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FORT WORTH, Texas (May 27, 2009) – One of the toughest career management decisions is when to leave your current organization. Chief executive officers, vice presidents, and even department directors all agonize over this call.

So many factors cloud our thinking.

Based on my interviews with senior level candidates over the past several years, I am finding that there are many reasons/excuses that give us pause when deciding to move on. Leaving when things seem to be going well at work is counter-intuitive. Perhaps our kids are in good schools, they are probably involved in sports or other activities; they have wonderful friends and they are adamant in their opposition to relocation. Or, the spouse is happy with his or her job; there is a great support group of friends and an ideal quality of life. More than likely there is some mixture of all of the above.

There are risks in staying. There are risks in leaving.

Business is changing. So, it is not surprising that there are non-family factors that are equally important to consider when making a decision to stay or leave. Let us look at the CEO turnover rate. The average CEO tenure is 2.5 years over all sectors, according to several recent studies. If that is not disconcerting enough, the average recruitment “stick rate” – the average tenure of all executives and managers who are recruited to new jobs – is a shockingly short 18 months. This number covers all facets of recruitment – from retained and contingency contracts to internal recruitment. Presumably, the contingent recruitment of lower level department directors or managers is driving the overall stick rate down. Nonetheless, these are troubling numbers if you sit on a board selection committee or run a company, and worrisome if you are a CEO or other executive or manager who is trying to plan the right time to move on.

No one wants to execute the perfect swan dive from the frying pan to the fire.

When I entered healthcare in the mid-1970s, the gold standard for stability in employment – and thus making you more attractive to executive search consultants – was 7 to 10 years in one job. That tenure reflected a level of stability and accomplishment, recruiters thought. Today, if you are seeking a senior level position in a healthy system or larger hospital, recruiters want to see diversity in experience and accomplishment – between five and seven years. They reason that this demonstrates that you can master a multiple of cultures and challenges, thus increasing your chances for success in a new environment. Candidates who have stayed in one job for more than 15 years could be in trouble, one career coach said recently. After 20 years in one job, pray that you can retire because your desirability as a CEO or other senior level executive is greatly diminished.

The trick is to have a career plan that is married to reasonable, grounded expectations. It is critical to have your family on board with these new career realities. They are frequently the reason a CEO stays too long. One bad departure – with nasty press reports that will almost certainly find their way on to Google – is a career limiting or ending event.

I know this sounds very unfair, even uncivilized, when it comes to what is in our family’s best interest. After all, these were not the career rules 15-20 years ago when most senior executives began their climb to leadership.

Regrettably, the market is changing. This change, especially as it relates to career management, is accelerating. If you are a healthcare executive leading a not-for-profit hospital, the challenge of managing your career is going to change again as we emerge from this deep recession. These CEOs will probably find themselves in an environment that is akin to working in a public company – more pressure to produce solid financial results and to meet rising community benefit expectations that is now a hot button with the IRS and Congress. And to do it every quarter.

Now here is the kicker. As Medicare and Medicaid payments are reduced, which will occur regardless of what happens with healthcare reform, the demands on not-for-profit hospitals for charity or deeply discounted care will only intensify.

All of these issues are forcing the CEOs of tomorrow to adjust their life and career plans. Twenty plus years in one organization may be a thing of the past.

John G. Self is Chairman and Senior Client Advisor of JohnMarch Partners. He is a Co-Founder of the Firm. A former investigative reporter and crime writer with more than 30-years of healthcare leadership experience in public relations, national marketing, business development and as Chief Executive Officer of hospitals and consulting firms, Mr. Self is highly regarded for his keen insight into operations, business culture and for his ability to consistently select the right leaders. You can contact Mr. Self at 214.220.1234 or Or you can follow him on Twitter at Self_JohnMarch

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