Anil Ethanur |
In a long career getting stuck in a role or organisation is common. A job change may not be the only option to get out of this rut!
Mike is a super sales guy working for a leading process automation major. He is consistently meeting his targets and seen as the go-to-guy for all his customers. He is on the road 80% of his working time engaging with clients and prospects around the country. This job profile makes his interactions with his own colleagues infrequent and his visibility amongst senior management members scarce. Mike aspires to take on leadership roles in his company and sees his inherent aloofness of this role as an obstruction to his promotion. He thinks a role at one of the large regional offices or the company’s HQ would give the ideal to boost his growth prospects. This would present him the opportunities to hobnob with senior executives or his peers to catch their attention.
He doesn’t know how to escape this situation. On the part of the company’s management, there is really no incentive to move Mike out of his current role as he is the best man for the job. It would be foolhardy for them to change the status quo. Have you found yourself stuck in a similar situation? What are the odds that you’ll break free from this mould? This is what HR experts term as a competency trap: you are good at what you do, perhaps indispensable but unable to charter a new or a different career path. Becoming a victim of your own success often happens to the best of the individuals and companies alike. What stands out is a sense of being stuck and lack of power to free themselves from such a position. Could there be a way out? What conscious steps can we take? Let’s examine.
The S curve
As you embark on a new job, you start off with a learning phase where the growth/productivity tends to be slow before it takes a steep rise and hitting a plateau. If you recognize this path, you’ll know that it’s a great idea to switch to a new curve (not necessarily a new job) when you are at the top of this S curve. Often the temptation is to overstay when you are on the top of the curve and feed off on your past successes or carry on with a sheer sense of entitlement. The moot point is that when the learning stops, growth stops too.
Not all organizations are geared up to meet your personal needs and aspirations. It is up to you to make conscious efforts to create chances for yourself. Organizational contexts are dynamic and if you have your ears to the ground, you’ll notice these windows of opportunities and make your moves. It could be a cross-functional opportunity to round off your profile or a strategic project that your leadership may be working on. Even adverse situations such as staff turnover or key leadership transitions/exits may present prospects for you to grab. Growth need not be vertical and opting to move sideways could also offer you plenty of opportunities to develop. Looking for opportunities within your organization is indeed a good start point.
The First step
To begin with, you’ll need to let your ambitions be known to your leadership and key stakeholders. This is critical in carving out mindshare amongst the people who matter. Asking or even demanding for those coveted roles is perfectly alright. One of my observations on people who made it big in their career is that they were willing to punch above their weight. Their audacity leads them to the next opportunity that they weren’t ideally ready for. They took on the stretch roles and worked hard and smart to fill the gap than getting stuck. Richard Branson’s quote “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” is, in essence, a great mindset to have.
Performance is “necessary but not sufficient” for success and growth. People, akin to products need to work on their brands. In this context, self-promotion is not a bad thing. The challenge is not all of us are good at this. Branding efforts do take time and staying the course is key without expecting quick wins. So, be patient even if colleagues and seniors do not notice immediately but with time perceptions are likely to shift.
I want to highlight an example of this young HR Manager who created a personal brand. He took up a number of initiatives whilst he was the midst of HR transformation projects in his role. He was also an organizer at the city’s HR forum, wrote a book (got a Management guru to write the foreword) and shared learnings and best practices within his professional networks. His ability to juggle so many tasks was truly admirable and he is sure to go places.
Stuck to Freedom
Discovering that you are stuck in is a key realisation. Being in a role/title or organisation for long isn’t the only metric. It’s also how you feel doing that role that needs to be taken into account. First, If you feel you not learning anything or you can just turn up and do it with ease indicates you are already in a comfort zone. Second, if you do not enjoy the tasks associated with it nor the results then it’s a clear sign of boredom. Third, if there are no recognitions coming your way then you know your contributions doesn’t mean anything to the organisation either.
In the marathon of our career, we are likely to get stuck in a role, with a boss, or an organisation. The key is to recognise it and address it timely with the help of mentors, friends, peers and bosses. Others will only help us if we are open and also make time for them in our lives.
Growth is painful, change is painful but feeling stuck in a place where you don’t belong is even more painful.