I am invariably asked this question from my mentees, “Should I change my job?”
Reasons for Quitting
When I probe deeper, I find that the reasons are broadly:
- An expectation mismatch between the manager and the mentee. The mentee typically blames the organisation, the management, the boss, the super-boss, the colleagues, the politics, the salary, the travel time, the office hours…this list is endless.
- Perception that life has been unfair. The perceived unfairness has another perspective, “I did all the work that was allotted to me, I fulfilled my targets, I did better than others…how come I did not get what I deserved?”
I have said this earlier and will re-iterate. If everyone fulfils their targets, everyone cannot be promoted, unless it is a bureaucratic / government job and even there, after a certain level, only some persons can get promoted. We cannot all become CEOs in the same organisation at the same time.
So what determines who will be promoted?
The answer is simple – ‘Whoever the promotion committee feels should be promoted.” Why should the committee feel that you should be promoted?
- The boss must be promoted, so that a space is created for you
- Out of all prospects, your boss will recommend you if:
- He trusts you to do his bidding
- You make him look good
None of the above have anything to do with your work. Your work is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for your promotion or increment.
Managing the Power Play
You need to know the following:
- Power equations in the office (who determines promotions)
- What they want
- How you will benefit them (give them what they want).
If what they want is unacceptable, then you need to determine why is it unacceptable.
It may be that you would not want to compromise your beliefs. But the beliefs of the bosses matter, not yours. So you have the following choices:
- Change your beliefs
- Change your job
- Change the beliefs of your bosses
- Determine that you love your job and you do not want the promotion / increment
- Wait until a boss comes whose beliefs are the same as you.
Most of us believe that theory is a waste of time.
Take the adage, “Give a man a fish and he is not hungry for a day; teach a man to fish and he will not be hungry ever!” what we want is the fish, not the theory behind catching fish.
When I ask some one for help in a particular situation, and he gives me theoretical answers and asks me to figure it out, I feel impatient and betrayed. I want a quick pill that will help alleviate the symptoms.
Theoretically, once the symptoms are gone, I can do a root cause analysis to prevent recurrence. But this rarely happens. We do not revisit the doctor if the symptoms are gone.
Let us take the doctor analogy further, should we go to:
- A doctor knows the theory of medicine?
- A person who has not attended medical school but has assisted a doctor in his rounds, say, a nurse?
- Other persons who have some past experience in similar symptoms?
The answer is logically obvious:
- no assistant or non-professional would have come across all the cases and variations and therefore
- cannot guess or set up the right tests to understand the root cause of the problem.
But emotionally, we do it the reverse way –
- Other persons first, then
- some one who has had similar symptoms, then
- a quack and finally
- a doctor.
Even in corporate life, we try the old tested ways based on the experience of the employees. Sometimes we hire consultants because like doctors, they are detached from the problem and they have learnt more theory.
Only a doctor trained in root cause analysis would ask the right questions and recommend the tests to find the cause of the fever. A good doctor has the following characteristics:
- He has learnt the theory of analysis and possible method to derive the root causes
- He knows how to apply the theory – this requires creativity
- He has the experience of some of the applications
A quack, on the other hand, know only point 3 above: some experience and a smattering of bookish knowledge form the most convenient layman book available.
So, why read theory?
- It is the distillation of the thoughts and experiences of other persons and their perspective.
- Healthy scepticism is necessary. It is not gospel truth, it is simply a theory and a perspective.
- If we do not understand the author’s perspective and then, more importantly, do not argue in which situation it will work and in which it will not, we are believing that the theory is a law of nature. That is incorrect. It is the argument about the theory that creates experience in our mind.
- We need to apply the theory to our life to see the situations where it worked or not. We need to analyse why it worked or did not work.
- It creates a discipline of collecting and managing knowledge and sorting it in our mind for quick access – during exams or in real life. It is a misconception that due to the advent of the internet, we can get any theory whenever we want.
Students sometimes decide that they would rather have practical experience and case analysis, because
- they do not understand the theory,
- cannot apply it,
- dislike the book,
- dislike the professor.
A case or a practical experience is only a subset of the topic, not the whole topic. Cases and practicals are a partial application of the theory, not a replacement.
Folks, this is a review of my workshop on Career Development for executives, who believe that their career is stuck. Have a dekko…
I see a lot of my proteges / mentees having a lack-lustre linkedin profile and I am saddened by it. Let me put it this way. To paraphrase an author I read some time ago (frankly I do not remember, but this is not my idea…) in your self-branding exercise, Facebook is like a pub where we meet a lot of people, have connections, but over a drink and then we all go home. Twitter is like a cocktail partywhere we speak a small sentence and then move on to the next person. Youtube is like MG Road on New Year’s Eve, everybody trying to get in front of the camera and vying for attention. Linkedin is like a trade show where we meet like-minded people.
