For the past two years, a person I’ll call Andie has been working on a special project for the CEO. With a small team reporting to her, Andie opened three new offices around the world and more than doubled the company’s workforce. The work was grueling, but Andie believed that the CEO would recognize her contribution and reward her with advancement. When the project closed last month, Andie was told that she’s no longer reporting to the CEO and her staff would be reassigned. She was also told that it’s not personal, but simply a reorganization. Andie feels like she’s been benched from the “A” team. Now, she’s wondering if she should update her resume, or accept her new role.
Reassignments like Andie’s can be disheartening and even humiliating. Even if she was told that the decision to reassign herself and her staff was not personal, she certainly was personally impacted. When she turned to us for advice, our answer boiled down to one fundamental question that Andie needed to ask herself — “Am I going to let my feelings about this change poison my attitude at work, or am I going to learn from it?”
Organizations are complicated. Realistically, a CEO can effectively lead only a limited number of people. As the company grows, so will reporting structures. What’s also a reality is that the longer you work, the more likely you are to face these career-shifting situations. It won’t hurt any less, but the sooner you can pivot from the hurt to deciding how you are going to make the best of this in a way that is true to who you are, what you care about, and where you want to go, the better.
Here are three suggestions we gave Andie for how to handle her reassignment:
1. Get closure.
You stated that your role for the past two years was a special project. That implies that it was a not a full-time position, but a project with a limited life span. You also stated that you helped open three new global locations and more than doubled the workforce. If you are unclear about whether or not the project was a success, you should ask to meet with someone, if not the CEO directly, who can give you clarity and closure.
2. Get clear about your why.
Take some time to reflect on why you accepted the position with this organization in the first place. Were you excited about the mission of the company and the impact it can have on the world? If so, this could be an excellent opportunity for you to explore more ways to use your talents to help the organization achieve its mission. Every organization needs people who can be “A” team players at every level. Use this chance to gut check yourself about your values, and whether you believe the mission is more important than your position.
3. If you must exit, do it with honor.
This is not the time to turn your hurt into toxicity by complaining about being treated unfairly, or slogging into the office feeling like you’re working with less important people. If you decide to stay, then give it 110% effort. If you cannot, give it 100% while you carefully search for a position with an organization whose mission is one that you would gladly contribute to, regardless of position. Titles come and go, but purpose-driven work will give you staying power.
Question: Have you experienced a reassignment from the CEO’s team during your career? How did you handle it?
Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!