How digital leaders can overcome the barriers to achieving their ambitions...
In my work as an executive coach, I have advised hundreds of clients as they strive to become more effective leaders or connect more deeply to a sense of purpose. But never before have I had so many clients asking, “Is this still the right job for me?”
Many of my clients are questioning the fit between themselves, their jobs, and their organizations. That’s different from searching for greater effectiveness or seeking deeper purpose. It is different too from having imposter syndrome or worrying, “Am I good enough to do this job?” They are questioning whether they want to do the jobs they are in anymore; jobs they have often worked long and hard to get in the first place.
It’s not just my clients who are experiencing this angst. A recent Microsoft study found that 41% of the global workforce is considering leaving their positions. The lockdowns, work-at-home orders, and continued pandemic uncertainty have caused people to rethink their priorities. People report feeling more detached from their colleagues and work environment, which may make it easier to consider leaving. A couple of recent examples will help to illustrate the dynamics:
Carla is a talented communications director for a mid-sized organization, leading a team of 10 people. She was recruited into the company two years ago to modernize the department and to be a strategic partner for the business. However, she has become increasingly frustrated by how hierarchical the company is, and how people use information and relationships to safeguard power. She is well respected, has successfully led several new initiatives, and is confident she can lead the transformation, but she is unsure that this is how she wants to be investing her time.
Jean-Pierre directs special projects for a global IT software department unit, including gaming and special apps to engage customers. He is exhausted by the pull between headquarters, the country general managers and the Board. He does not like how he is spending his time attending to so many administrative tasks and building country manager level agreement, only to have a sudden change of direction or flip-flopping one level up. It is taking an emotional toll. He misses the feeling of creative energy and the belief that he can develop something powerful for the organization and the communities it serves.
Like many others, Carla and Jean-Pierre are rethinking what they want from work. They are questioning where they belong and what they need. They are prioritizing flexibility and satisfaction from work more than before. They are hungry for connection and to feel appreciated for their efforts. As they emerge from the long slog of the pandemic, they, and many like them, do not want to go on fighting the same battles.
As their coach, it my job to help clients such as Carla and Jean-Pierre understand their needs, work through their emotions, explore their options, and make good choices. This can be hard to do by yourself. It is uncomfortable not knowing where you belong. The feeling of being in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing is a drain on our energy. It is too soon to know what Carla and Jean-Pierre will decide, but if you are experiencing doubts about fit, here are some pointers that will help.
Look at your current job and ask yourself, What would make this job worth staying for? What would make it the ideal job for me? If I could do anything here, what would be fun? These questions focus your brain on possibilities, which is significantly more reenergizing than focusing on what is wrong. Don’t evaluate your ideas yet. Write down as many crazy thoughts as possible and, over the next few days, keep adding to your list. If there is nothing on your list, then it is time to prepare to leave
What patterns do you see in terms of what is most important to you? Start talking to a trusted advisor, partner, or colleague to verbalize the types of things you would like to do. Keep the conversation positive, searching for possibilities. Try not to let the conversation spiral into complaining or stating all the reasons why change in this organization is not possible. Your immediate goal is to frame what you want to do.
Next, explore whether change in immediate job responsibilities is possible. Who do you need to talk to, and in what order? You must be able to articulate the types of things you would like to do or learn and how it would benefit the organization. You will also need to explain what is currently frustrating or energy draining in your job. The goal of these meetings is to explore possibilities and seek advice. Many people underestimate their value to their organization.
If you are not able to change within your department, seek advice about whether there may be a better place for you within the organization and ask specifically for support from those you have talked to.
While exploring internal possibilities, draw on what you learned creating your list to explore external possibilities. Speak to your network and headhunters. Research companies that do the types of things that are interesting to you, and get a better understanding of how they work and what they are hiring for.
I actively encourage my clients to explore many possibilities at the same time. When clients think creatively about what is fulfilling and can envision themselves working in different areas, they no longer feel stuck. Then they are best situated to decide about fit. Through my practice, I witness clients making different decisions – commit to their current jobs, restructure their responsibilities, move to a different part of the organization, or choose to leave their companies. The act of deciding brings energy to their teams and the organization. There is no right conclusion, but staying in that gray zone is not a long-term solution.
The workers are questioning their fit because they are dissatisfied, and if they are dissatisfied, they are not delivering their best work
While most of my work focuses on helping clients, the widespread angst about fit has very important implications for organizations. It is happening in all industries and in all levels of the organization, from entry level positions to the C-suite. The workers are questioning their fit because they are dissatisfied, and if they are dissatisfied, they are not delivering their best work. Companies are very much at risk of losing their best people as a result. Here are five steps organizations can take to retain their precious talent:
Many direct reports say their bosses are less available than before, which means leaders may be unaware that their workers are unhappy. The distance also makes it more difficult for direct reports to bring up difficult or risky subjects such as fit. Leaders cannot wait for the yearly review. They need to initiate conversations around what people currently like about their work. They should also ask questions regarding what people have learned during the last 20 months – both about the business and about themselves, and how this influences what they want to learn in the future. Leaders need to really listen – don’t assume you know what people want or what they are going to say; people’s interests and priorities have changed. You don’t need to make promises, but you do need to show that you care.
Many clients have expressed that they are working in a more siloed fashion than before. Horizonal moves will provide your direct reports with opportunities to learn new things, a change of perspective, and strengthen connections among departments or divisions. These types of changes can help you keep talent and bring energy, synergy, and innovation.
Many clients are unhappy because changes take too long, the organization is overly political, or they perceive they are being abandoned, micro-managed, or bullied. Often, this is an open secret in the organization. If this is true, you need to manage poor leadership and create culture change. It is important to ask yourself, “As a company, what are we avoiding?”
This can be through formal education, on the job learning, and/or peer coaching programs. Not only does it grow your talent, but it demonstrates that their personal growth is important. It also provides opportunities to create/strengthen internal and external networks, which benefit both the business and the person.
If you have people who feel they do not fit and you are unable to accommodate them, support them in finding new work outside the organization. Transitions can take time, and your concern for their career will keep them engaged and focused in the short-term. You will develop a reputation for developing talent and, hence, it will be easier to attract talent. Moreover, the people who leave your company can become your company ambassadors. They may also be your next client, customer, or supplier.
The questioning of fit is something that individuals, leaders, and organizations need to understand has the potential to negatively impact job satisfaction and business performance. However, handled well, the questioning of fit can lead to more fun at work, a higher level of personal commitment, and better business results.
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