Archive for the ‘Decision Making’ Category

Job SearchIt is no longer the norm that employees stay with the same company for the bulk of their adult lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure in the U.S. in 2012 was 4.6 years. Over a career spanning 40+ years, that’s a lot of change for the average American. It’s interesting to note that the average for many other countries is considerably longer than in the U.S., according to this chart. I’ll let others debate the possible reasons for that.

The purpose of this post is to consider some of the factors that go into the decision to pursue presumed greener pastures elsewhere. If the average worker changes jobs every 4.6 years, the inner debate about whether to do so occurs almost as frequently as presidential elections. What are the drivers, and how do you decide to stay where you are or to move on to something else?

As I look back to my earlier adult life, career changes were mostly tied to moving up the ladder or pursuing things I was newly prepared to do. My resume from the early years has far too many short-tenure positions listed if I honestly look at it from a hiring manager’s perspective. Anytime I see a resume with a string of two-year positions, it is a giant red flag and there had better be good explanations for me to consider investing time and energy in adding such a person to my team. If you have an internal short-term timer that seems to go off every couple of years causing you to look for another job, then you probably need to explore what’s triggering that timer more than you need to explore more job opportunities. The answer may tell you something important about yourself.

Now that I’m 56, I like the fact that I just celebrated my 10th anniversary with my current company, Humana, and I genuinely hope to celebrate a 20th anniversary with them before retiring. I’m in my third role and department during those ten years, but each has been a definite positive career move within the company that benefited the business as well as me. I don’t categorize such changes the same as the job hopping between employers many experience.

When you think about reasons in the past why you’ve left positions, I suspect some of your reasons are in this list:

  • You needed a higher salary or better benefits.
  • Your family or personal situation changed significantly, necessitating a career change as well.
  • You were bored with your current job.
  • You didn’t get along well with your manager. (Maybe you’ve heard the adage that people come for the job, but they leave because of the management. It isn’t always true, of course, but it certainly happens.)
  • You disagreed with the business practices that you had to follow.
  • You had poor relationships with your coworkers.
  • You didn’t see any opportunity for advancement.
  • You wanted a change in location or environment.
  • You followed a special someone to another city in order to be with him/her, requiring you to be open to other career choices.
  • You completed an educational or experiential milestone which qualified you for something else.

All of the above reasons are understandable. Put several of them together and it’s a near certainty that a change in direction is imminent.

A danger exists, however, in thinking that all or even most of your reasons for dissatisfaction with your current role will vanish when you take that new job elsewhere. They may or may not vanish. How can you be certain? What do you have to base your decision on – a couple of brief interviews, some first impressions and promises not in writing? That’s risky. Except for the known changes of salary, benefits, proposed type of work and location, other eerily familiar frustrations may rear their ugly head and end the honeymoon with the new place sooner than expected.

When I leave a job, I make sure that I am not just trying to get away from something I don’t like, but that there is at least an equal force pulling me toward something I’m excited about doing. I joined my current team because I’m excited to devote my full-time efforts working in social media, not because I was trying to get away from my previous circumstance. That’s important. To bounce around from place to place running away from things would make me feel like an old-style pinball reacting against some push that sends me flying in one direction, only to soon be pushed by some other negative force in a different direction. I don’t want to be a pinball employee. There is value is facing and enduring difficult circumstances, although I’m certainly not suggesting that leaving such situations is always the wrong thing to do or evidence of taking the easy way out. Still, we need to be proactively in control of our career paths and not reactionary, haphazardly bouncing between roles.

For many major decisions in life, I have done the simple, calculating, decision-making action of drawing a vertical line down the middle of a page, listing on one side the benefits of making that choice and listing the negatives in the other column. Occasionally I’ve listed my current job in one column and the potential new role in the other, detailing the advantages of each. It’s amazing what putting such factors in black and white can do to clear up muddled thinking. You may find one list considerably longer than the other. You may find the items on one list of far greater importance than the other side, even though the quantity of items may be fewer. You may find your heart leaning toward one side and your head toward the other. It’s usually best to follow your heart. If you’re facing a tough decision right now, you might include that simple tactic among the steps that help you decide.

