What was once more commonly known as outplacement is now increasingly being referred to as career transition. The latter more accurately describes the process as it focuses on the future, inherently enshrines the concept of change and implies that this is a journey, and not an event.

Whatever the specific reason that people find themselves seeking alternative roles in their professional life, it will almost always be a function of change, organisational or personal. Career transition however, as a process, is deeply personal no matter the reason. It would be convenient to believe that everyone who finds themselves seeking new opportunities has confidently dealt with many career changes, is savvy with social media and a natural networker – and if we believe the current social commentary, this thumbnail sketch is representative of most people in 2016. This picture, however, probably owes more to how we would like to see the world, rather than how it really is.

When the driver for this change is the organisation and not the individual, the person in question may be angry, have a sense of personal hurt and perhaps even failure. He or she may also be somewhat bewildered and shaken by the sudden loss of what had perhaps been an area of certainty in their life, which can lead to a loss of confidence and personal identity.

People experiencing this type of fallout is bad for the organisation, and very bad for the individual. Typically, organisations move swiftly from the decision to part company with an individual to dealing with settlement arrangements. While not in any way seeking to undermine this part of the process, the organisation can become very detached from the bigger picture (save for the rare situation in which the individual’s performance has been so bad or disruptive that the decision is a ‘no brainer’). Good management of the person can get lost in the process, sometimes with dire commercial consequences.

This is analogous with a company’s decision to merge with, or buy, another company. Making the decision will be the easy part; making it happen with a minimum of disruption or cost to the business is usually what proves really difficult.

Despite initial misgivings, career transition is often a very positive experience, both for the organisation and the individual. Of course, the process of reaching the point when individuals or organisations decide that there is no longer sufficient alignment of their interests can be painful – also incredibly time consuming, a possible minefield for broader employee relations, even potentially litigious.

It need not always be like that. A well-managed exit should be cognisant of the whole picture, the likely reaction of the individual and whether or not it is likely to prove lengthy or controversial, and should see career transition processes as part of the solution.

A bespoke, highly personalised approach that calms and facilitates the situation can help enormously and also – to be blunt – creates a far better backdrop to agreement with any settlement arrangements.

If they are to be successful, a transition coach must work quickly to develop a trusting relationship with the client. They must spend time working with the individual, firstly to work out what they want the next phase of their professional life to look like and then to produce a plan to help them get there, what the ‘must haves’ are in terms of rewards, context, sector, level and location. While in no way a substitute for an objective, sensitive and experienced coach, psychometrics can be used to explore what really motivates individuals and what they enjoy and gain satisfaction (particularly with people who have not previously had exposure to the tools).

Busy professionals are often not natural networkers and can, over time, become quite narrow in their focus, perhaps even actively avoiding the sorts of events which would have introduced them to people who may be able to assist. Networking strategies and working with people to help them list and prioritise who they know is also a key component of this process – in fact, people invariably have more contacts than they perhaps at first realise. Individuals also need access to others who perhaps have gone through the same thing as well as, crucially, those who may be able to directly help i.e. search consultants.

While there are so many tools which can be employed to help an individual work towards positively changing their professional life, there is no ‘black box’, single database or mysterious process that will magically ‘pull a rabbit from the hat’; instead, as is so often the case, there is no substitute for hard work and effort, being honest about what you know about yourself already and being open to new thinking and new approaches that could ultimately make a huge difference.

All of this requires support and help and perhaps, above all, a sense that someone is there to help pack up the old and get on with planning the next phase of their life. Career transition for an individual can be an unwelcome upheaval, or a chance to do more of what you actually enjoy doing. For organisations, it need not necessarily be controversial or troublesome, but simply part of the change process and one which, like any other, needs to be successfully managed.

Written by Anne Isaacs