Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Examine the Whole Picture when Job Hopping

This lesson is one I personally learned, rather than something pointed out to me by another or discovered from watching someone else's implosion. Here is the basic concept...

When you change jobs, don't focus exclusively on those items which seemed to be "missing" from your last position. If you do that, you will most likely trade one set of unfavorable characteristics for another.

One of the jobs I worked during my career was with a company which had a very aggressive management style -- one which I grew to despise. The style included screaming and yelling during most meetings with senior management, which didn't fit with my personal beliefs of how to treat or motivate others at all. And as a pretty non-confrontational person, it really stressed me out. Unfortunately, there was no exemption for good performance, just a slight reduction in decibel levels.

So what I inevitably did when moving to my next position was to look for the absence of that aggressiveness. I wanted a place where there was little to no shouting, or any other overt confrontation. And after a little looking around, I found it.

All sounds peachy, right? It didn't turn out that way.

Okay, here is what I missed. One of the things I really appreciated about my old employer (which I didn't fully recognize until I was ensconced in my new position) was the clarity of goals and the analytical approach to setting them and measuring performance. You always knew where you stood.

The new employer had very unclear goals and targets, which seemed to present a constantly moving target. There were many unclear, unspoken criteria for judgment -- known in sarcastically as "management by hinting-around" -- which tended to polarize the staff and make the company exceptionally political for an organization of its size.

Had I been a bit more complete in my strategy, I would have been willing to accept a more aggressive employer in exchange for a less political and more straightforward criteria for judging success and failure.

Admittedly this is an example of hindsight being twenty-twenty. It is definitely difficult to do on two fronts -- first, it is a lot easier to recognize what you don't like than what you do like; and second, understanding likes and dislikes requires a fairly thorough knowledge of self. For me, that understanding didn't come until mid-life, after banging my head against the proverbial wall repeatedly.

I'm sure there are better learners out there than I was, but it seems to me most of the people I meet on the management ladder are much more focused on trying to hammer themselves into the round hole (no matter how many sharp corners they have) than in really finding work and an employer that fit with who they are.

The main protagonist in my novel, LEVERAGE ( goes through this same learning process while in the midst of solving a murder. Ultimately, he discovers that corporate life isn't really for him, a realization many people make late in their careers.

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