure your consulting proposal to pay you only what you need now (you get paid), a big balloon based entirely on success events (you get paid well), then put a large contingency amount at the back end, payable entirely in equity (you get a piece of the action). Low risk on all sides, big payout on all sides.
  • People only get hired (or engaged) under very specific circumstances: a. If they know you, like you and can trust you. If you’re reading this, you probably don’t know enough people. Social networking (no secret here) is today’s key, and offering to help (and meaning it) is the way in. If you need help with this, call me. b. If they need you. They only need to know of you if you have a reputation for consistently doing the impossible and delivering the goods. c. If they need anybody. When the FDIC had to close down more banks in the past two years than they did in the past twenty, they needed Any Warm Body, an army. Quite a few people with little or no experience or qualifications were hired, trained and paid, while adding to the pedigree on the resume and meeting influential folks across the company.
  • The Hostile Takeover Gambit: Hopefully you set aside some loose change from your severance. If they won’t hire you, buy the company out from under them. As you first official act after installing yourself as CEO, fire them.
  • The Devil You Know or the Devil You Just Speed Dated: If they think they might do better with somebody else, remind them that they already concede you can do the job and they already have a working relationship with you. Because you’ve already done your analysis, the job is half done, all you have to do is execute. Why would they want to go through the whole painful process all over again when all they have to do is negotiate in good faith? (This one may also be the quickest highway to World Peace, but let’s take one challenge at a time).

So by all means take this opportunity to explore the glamorous and rewarding world of consulting. Just make sure you bring your boots, and don’t ever forget your parachute !

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