Join the groups that talk about what we are interested in. Even if we are bystanders, we will learn a lot of what the world thinks. It is a faster way to get people’s opinions and trends that reading some boring author. I know, I am one such author.
Check the news. This news can be customised to give us articles across the globe on the topics of your choice. It is obviously a better way than perusing gadzillions of newpaper pages (online or offline)
Under the “More” section, there is “Answers” and “Skills”. We should use these more often. “Skills” creates the keywords necessary for a job search. “Answers” allow you to brand yourself as an authority as more of your answers get selected as “best” answers.
I am increasingly seeing a trend where recruiters are looking at our linkedin profiles. Apart from the ability to have an on-line rolodex for networking, it allows us to help others get jobs, and it allows us to meet people with the same interests and connect with them professionally.
Is it important to have specific and measurable goals? It they keep on changing, what is the purpose of having a goal?
The answer to the first one is yes, we need to have goals, that too, written goals (one study shows that written goals are more likely to be achieved). If we do not have any yardstick of measurement, how do we know we are progressing and therefore when we are likely to reach the goal?
But even more basic than that, what should be my goal? How do I determine the right goal?
Our goals should be determined by our needs. So we have to do a needs analysis of what we would like to have and what we would like to avoid.
- One way is to think back and remember those incidents that made me happy. Then for each incident, I do a ‘root cause’ on why it made me happy. This will show me my needs. Then I create those goals that satisfy these needs.
- Another way is to think of incidents that made me unhappy. A root cause on this – why did that incident make me unhappy – would tell me what I would like to avoid.
Once I have my needs (what I want and what I don’t want) defined, I have to do two things:
- determine the relative important of each need
- determine the maximum time frame in which this should be satisfied (urgency)
Now I can find out what I have to do and when, and this determines my goals. We have to remember that to achieve something, we may have to sacrifice something else, and the important/urgent matrix above will help us realise our priority.
Another aspect of needs analysis is to determine whether these are your goals or the goals of your influencers or loved ones. Sometime, we want to do something but our parents want us to do something else. The question is whether I sacrifice my happiness for my parents’ happiness?
For example, I remember the time I got an award.
- Why did it make me happy? Because I made my parents proud or because my effort was acknowledged in front of a crowd.
- Why does that make me happy? Because I need the approval of people
- Why do I need approval? Maybe I have self-esteem issues and I need to compare with others to define me
So if I am seeking a goal in terms of what type of job I should look for, I should look for a job that gives me a lot of approval, or allows me to do peer comparison and which does not lower my self-esteem. Sales would be a bit of an issue as a job, because it has a lot of rejection built in. However, advisory services based on my competency would be good, because a client would be grateful for my services.
I can now set up a time frame for creating a competency that can be appreciated by clients and to find a job that allows me to use this competency.
Since these needs keep changing, (refer to my article on mid-life crisis) our goals will keep changing.
Suppose there are two conflicting goals?
If I have done my needs analysis in terms of all the type of needs I have and the priority of each need, and have determined who in my life is important and considered their needs, then each goal can be analysed based on how well it satisfies these criteria.
Now this is a title that will attract attention. This document details everything that I have done or experienced over the last 18 months for weight loss.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and please do not flame me with technical data which proves that I am wrong. Most technical data seems to change over time, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
At least I am not recommending either a fad or something that will be irreversible.
Midlife Crisis (as defined in Wikipedia) “describes a period of dramatic self-doubt” when persons reach their forties. It signifies a passing of their youth and the imminence of old age, augmented by physical incapabilities, deaths in the previous generation and other such reminders of mortality. There are self-assessing questions on career, work-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.
Are these questions relevant only after we cross 40? Do we not have similar questions when we cross 20? Do we not think of career, study-life balance, relationships, expenses and physical appearance.
So if we consider a life span of 80 years (arguable with medical advances, but do consider the balancing act of environmental contamination and genetic manipulation) we will have the following:
- At the start of our career, a quarter life crisis (Q1C),
- In the middle of our career, a mid life (Q2C) and
- At the end of our career, a three-quarter life crisis (Q3C).
The topics remain the same: career, work-life balance, relationships, major expenses and physical appearance.
During college (Q1C), we are concerned about our career, how much to study and how much to enjoy life, our relationships at the peer level and with our parents, the expense and repayment of loans, and how we look. This quarter-life crisis is as painful as a mid-life crisis. Although I have not been though a Q3C, I am sure, the questions would be similar but more introspective – about things that we could have done and things that we have achieved.
The difference between the three crises is in terms of possibilities and choices – which narrow down over time. The difference is possibly between optimism and realism. We are more optimistic and hopeful when younger. Maybe those of us who retain our optimism and hope remain younger for a longer time. But we do become more realistic about possibilities and capabilities.
