2 July 2020 By Victoria Tomlinson
I wanted here to share one of the biggest challenges that this retirement stage of life poses – and offer insights, if not exactly solutions, to the change in mindset needed if people want to win new roles.
Last month Next-Up was two years old. We are so grateful to all the friends and contacts who have helped shape this business and make it a success. Things have been paused because of COVID, but we are now in discussions again with professional firms and others to run online programmes for partners/directors who are retiring. What these two years have done is to give real insight to the biggest issues facing anyone retiring.
When you have worked flat out for 30 years, you can’t wait to have a break, travel, spend time with family and friends. Many say, “I will take a break for six months/a year and then start looking”.
Once they do start looking, they are fitting this into a new lifestyle – maybe a day a week on the golf course or looking after parents, lots of lunches with friends, regular walking trips, long weekend breaks.
All of this is great and I often use the phrase, “this is a time to live life on your terms”. It’s a time to live your values, create that work/life balance you have always wanted. Except. The trouble is that the rest of the world is still living that manic lifestyle and has expectations about you if you want to be part of the equation.
There is no simple answer to any of this, but let’s look at what has led to me writing about this. These are just a handful of incidents that have built up a bigger picture of the challenges facing retirees.
I have now had a number of instances when I had a possible opportunity for people in our network. Most of them were paid. I emailed or phoned with an outline and asked them to get back – and then had to chase after a few days.
One story in particular highlighted a number of issues from the individual’s perspective. We had been asked to help a partner in an international firm, as he was coming up to retirement. He was keen to take on advisory roles – and we said we would help for free if he would help us pilot and work out a process we are developing for the mid-tier market. We were introduced by email on Tuesday. I decided not to be the first to pick this up and waited to see what would happen.
By Sunday there was no reply. So I sent a LinkedIn invitation. Again, waiting to see what happened. Ten days later I chased – and got a reply a few days later. We set up and had an hour long Zoom call and agreed a deadline for two weeks to get back on various matters. I then had COVID or similar – very mild in the scheme of it – so didn’t chase. Six weeks later I went back and said how was this all going! He replied – a contract had come up and he wouldn’t now pursue this. No apology, no thanks for offer of help or giving free time.
Gosh. How would you feel?
We have a lot of former partners in our network and I went to one who has become a friend to our business, to discuss this. Of course, the big issue here is that the partner is still working 24/7 and at the same time trying to build a new network and roles, ready for departure day.
But I felt there was more to this than just time pressures. Let’s call our friend, John. What John said is that partners and directors who are very senior in big brand companies and firms, have a ‘buyer’s mentality’. He knows – he admits he used to be that way! Your diary is filled for every minute, you are in demand, your priority is for clients and everything else is secondary (including your own future). You have led a pretty magical life when opportunities have come to you – promotions, work, whatever. In your mind you put this down to your own individual success and hard work – and think this will all continue when you leave.
This all resonates. I started Next-Up because we were seeing a stream of extremely successful people who expected to be ‘tapped on the shoulder’ once they retired. They thought there would be a queue of people up their drive with opportunities for them. What they had under-estimated was the value of their big corporate brand. Once you are on your own it is a whole new world. You have to work extremely hard to make these opportunities work for you as an individual.
Dozens of people have helped us shape this business and in turn we see them as friends and contacts to support. We regularly go out to check how they are, suggest a catch-up, introduce them to someone and generally keep them involved.
Just now and again, we would love it if they were the ones to come to us! We are only human! The old, ‘saw this and thought of you’ is heart-warming, to say nothing of keeping you in people’s minds. After a while, a one-way relationship becomes hard work and you question if it is adding value to either party. You drop them off your radar.
In contrast, I can think of a number of people who are really proactive with us. They joined the Next-Up mentoring site, have mentored entrepreneurs, attended events, joined our group calls – or offered apologies if they couldn’t make one and more. All on a voluntary basis.
I can’t tell you how joyous it is to get an email from this network just asking how you are, let’s do a call, I’ve had an idea or going to make an introduction for you.
As we start getting fantastic feedback about some of our mentors, they are going to the top of our mental list for people who we would recommend. We are starting to know them and build trust. If an opportunity comes up – who are we going to suggest? Those that we know.
In comparison, take the partner example above. Forget that he eventually got another contract. Before that came up he had been slow to respond, didn’t engage, lacked the basic networking skills.
Of course you are going to put people forward that you can think will enhance your own reputation. If you worry that they may not even answer an email for a week, you are much less likely to recommend them.
The email I mentioned which had no apology and no thanks is an extreme version of the courtesies that count. This partner may now have another contract but in a couple of years he will be out there again – and people remember. It costs nothing to apologise for slow response or more to the point, to thank someone for their time and support. You want to bank these relationships for the future – one day you will need them.
A minor but extremely important point is that I often struggle to find people’s contact details. Two or three times, I have had to chase around through other people I know to contact someone. You expect them at least to have their new email address on their LinkedIn profile – a mobile as well is great.
The biggest question to ask yourself as you retire is – do I care? Will you mind if you never get any roles and retirement really is ‘golf’, travel and family? This is your choice and many will be happy with this. But if, like so many, you see something different for yourself long term, then these are my suggestions
A year or two ago, someone working in this market said, “New opportunities will come from the fringes of your network. You need to build those fringes.”
You may be surprised at just how much courtesy, speed, relationships and helpfulness will all count in your success. People are just human, they mind about these things, they want to work with people who make them feel and look good – and they have long memories!
Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.