In a different context recently, I cautioned some friends who are facing a major decision to be mindful of what questions they ask in the decision-making process because the answers could lead them in radically different directions. For example, if the main question asked is “Which option benefits me the most right now?”, then the answer may be significantly different than the answer to the question “Where am I most needed?” or “What is likely to be most beneficial for my family in the long run?” The questions imply wildly contrasting motivations and result in significantly different answers.

I’m no career counselor. I’m not in talent management. I’m just a guy who has pursued an honest work life in various fields of interest since my first job 40 years ago. I don’t know if I’m at my final employer or not. I hope so, but I’ve learned never to say never in that regard. It’s possible someone could come along tomorrow and make me an offer I can’t refuse. It’s possible that unforeseen changes ahead cause me to choose to seek out something else. Regardless, if the time comes when I’m facing that decision again, I’ll make sure the motivation for the change is more about the excitement and potential of what is ahead than any frustration connected with what I leave behind.

Those are some of my thoughts about deciding when to leave one job for another. Tell me something about the factors that go into your decisions at such times.

Cat Bad DecisionWhat do you do when you realize you’ve made a bad decision?  I hate saying “it depends,” but correcting bad decisions really does depend on the significance of the decision and the reality of the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.  It isn’t always easy, quick or possible to correct a previous bad choice.

Some decisions are mundane and easy to change.  If I make a wrong turn driving to a destination, I simply find a way to turn around and head in the right direction.  No harm, no foul.  On a more significant level, if I’m in school and realize I’m in the wrong degree program, I switch majors to head down a better path, understanding that there may be consequences such as more time spent in school and more cost because of my decisions.  If I accept a new job offer and then find myself working with colleagues or a company far from what I envisioned, I have to decide whether to try to make the best of it and improve that situation, or start the process of changing jobs once again.  If you’re an employer and realize you’ve hired the wrong person, what kind of sticky situation have you just created for yourself?  Do you follow the adage, “Hire slow, fire fast”?  If I realize I’m in a bad relationship, it’s one thing to change if you’ve only been dating someone for a short while versus being married where working on the relationship is more vital.

A few big-picture thoughts come to mind when I consider how to respond to situations born from bad decisions:

Bad DecisionsIt is best to reverse a bad decision quickly.  Allowing the negative consequences of bad decisions to linger, fester and continue to negatively impact the current situation may seem kindhearted and hopeful where other people are concerned, but it’s probably doomed.  Make the right call given the new understanding and move on.  Swallow any and all pride that may be keeping you from admitting the previous decision was wrong.  It’s OK to change your mind.

Get advice from others before major decisions.  Seek the wisdom of those who have traveled a similar path before.  Don’t rely just on what your best friends say because they may be biased in your favor to an unhelpful degree.  “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” – Proverbs 19:20.  “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” – Proverbs 12:15.  This won’t help you with bad decisions in the past, but it can help you avoid future blunders.

Some situations may not be reversible.  I have for decades appreciated and reminded myself of the saying, “You have control over your actions, but you have no control over the consequences of your actions.”  There is a lot of humbling truth in that.  I can’t control consequences, but I can control subsequent actions on my part.  Perhaps those subsequent actions will result in better consequences.

Learn from your mistakes.  If we’re honest, we can probably think of multiple occasions in our past when we’ve made the same type of mistake repeatedly.  We have friends who make the same kind of bad relationship choices over and over.  Some people follow the same pattern in job hopping from one place to the next for short tenures, always finding a way to blame others for their circumstances.  It is all too easy to allow hope and emotion to cloud better judgment, even though past experience should warn us that we’ve been down this failed path before.  Proverbs 19:20 quoted above presumes that as we listen to advice, accept instruction and follow it, we eventually gain wisdom from that cycle and from our experience that makes future decision making easier and more likely to be wise.

