Seven strategies to direct your unretirement

9 November 2020 By Victoria Tomlinson

Seven strategies to direct your unretirement image

The phrase of this year has been ‘to pivot’ – along with ‘unprecedented’. And it struck me, pivoting is essentially what people have to do in unretirement. Change direction, try new things, be prepared for some to work and others not to (I am avoiding the word fail here – everything you try will help build a picture for the future).

I was asked to be a guest speaker on the Managing Partners’ Forum weekly webinar about retuning your firm (these are really excellent and I would highly recommend them).

Richard Chaplin, founder and CEO, starts every session by reminding everyone of the seven strategies for current times – taken from a talk by Alena Kudzko of GLOBSEC at the Global Think Tank Town Hall. It occurred to me these strategies are a really great way to approach unretirement. So let’s look at them in more detail

1.Think big – believe six impossible things before breakfast

One of the biggest challenges for people coming up to retirement is to imagine the impossible, to dream and realise they can almost do anything. So many times we hear the phrase, “I have become institutionalised, I don’t know how the real world works”. It takes time to step out of your old role and firm and think about what you would love to do and could do. It’s a time to reconnect with things you wanted to do and realise you still can – and can still try new things.

When Jane Stageman took early voluntary retirement, she suddenly realised she could fulfil a dream from years ago to work with VSO. Two months later, she had left her job in organisational development, applied, been selected and was working in Myanmar. Read her story in this video interview.

2.You are the power of your relationships – remember to reciprocate favours

Networking is one of the most important – and possibly the hardest – of new skills to learn, once you leave your working life. It’s a time when you want to recharge your batteries, probably travel and spend time with family. Most people we work with seem to be mentally exhausted towards the end of their career.

Yet it is also the very time you need to widen your networks, whatever you want to do. I have now interviewed so many headhunters and unretired executives/partners and every single person says, whatever you decide to do, the most important activity out of everything will be networking, networking, networking.

And as Richard Chaplin of MPF says, networking is not building a black book of names, but really knowing them and who they are, doing favours, looking for opportunities for them. It’s a two-way relationship, not a connection.

3.Think small – focus on angles that resonate with your key audiences

Once you leave corporate life, time changes. On the one hand it is easy to get busy – all those jobs, seeing friends and family you have almost abandoned. On the other, days can suddenly seem to lack purpose and time stretches out.

The best way to address this is to block out one or two (or more) days a week to do the things you now have time for. Then give structure to the rest of your time – set targets of who you want to meet, research, applying for roles or creating a new venture. Micro-managing your life will help you achieve what you want without feeling you are still a victim of a 24/7 lifestyle.

4.Do a campaign not a one-off – converts an audience into a community

Some years ago I interviewed a successful chair/non-executive director about the number of female non-exec candidates he saw – and how they performed compared to men.

He made a comment that has stuck with me all these years later, saying “I think people generally think that NED roles come to you. But you have to be very targeted, tailor your CV, keep meeting and stay in touch with people and update them with your latest CV and activities. I trod, and continue to tread, paths to the headhunters. The truth is, to be successful you have to slog at this and keep slogging. Many very good women don’t win the NED roles they should – but there are many really good male candidates who never do either.”

Create campaigns to achieve what you want. They say it takes 7 touches to sell – rarely does anyone ‘buy’ the first time they meet you. You need to find ways to stay in touch (and social media is brilliant for this) so you are in their mind when someone needs you.

5.Drop convention – go for new ideas and services

There is no doubt that the majority of senior people who are coming up to retirement explore or imagine themselves in a non-exec role. Usually because they can’t think what else to do. This is a fiercely competitive market and very few find it as rewarding as they hoped or expected.

But there is a world out there of opportunities. Just drop the conventions. Have a look at our peer stories and hear/see Elizabeth Jackson who now grows British flowers for the wholesale market; Turan Turan who started a cold smoking cookery school; Paul McCormick who helps graduates to get city jobs; John Watson who is still campaigning at the age of 77; and Sheena Hastings who supports dyslexic pupils at school.

Don’t limit your ideas, think of the possible.

6.Speed is of the essence – articulate and market test your assumptions; if they prove invalid, amend them and pivot in a new direction

I said above that networking is one of the hardest new skills for unretired people. Actually, that may not be right. The hardest part may be articulating and market testing your ideas – but it goes hand in hand with networking.

I wrote this blog, 7 steps to fill a blank sheet in unretirement, with a process to test your ideas. I know a lot of transition coaches focus on what you, the individual wants at this stage. That is important but it is more important to check out what the market needs and change direction as you discover what this is – and is not.

7.Be entrepreneurial – keep listening and innovating

Just as a business has to keep listening and innovating, so do you as an individual. If you had everything sussed for your future in February, almost certainly it will have changed. How are you adapting – and the key to this is keep listening?

So those are the seven strategies to help you plot your way through this next stage.

When I was speaking at the MPF webinar, I was giving managing partners an insight into what it means to retire – and the opportunities to rethink how firms do this. For the benefit of their firm and individuals.

At the end, fellow speaker Jeremy Beard, managing partner of Hays MacIntyre admitted he had not really thought about how firms use the skills of partners as they retire and after. I hope he and others will rethink the opportunities of this generation – a sentiment I expressed in a letter to the FT this week.

Hopefully these seven strategies will help people to use their skills in new ways after corporate life.


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Written by Victoria Tomlinson

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.

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