There is an increased angst of unfulfilled desires versus capability. When we are younger, we believe that the whole life in there in front of us to fulfil our desires. However, we are impatient to get our desires fulfilled. This impatience drives us, but also creates stress, and makes us take a short-term perspective. By the time we learn patience and a long-term perspective, we are no longer young, and maybe our desires have changed. We also learn that desire and capability are distinct, and we start accepting our limits in capability.
This acceptance also helps in handling peer comparison. Earlier, we are concerned about what anyone thinks of us. Later, we are concerned about the thoughts of only those who matter to us. Even later, no peer evaluation matters. It is about what we leave behind us. Whose opinion matters, in fact, even who matters – also changes over time.
When we are young, we are overconfident and, I dare say, brash. This drives us to do things, which in the cold light of day, would make us exclaim, “What were we thinking?” But these actions creates consequences that make changes happen. As we grow old, we think (twice?) before we act, we think of longer-term implications, and therefore do not contribute too much to change. But we have the confidence of experience. People who have this confidence and still desire to make a difference are the persons who impact this world.
It is paradoxical that when we have the experience to do things right and we are not so concerned about peer approval, we lose the desire to do so.
Would it not make sense to inculcate the advantages of each stage of life in the first quarter. Suppose we have the desire and the experience and the disregard of peer approval, we could do wonders. In fact, people who do not shy away from experiences (good or bad), who maintain their desire, and care only of the opinions of people they trust are the ones who get ahead in life.
We all need to examine ourselves with respect to these three characteristics:
- get hands dirty,
- remain motivated despite failures and
- high self esteem.
When we did manual labour and did not have labour-saving devices, we worked from morning to night creating the same output that we can now deliver in a fraction of that time. By manual labour, I do not mean physical labour, it could also be accounting, computing, research, even reading (dare I call it studying?)…
There was an element of Zen mindfulness (being fully in the present), as mistakes would require a great deal of redoing.
Think about writing a letter. An MS Word document can be automatically spell-checked and mistakes can be corrected. No one would know and appreciate, by looking at the final document, how much labour has gone into it. Compare that to the pain of writing a letter by hand, and the final sense of accomplishment we had of finishing a product that was created with minimal corrections. We were more aware of ourselves, what we were doing, what the world around us was doing, and we appreciated the fruits of our labour.
Consider food. Our moms take time to cook and be mindful of the final product with all its nuances of taste as determined by the preferences of the family members. When we eat, we are mindful of that love and we appreciate the subtlety. Compare that to a fast food, even instant noodles, which we mindlessly eat in front of the TV. We are, in general, no longer aware of, let alone appreciate, what we eat. No wonder, we need to go to a five-star restaurant to appreciate food, maybe because we pay so much for it that we have to extract all we can from the meagre morsel. The five-star chef put salt and pepper in front of you, which our moms never needed to. Maybe the love compensates.
This is the virtue of ‘Karma-yoga’ or the sense of fulfilment that comes out of mindfully executing work. Some persons do ‘Jnana- yoga’ where the sense of fulfilment comes from mindfully thinking about knowledge, its acquisition, its uses and its relevance. It is a desire of most young adults to move from ‘Karma-yoga’ (execution) to ‘Jnana-yoga’ (strategy). Often, they wish to skip the execution part.
With the advent of technology and labour-saving devices, the mind has become free. We no longer need to focus on the job at hand, because much of what our mind would earlier do has now been programmed into the device. Therefore the mind is unoccupied and looks for other ways to occupy itself. Instead of evolving from Karma Yoga to Jnana Yoga, taking time to ponder over various short term and long term strategies, we tend to keep the mind busy by entertainment.
Entertainment is a funny thing (no pun intended). Our mind gets used to a novelty and then craves newer and better sources. The need to keep the mind occupied and the addiction to entertainment leads to a craving for more time to get entertained. This creates a need to obtain more labour saving – or shall we say, time saving devices – faster and stronger cars and machines. This creates a vicious cycle of dependency. Entertainment devices is not just about TVs and such electronics, it also about ambience – from lazy-boys (the uber-comfortable armchairs) to sound-proof rooms.
If we look at peer comparisons about our possessions, it is primarily about the labour saving devices or entertainment devices or the means to purchase them. It is rarely about knowledge – when was the last time someone said, “I have a better dictionary than yours,” it was more like, “I can afford a more expensive dictionary than yours!”
These devices leads to less physical activity and a lazy mindset. This leads to lifestyle diseases. We compensate by buying faster and stronger gym equipment and devices for injecting chemicals and measuring bodily functions. We create a dependency on these chemicals and measuring devices. Because these chemicals help alleviate our problems, we are free to revert to our craving for entertainment.