I’ve written a number of posts over the last couple of years related to decision making that you’ll find listed here.  I’ve written about it a lot because it is a process that never ends.  We make decisions daily.  We face the consequences of past decisions daily.  When all goes well and we’re basking in the glow of a good decision, life is good.  But when we come to the harsh realization that we’ve made a bad call – perhaps a very bad call with significant negative consequences – then it’s time to admit it and do something about it.

Does that ring true with any circumstance in your life right now?

Clearly Bad Decisions

The speed of business can be lightening fast.  You cannot always afford to take all the time you want to make the decisions you must make.  Sometimes you have to take the info you have on hand and make a call – for good or bad – and move on.

There are times, however, when you are better off delaying plans a bit (if you must) in order to make the right decision.  Today was one such occasion.

Our team received an email mid-afternoon from an agency we work with frequently.  It was regarding artistic designs and text copy needing our approval for a social media campaign our department is planning.  The email indicated that final approval of the copy was needed by the end of business today – only a couple of hours following the receipt of the email.

As we looked over the copy and discussed it, we all had several questions and were definitely not ready to give approval.  We made the decision to set aside some time tomorrow morning to get together and discuss it in order to make the best decision.  This may or may not mean the dates of the original campaign will have to be moved back a bit, but that’s OK.  We know that it is far more important to do this well than to do it quickly.

That is a lesson I have seen businesses fail to learn way too often, perennially going for the quick decisions to push things out the door rather than the right decisions to do quality work the first time.  I’m confident we’ll feel a lot better about our decision after tomorrow’s meeting than any of us would have under an unexpected rush today.  In this case, 24 hours and pondering the decision overnight will boost our confidence and better guarantee success of the campaign.

Leap year lesson #268 is Don’t rush into the wrong decision.

I’m tired of hearing people blame others for things.  In our current toxic political climate, for example, blame is thrown around far more than taking responsibility to make things better.

At my work a few years ago, some in leadership frequently repeated the phrase “It’s not my fault, but it is my problem.”  They wanted to instill in us a mindset that we are to be focused on getting things done and solving problems instead of pointing fingers at others and absolving ourselves of any responsibility when something goes awry.  The reminder that “it is my problem” may not have been what we wanted to hear, but it was true.

A different context in which this thought comes to mind is in taking responsibility for our own past decisions.  Even though we may be highly influenced by others in certain decisions, we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make, whether they turn out good or bad.

It was refreshing this morning to read an email from a great dog trainer whose emails I enjoy – Eric Letendre.  He started by saying this: “I’ve made some BIG mistakes in my life.  Some so bad that they are still embarrassing and painful to think about.  The great thing about mistakes is that you can learn from them.”  Then he went on to list a few of those mistakes as they relate to dog training and the lessons learned.  I respect that.

I can think of a couple of times in recent years when I have actively sought the advice of others on matters and then taken that majority advice, only to regret it later.  Still, the final call was mine to make and, regardless of how many supported the decision, I was wrong to take their advice, especially when there was a still, small voice within me that resisted doing so.

Blame doesn’t change reality and is a waste of everyone’s time.  It may not be your fault, but it is your problem.  What are you going to do about it?

Leap year lesson #252 is You’re responsible for your own decisions.

In yesterday’s post, I admitted to struggling with something that had really been bothering me.  I’m sure I’ll continue to struggle somewhat with it, but the amazing thing to me was that as soon as I had written about it, I felt better.  Thinking through it enough to put it down in black and white went a long way to easing the tension and helping me get a better perspective on the matter and on what I need to do.

In hindsight, that should be no surprise to this lifelong introvert who internalizes things to the point of eruption, unlike my many extroverted friends and acquaintances who can easily get things off their chest anytime any day and then keep moving.  My wife and I have had this very conversation before because we are completely different in this regard.

So to the extroverts out there who naturally talk about whatever is on your mind (whether others around you want you to or not), you don’t need today’s lesson learned.  But to my fellow introverts who internalize matters and let them eat away at you for long periods before doing anything to address them, I encourage you to do more than churn the issues inside your head.  Write things down; talk about them out loud – even if only to yourself, but preferably to others.  The process of doing so can help bring clarity out of the chaos.

Leap year lesson #227 is Talk things through.