A Lesson from Wyatt Earp

By: Frank Russell   |   Sep 14, 2014

The other day our receptionist came into my office, with her mouth agape, and said, “You have a call from Wyatt Earp!” Actually, this Wyatt is a local financial planner, but he is a real descendant of the famous Western figure. This got me thinking about the contrast between these two Wyatts. The original Wyatt was famous for his gun slinging ability, and talent for literally being able to draw quickly and shoot from the hip without aiming… probably a necessary survival skill for the Wild West in the late 1800s.

However, this modern day Wyatt Earp was calling to help me plan out my financial future. He was selling his advisory services and a carefully researched financial plan for my retirement savings and investments over the next few years.

The Problems of Shooting From the Hip

When thinking about Outplacement and Career Transition strategies, I think the modern day Wyatt is a better example. But, unfortunately, many organizations still take a reactionary shoot from the hip approach!

Failure to have an adequate Career Transition Plan can mean increased risk and liability. These can include:

  • Damage to an organization’s image and brand
  • Threatened lawsuits, settlements, and penalties
  • Increased SUTA rates (State Unemployment Tax Assessment)
  • Decreased motivation and productivity of the remaining team members
  • Increased turnover
  • Difficulty in attracting and recruiting new talent in the future

In our consultation practice we’re often asked to help organizations deal with specific events that usually have a very immediate timeframe. While we are always eager to help, we often recommend that companies step back and take a more strategic view. Without a proper Transition Plan as part of their overall restructuring effort, organizations can be blindsided by some of the risks mentioned above, and be in a reactive rather than a proactive mode.

6 Tips for Effective Career Transition Planning

Here are some suggestions to consider when developing a plan:

  1. Involve All Parties – Identify the key stakeholders who should provide input into the transition plan. Include all the groups who need to participate or at least be informed. This could include Executive Management, Human Resources, Public Relations, Legal, Finance and Accounting, Line Management and more.
  2. Consider All Types of Situations – Determine the types of organizational changes that should be included in your plan, like facility or plant closings, new acquisitions, layoffs, RIFs, terminations, spouse and partner relocation programs and more.
  3. Conduct a Brainstorming Session – Involving key stakeholders in a brainstorming session not only helps generate more creative ideas, it also facilitates buy-in, because participants have ownership of the suggestions, plans and recommended actions.
  4. Weigh the Risks and Determine the Resources Required – When developing the plan, consider all the risks and costs associated with the actions, or lack of actions, taken. Then identify the resources that would be required to successfully execute the plan. Include both internal and external partners. Finally, try to estimate the ROI. By carefully calculating these benefits ahead of time, you can reduce the tendency to simply look at cost cutting as the sole criteria for actions when times are tough.
  5. Conduct a “Red Ink” Review – Once the plan is written in draft form, have both participating stakeholders and other parties review, edit and give critical feedback to improve the final plan. Also, review the plan, at least annually, to make sure it is still relevant and up to date.
  6. Take Advantage of Free Resources – These ideas and more helpful suggestions are included in our Free Outplacement Guide. Through a series of questions, it will take you step-by-step through the plan creation process. Click here to download your complimentary copy.

Most people don’t want to think about the painful and difficult actions required when considering layoffs and RIFs until they absolutely have to. But, unlike the dusty streets of Tombstone, where the original Wyatt Earp could succeed with lightening fast reflexes alone, today’s business environment requires careful and thoughtful planning for successful Career Transition outcomes.

4 Tips for Organizational Change

Leading change at the organizational level can be challenging, but establishing a basic framework can certainly help. There are many to choose from. A quick search of Harvard Business Review’s blog site produces dozens of search results for “Change Management.” The topic has been a formal field of study for decades, so there are thousands of strategies to choose from. But any change process will almost certainly require the following steps.

1. Create a Vision
a.   You can start by analyzing the past. What has worked well? What needs to change, and why? You can then assess your current situation and determine whether or not you’re already on the road to change. If so, how do you know where the road will take your organization if you don’t know where it’s supposed to end up?

b.   Use the history of the organization and its current state to help you craft a vision for the future. Define what a successful end-state would look like in three, five, and ten years from now. You can always re-evaluate this vision as your organization moves along, but it’s important that you always drive change with a sense of purpose and direction.

c.   Be sure to include other leaders in the organization as you create this vision, and share the vision with leaders at all levels once the vision is agreed upon. Seek input and feedback from leaders at various levels, keeping in mind that their perspectives can save you a lot of time and money by shining light on potential issues that may not be visible at your level.

d.   Finally, influence others and seek buy-in. Make sure that other leaders in the organization have bought into the vision that’s been established, and they truly believe in the end-state that your leadership team has created.


2. Identify Organizational Capabilities
a.   Think of this step as the process of identifying what your organization can do. In order to realize the vision, what strengths and resources can senior leaders leverage? Are the resources currently available to achieve this vision? Put some thought into the organizational structure, culture, and resources in order to evaluate the overall capabilities.

b.   Don’t overlook vulnerabilities. What current factors may hinder your organization’s ability to reach the level of change you established in step one? Be sure to analyze vulnerabilities, holes, or risks that might stand in the way. Then, you can develop plans to mitigate these negative factors.


3. Develop Plans
a.   Think of this step as the process of identifying what your organization will do, based on what it can do (from step two). Now that you know what your organization is capable of achieving, it’s time to initiate the planning process that will guide your organization toward the vision. While planning, be sure to include any leaders that may have an impact on the overall success of the plan. This may include key leaders from finance, human resources, operations, legal counsel, and so on. Be sure to conduct a highly collaborative planning process, which is sure to save you a great deal of time and resources as you make progress. For example, don’t spend two months planning to make a bold strategic move only to find out that certain contract clauses will ultimately prevent the organization from taking such actions.

b.   As you (hopefully) did while creating a vision for the future, be sure to include leaders at all levels here too. It’s not uncommon for senior leaders in an organization to miscalculate necessary resources to accomplish a plan, so plans should include leaders at various levels and not just across different functional lines.

c.   Once the plans have been created, be sure to disseminate them for review prior to execution. This will ensure that extra measures have been taken to check and recheck plans before your organization exerts time and resources.


4. Execute!
a.   Once you know where you’re going, understand the capabilities necessary to get you there, and have crafted the plans, it’s time to execute! And yes, this is where things typically fall apart, but they don’t have to! It’s important to remember that your organization and the environment in which it operates are alive! They will always change, and you and your leadership team will have to change with it. This doesn’t mean you should scrap your entire vision and planning process the second you realize it’s not panning out the way everybody expected. In fact, just the opposite is true. Organizations that effectively drive change at this level are the ones that expect change to occur as the change process is implemented. This is where focus and discipline play a critical role. You have to be sure your leadership team remains focused on that end-state, or on your vision that everybody bought into, in order to see it through to the end.


Capabilities, plans, and other factors will constantly change, but don’t worry – you will find a way to adapt and overcome. Every few months, bring the team together to compare where you were, where you are, and where you’re going. As long as the organization is headed in a general direction that leads toward that vision, you’re on the right track!