Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

Blank_bookAs I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:

Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.

Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.

So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.

But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:

  1. Continuing rumors about my company being sold to a larger healthcare company. Of course, I’m not an insider and I know nothing about the truth of those rumors. I won’t know until the public and everyone else knows. I hope it doesn’t come to pass, but it’s out of my hands. Worry doesn’t change anything, but I’d be a fool to ignore the possibility and be unprepared for a worst-case scenario of a new parent company doing away with my role. Of course, I could potentially have a role in the combined company, but what kind of role, and would relocation and/or a significant cut in compensation be a condition of continued employment?
  2. Ever since I left full-time Christian ministry in 1985 to move to Louisville to attend The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, there has been the question of whether I should return at some point to vocational ministry.

Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)

I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.

To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.

Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.

Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.

And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)

It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.

Stay tuned.

EmploymentWhile walking back to the office from lunch earlier this week with some colleagues, the subject came up of how long we have worked at various jobs. The tenures ranged from a couple of years to more than a decade and anywhere in between. Short tenures are more normal now than for earlier generations which tended to have much longer tenures and fewer jobs in their lifetime than today’s workforce.

I’ve certainly had my share of short tenures in 40 years of employment, but I must say it is far more satisfying to be in my 11th year with my current company than to job hop between companies every couple of years. I hope to stay here until retirement another decade or so away.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m doing the same thing all of these years at my company. I’m in my third very different role as I’ve developed new interests and tried to create new roles that benefit both the company and my own professional development. I’ve had some great managers along the way who encouraged such growth and made the transitions not only possible but easy.

So when I look at tenures, I don’t categorize them as merely short or long. There is an in-between category where we may take on different responsibilities with the same company over time, adding to our accumulated knowledge and value to the company from the multiple roles with which we are familiar.

In many years of looking at resumes and making hiring decisions or recommendations, length of employment at a company is something I take seriously. Even though I’m not a hiring manager in my current role, I still take part in the process and follow the same guidelines I did when I was a hiring manager at a previous company with 20+ employees reporting to me.

So let’s take a look at how I interpret job tenures when evaluating a resume. You may or may not agree, and that’s OK. The point is that each hiring manager has his/her own point of view on what is appealing and what causes concern, and for me, length of employment is a big deal on one’s resume.

Short tenures at different companies. I consider any stay at a company of two years or less to be short. If a resume has a series of such job hopping, that is a huge turnoff to me and the person must have a very good explanation of it to be considered. Otherwise, my fear is that by the time we’ve brought him on board, trained him and finally have him up to speed, he’ll be out the door for his next gig. I’m not interested in such short-timers.

I expect to see short tenures on the resumes of very young adults and those fresh out of college, but if someone middle-aged or older has a history like that, red flags are flying high and their resume probably won’t make it to the “maybe” stack to ever be interviewed. Someone with 20 years of work in an industry split into ten two-year jobs doesn’t, in my opinion, have 20 years of experience. He has two years of experience repeated ten times. That won’t interest me.

Multiple tenures of varying lengths at the same company. It’s common and healthy for people to change roles over a long period of employment within a company. That doesn’t alarm me unless each role is extremely short in its duration (less than two years). Staying several years in each role may indicate that the person is moving up the ladder, discovering good fits in other areas of the business, or intentionally learning as much about the business as possible. On the resume, the longer total length of time at a company – even if it spans multiple roles – will generally impress me compared to the person who job hops between companies.

On the flip side, multiple roles in the same company can mean that people were shuffled from one place to the next by others too timid or afraid to fire them – pawning them off to some poor, unsuspecting sucker in another area as soon as possible. Believe me, I’ve seen that happen more often than I care to discuss. It can also indicate a lack of stability and reliability on the part of the employee if he/she is the one initiating frequent moves. So my default instinct will be to appreciate a series of roles with the same company, but I’m not blind to the possible negative explanations, either.

Long tenures in the same role. For purposes of this discussion, I’ll define “long” as anything three years or longer (which probably sounds odd to anyone who has spent 10 or 20 years or more in the same role). Overall, I like to see this in a candidate. It implies stability and mutual satisfaction between employer and employee. While it may mean that someone settled and did the same old thing merely because it was a job, or that they failed to grow or seek new and expanded opportunities, I will give the person the benefit of the doubt unless I learn otherwise. Such a person is less likely to be a flight risk after a year or two and that’s very important to the hiring manager.

The purpose of a resume is to get you to the next step in the interview process. As someone who has reviewed countless resumes the past couple of decades, I assume I’m not the only one to take seriously into consideration an applicant’s previous tenures when making the cut. It either looks acceptable and encouraging to the hiring manager or it raises a red flag. So keep that in mind – especially those of you on the earlier end of your careers – as you consider moving from place to place. A series of small gains over shorter periods may be the very reason you aren’t considered for that one major leap you’re hoping for down the road.

