Hollywood – at it again

Posted in: Bloggery

You might recall that in my blog of March of 2010 I tackled a George Clooney movie called “Up in the Air”. This was a satirical story based on the life of someone to whom large corporations outsourced the task of sacking people. It bore as much resemblance to the real work of career transition as I do to George Clooney.

And now a movie called “Company Men” has me vexed again.

The hero is retrenched from a large manufacturing company. He spends a few months out of work and experiences a decline in morale and financial security.  The plot involves fairly caricatured portrayals of other restructuring victims, the overall CEO, the Human Resources Director and the various families and spouses involved.

OK, I know I can walk out of a lightweight movie and shrug my shoulders. But what had me grinding my teeth was the portrait of extremely superficial outplacement. The limited engagement with the individual. No time spent seriously exploring career options.  It’s hard for me to picture sending senior individuals to such a battery hen like service.

The hero is portrayed as a Sales Manager. He spends a month or so working on building sites during the course of his layoff. He then returns to sales management in a very typecast career later on.

The only reflection we see him doing relates to his finances, when he winds back a lifestyle quite horrifyingly supported by debt.  It seemed like virtually all his income was spent paying off loans and charges against his income: mortgages, cars, club memberships and a whole array of lifestyle activities.

Being retrenched is often a deeply disturbing event.  It is a breach of the informal contract attached to employment.  This is the promise built around development, reward, recognition, work relationships, client connections and much more as well. This is what people sign up for in most jobs.  This is especially the case with very senior people, where so much hinges on their leadership and the relationships they build and influence in an organization.

When we are working with senior individuals in career transition we need to take great care and concern around the loss of these things – and source professional advice.  But we also need to draw the individual’s attention to the wider opportunities: those of deeply exploring talents, signature strengths and new possibilities.  You get there with a lot of conversations, gentle challenges, good quality coaching and the exploration of fields of interest.  It takes time to build competencies and then to encourage and guide each of a range of conversations, explorations and the building of new relationships.  This is about much more than passing off some knowledge and superficial advice.  We work with people rather than pushing information at them, and we create a lot of activity and hopefully a range of skills and new practices during the journey.

I suppose lawyers encounter similar reactions when watching courtroom television dramas. Doctors must shudder when watching television series depicted in hospitals.  But I think it’s time for a more realistic portrait of what really goes on when someone is retrenched and experiences really effective coaching through a career transition.