Would it be fair to say, therefore, that technology has actually helped in reducing awareness of our actions and their consequences; which, in turn, has led to lifestyle diseases – a contamination of the purpose of life itself?
The use of the word buttering implies that we are falsely praising a person. A few people (with very low self esteem) may enjoy being buttered, but others do not.
Consider this. We do not like criticism from anyone – except from those we respect and when we know the persons have a genuine interest in their hearts for me. However, we like praise from anyone. Sometimes, we wish that people notice our work and achievements and talk about it.
So if I am giving positive strokes to my boss for all the good things he has done, or the effort he is putting in, I am simply acknowledging his work. Similarly if I refrain from criticising; and, in fact, support his work with additional data or timely support, then it is not false. I am talking about fetching tea and coffee, polishing his shoes and acting as if he is God, but a genuine appreciation and support goes a long way in creating rapport.
People crave recognition and empathy and providing that makes a person positively predisposed to you. It is not possible to consistently deliver results (due to no fault of ours, but accidents happen) and this positive disposition helps during those times.
A hamster is a cute looking rodent which needs exercise. Since it is in a cage, a mobile wheel is provided for it to keep running without going anywhere. All the processes and activities that we do are for the purpose of changing something, from a current state to a new future state. There is an expectation, that an activity will change something, as desired.
So a process can be called effective only if it changes the current “state”. If we start something (remember our new year resolutions), and we spend time and money setting up the process, then start with enthusiasm, and then give up half way, or not put in enough effort, the desired state is not achieved, except the diminished size of the wallet.
If we look back on our road of life, we will see strewn on it, those treadmills, where we had spent a lot of time, trying to achieve something, but getting nowhere and then stepping off and continuing on the road, unchanged. When we look back at those treadmills, we lose self confidence because we are unable to achieve anything. Once we create that belief, we only see the broken treadmills, not our achievements, which further lowers our self-confidence and sense of achievement.
During placement season, the night before the interview, we swot vigorously from thick management tomes, past issues of the newspaper and the internet. If we do not succeed in getting placed, that swotting is like the treadmill, and our road gets strewn with a lot of such failed interviews. We start asking, what is the use of studies?
Why does this happen?
We do not know our goals. We spend a lot of effort doing this and that, trying various things right from lucky pens and totems, to prayers, to swotting book summaries. But to what purpose? How do we know that these are the right activities. Yes, the goal is to get placed, but where and how?
If we do a work breakdown structure, we realise that we get placed if we are better positioned than our competitor. Positioning is about perception, not reality. It can be product differentiation in terms of features. But it is also in terms of match between company’s needs and perceived benefits derived from hiring us. Therefore, to get product differentiation,
- we need to understand the mind of the buyer/recruiter and his needs,
- we need to match the needs with the benefits we have to offer (the benefits of hiring us) and
- we need to prove that we have the features that showcase these benefits.
So instead of trying at the last minute to enhance our features, which we may or may not have an opportunity to display, given the time available, we need to focus on the following:
- Do an analysis of the customer’s industry and the company to understand its problems and therefore the perceived needs of the industry and the company with respect to other companies in that industry. The industry analysis should be done beforehand, and the company analysis, once we know the name, should be done ASAP.
- During the Pre-placement talk (PPT), we should understand the roles and designations of the persons, and look for the keywords that they are repeating. Based on their roles, they have certain professional needs.
- Develop a set of keywords (use our friends who are not interested in the company to help develop these words) and ensure that we use them during the GD. We have to try to link the topic of the GD to the company and the industry so that we can highlight our knowledge. It may be great if we can use these words during the Q&A after the PPT.
- We should use the same friends to quickly understand the needs of the recruiters and which of our features showcase the benefits that will satisfy these needs.
- Since most CVs are in the same format, unfortunately, and they hide our uniqueness, we should have an alternate mode of showcasing the benefits of hiring us. This can be in the form of a presentation, an elevator pitch, copies of our blog articles, and other physical evidence that highlight our uniqueness. All these are features and their benefits should have been determined earlier on, not at the last moment.
- We have to ensure that we highlight all three types of features: Attitudes and Traits, Transferable Skills and Subject Matter Expertise (these are all specific to the interview)
- During the interview, we should ask permission to ask questions and once they relinquish control, validate with them our perceptions of the needs of the industry, their company and the recruiters and therefore offer concrete evidence of our ability to contribute towards fulfilling the needs.
For each interview, the future state is different, as the job is different and the path towards that job is different. Therefore the process is customised, instead of being generic. I hope that this will decrease the number of treadmills we see in our past life.
Of course, another way is to forget the past, and not turn back to see the treadmills. But typically we cannot do that, and we waste time going back and re-examining those treadmills and weeping over the carcasses and wasted resources.