30, 60, 90, 180 – the Geometry of Career Pivots

April, 24, 2023 | Future of Work

Whoever thought that they’d never think about a protractor or compass again, guess again. While I might not be drawing circles or measuring triangles on an everyday basis, I’m incorporating these mighty tools (by analogy) when I’m speaking to coaching clients who want to make a career pivot.  I explain to them that the vertex, or the center of the protractor, represents where you are right now (or 0 degrees). Then, depending on their aspirations, I ask them how much of a change in career they are looking to achieve, where 0 represents staying right where you are and 180 degrees represents the largest difference in where you are now and where you want to be.

When it comes to career change, and change for that matter, degrees matter (and no I’m not taking about the ones you earn after your name).  When starting to plot your next career move, consider some typical degrees of change involved.

Career Pivot Types

  • 30-degree change
    • What is it: It’s about making a transition to a new industry or new company but having the same or similar role. (Example: Being a Financial Analyst in a large public company to being a Financial Analyst in a non-profit)
    • How do it:  To do this requires that you bring your skills with you but you have to pivot your mindset. You can no longer be the industry expert or beloved company guru. You may know your stuff but there are different rules to live by, some of which you’re not told until you make mistakes or your ideas get rejected. To pivot 30-degrees, take time to listen and ask questions is the key to building trust and credibility.
  • 60-degree change
    • What is it:  It’s about pivoting to a leadership position from being an independent contributor, or moving from a smaller to a much larger leadership position. (Example: leading a team to leading a department)
    • How to do it: This pivot involves learning important new skills about managing people and especially yourself.  Managers have to learn to set performance expectations and norms, make critical decisions, including hiring and budgeting, provide feedback and recognition, and not to mention, engage and motivate others. Furthermore, it requires learning how and when to delegate work to both manage your sanity level as well as develop others.  Beyond learning the managerial skills, to make this pivot, managers need to develop self-awareness of both their strengths, their gaps, their triggers and their releases. This self-awareness may take the form of reflection, meditation, receiving feedback, and most of all, learning to let to go ego, which might be driving them to be the rock the star performer they used to be, instead of being the deliberate manager they need to be.
  • 90 degree change
    • What is it: For now, I consider a 90-degree change to be a combination of a 30-degree and 60-degree career change. The 90-degree change is one’s ultimate growth edge and may come with a high degree of effort and stress. (Example: A Talent Acquisition Specialist in a large company to Head of HR in a smaller company; this type of change may also involve changing the state or country you work in).
    • How to do it: More than anything this type of change requires a lot of effort and especially patience. One of the best ways to make this change is to ensure that you have a proper support system. This includes not only family or friends but mentors and coaches who can help encourage your progress and help you adjust.
  • 180-degree change
    • What is it: It involves doing something so completely different than your current role that you are nearly starting over. While it’s the most risky of career changes, it also comes has the potential for the greatest career satisfaction. (Example:  Accountant to Bakery owner;  Dental hygienist to global diplomat; Physical therapist to airline pilot).
    • How to do it: Get to know yourself well enough that you’re convinced that an 180-degree change is aligned with your values, mission, and vision.  Then, research the path to get there, which often involves a combination of going back to school or receiving specialized training, networking, as well as some level of financial investment.

Start Small, Think Big

So you want to change your career?  While I highlighted the more distinguishable degrees of career pivots, there are a lot of individual degrees between each 30 degree increment. Often, a 5 or 10 degree career change can be all that you need to see and feel a positive difference.  Some examples of a minor career shift can include working a more flexible schedule, or taking on a new project that will provide you an opportunity to develop new skills.  Ultimately, making a career change is about getting clarity about why you are satisfied or dissatisfied now and then being honest with how much risk and change you are willing to commit to. The greater the degree of change, the greater the effort and time needed to make the change. The good news is that you always get to decide the direction and degree of change you want to make.

About Danielle

Danielle is a change management leader passionate about creating resilient, human-centered workplaces and learning communities by constantly asking, “What for?” “What If?” and, “Why not?” and “What else?”

She believes a company is only as good as its talent. She is driven to understand what makes people thrive at work and ensure organizations remain relevant and resilient in an uncertain future.

She challenges conventional thinking, conducts calculated experiments, and embraces vulnerability at work.

She partners, coaches, and consults with business and HR leaders on how to intentionally create and cultivate spaces for alignment, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation.

She gravitates toward small to midsize progressive organizations who embrace innovation and change, believe their talent has unbound potential, and are committed to sustainable and life-generating practices to support the greater eco-system.


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