There is a lot to be said for long tenures at a company, even if they are split up into a variety of roles over that duration. If I’m the one evaluating your resume, it may be what keeps you in or removes you from the running for an open position.

[Edited 12-12-2013 to add:
I’ve received several comments asking about short tenures with extenuating circumstances such as being the victim of layoffs or short tenures necessitated by being in a military family. In these cases, I suggest that either the resume itself or a cover letter proactively explain the short tenure so that the hiring manager does not jump to the wrong conclusion.]

Job ChangeDue to the unfortunate circumstance of having everyone else on my team at work except my manager and me announce their movement to other jobs in the past few weeks, I’ve had an unwanted quantity of time to think about how people transition from one role to the next. How should it be done? Specifically, how quickly should it be done? I assume transitions should be professional, respectful, with no hint of burning bridges and relationships in the process, but what about the timing of the change?

(As an aside, let me hasten to add that the three departures from my team are coincidental in their timing and don’t reflect any issues  to my knowledge that would drive them to look elsewhere. It’s mostly the result of young people advancing their careers, chasing dreams and making life decisions they deem in their best interests. They are all leaving well-loved and would be welcomed back if the opportunity arose.)

Back to the subject of the timing of a transition, how much notice should one give? How much does a company have the right to expect? When transitioning to a new role within the same company, should time be split between the two roles for a gradual transition over several weeks or even months?

When moving to a different company, there is likely no option for splitting time between the two. The person leaving must agree to a new starting date with the new company, announce the decision, do his best to wrap things up and hand them off to those left behind, and move on.

Moving to another company is normally a short, clean break of about two weeks in our culture – sometimes more, sometimes less. It’s a quick divorce that may not leave everything as tidy as those remaining behind wish, but there isn’t much that can be done about it other than for the leader of the team remaining to rally the troops, assign what needs to be done to those remaining, fill the open role as quickly as possible, and move on. I’ve known some companies with the horrid practice of actually firing people immediately when they give a two-week notice. That’s cold and just wrong. That only trains people to leave you without notice and to show no loyalty in light of the company’s lack of loyalty to them.

Extremely short notices of only days really put the team remaining in a bind. Unusual notices of many weeks or even months can cause a disruption in team dynamics, engagement and morale that ends up harming more than helping with a slow, lingering departure.

As a side note, don’t take your last days at a company to unleash all the pent up anger you may have accumulated over time about what isn’t right with the business. If you weren’t mature and professional enough to address those issues in an appropriate manner while a part of the team, then keep it to yourself on your way out. It makes you – not your company – look bad to rant while exiting, and it leaves those remaining with a mess to clean up that they don’t want or deserve.

When moving to a new role in the same company, should the change in roles be just as clean and quick as when moving to a different company, or should both teams and managers involved try to work out a gradual transition that allows more time to wrap up tasks for the old role while easing into the new one? Let’s consider some advantages and disadvantages of each approach.

If you give a typical two-week notice and have a clean break in roles:

  • + The individual is able to give full attention after the switch to the new role.
  • + The team left behind is forced to move on and get things done, hiring a replacement as soon as possible.
  • + The grieving period that comes with the separation from someone well liked is shortened.
  • – Greater pressure is placed on remaining team members to suddenly add to their workload.
  • – Some things may not get done until the team is fully staffed again.
  • – Remaining team members may feel quickly abandoned, especially if relationships were good between everyone.

If a longer transition time is allowed while splitting the person’s tasks between the two roles:

  • + More time is allowed to find a replacement.
  • + Less pressure is placed in the short term on remaining team members.
  • + The person transitioning can ease into his/her new role.
  • + More of the transitioning person’s responsibilities will get completed or documented.
  • – Long, slow goodbyes are difficult emotionally.
  • – Interest and engagement can radically decrease on the part of the one leaving, doing more harm to team morale than a quick departure.
  • – The person leaving can feel in limbo and unsettled for an unhealthy length of time.

Managers of those leaving understandably want to hang on to them for as long as possible – getting more work out of them that perhaps only they can do while documenting things for the benefit of whoever might eventually replace them. Managers who are getting someone in the transition understandably want to get all of that person’s time as soon as possible – not sharing him/her with others. It’s a tug of war in which the transitioning person is the rope. The rope never wins.

Your experience may vary from mine, and it’s possible for emotionally mature adults to go either of the above routes successfully, but each is not without its advantages and disadvantages. Given the above concerns and my recent experience with departing and incoming team members, I’m currently in favor of a short, clean break when transitioning between roles in the same company. Make a decision and move on. Don’t jeopardize the engagement and morale of the remaining team by having others around who don’t want to be there any more. Don’t play with the emotions and loyalties of the transitioning employee by tugging him/her in two directions for an extended period. Let the change happen and let everyone start fresh with their new circumstance. The team and the business will survive. Just do it.

What do you think?