When It’s Time to Leave Your Lousy Job


reprinted from thehrdifference.com


There are generally two kinds of people who inhabit organizations: those that are there to earn a paycheck and those that are there to make a difference.

This post is targeted to those who want to make a difference, because they have the hardest time leaving an organization behind. Ironically, the reason why they find it hard to leave has to do with their greatest strength: a strong sense of responsibility to the organization. These people made a commitment to make a difference and it’s very hard for them to admit defeat.

Still, it’s better to admit that the organization is making it impossible for you to make a difference instead of burning yourself out by becoming a martyr to the cause. You haven’t been defeated and you’re not a failure. Sometimes organizations become so dysfunctional and stupid that they refuse to listen to any input that doesn’t validate the self-destructive course they’ve chosen to follow. Here’s how to tell when an organization is on that course so you can take your valuable talents elsewhere, to a place that will appreciate what you have to offer:

  1. It’s impossible to get a straight answer from anyone. Top leadership becomes secretive and starts speaking in unintelligible code. Your colleagues think carefully about what they’re going to say before they say it, and what comes out is full of hints, suggestions and innuendos because everyone’s afraid that telling the truth will get them into hot water. Conversations are conducted in whispers and occur behind closed doors. Resistance cells form, but instead of challenging the process publicly, they live a meager existence sharing rumors and speculation with trusted dissidents. People are terrified of making a mistake, so there’s extensive cover-up activity and finger-pointing to divert people away from the truth.
  2. You feel that you’re fighting more frequently for things that should be obvious to anyone. No one has told you that things have changed, so you keep generating ideas to make things better. Now, however, your ideas are met with surprising resistance from colleagues who used to be open-minded but whose fear has led them to play it safe. What’s happened is that your colleagues have correctly perceived that the environment is becoming more political and exclusive while you’re still working under the assumption that the environment is apolitical and inclusive. The final stage of this sad transition is when you hear that people are labeling you a troublemaker or a “pain in the ass.” If you hear someone telling you that you’re not a team player, what they probably mean is that you’re not cut out to be an obedient, compliant team member, which makes you a “problem child.”
  3. You think you’re right and everyone else is wrong. One possibility is that the organization is simply moving in a different direction and you either don’t perceive that or are in denial about it because you were happy with the way things were. Whatever the cause, if you find yourself constantly arguing for what was, you really need to consider the possibility that the problem is you simply don’t want to play under the new rules and it’s time to go somewhere more compatible with your values.
  4. You’re excluded from certain groups and people stop coming to you for input on matters that involve your area of expertise. If you find yourself frequently surprised by decisions that have been made without your involvement, what is likely happening is that people have chosen to work around you rather than with you. It could be because they don’t have the courage to give you honest feedback; it could be that they know that you won’t like the idea and don’t want to deal with opposition; or it could be that they’re hoping you’ll get the hint and move on. For whatever reason, the people in power have decided that you are not part of the future, and either don’t have the courage to tell you or they feel your functional job talents are useful but don’t value your ideas.
  5. The organization is operating more out of fear than intent. All of these signals indicate an organization that is likely running on fear rather than intelligent strategy. Leadership doesn’t know what it’s doing but can’t admit it for fear of losing face. Instead, they begin suppressing the truth and begin classifying people into two camps: those who are willing to maintain the conspiracy of silence and those who can’t be trusted to keep the cover-up going. When the organization starts acting more like a victim of its environment and stops experimenting with new ideas, it creates a very difficult environment for a person who wants to make a difference.

As a great philosopher once said, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Often when faced with these circumstances, we blame ourselves and our self-confidence withers. Rid yourself of such nonsensical thinking. Strong organizations encourage diverse thinking and face reality. If you’re truly trying to make a difference in the world, you deserve to work for an organization with enlightened leadership that isn’t afraid of either new ideas or the truth.

Go find one and be happy!


My Brilliant Career, Part 5


The guy they hired as our new CEO had been a consultant with us for a couple of years. In those two years, we had only had one interaction and that interaction was an argument. I thought I was fucking doomed.

Confirmation of my suspicions came in the form of a phone call from his executive assistant to the effect that the CEO wanted to see me early on his first day on the job. No CEO meets with the HR person on the first day unless the HR person is toast. A CEO will meet with the finance, marketing, sales, operations and probably the facilities and janitorial service people before bothering with HR. On my walk down the long hallway, I prepared my negotiating position for the severance package.

I came in and the first thing he did was get out from behind the imposing desk and walk over to a small conference table where we could speak as colleagues. He wasted no time getting to the point, although it wasn’t the point I had expected.

“There are only two things wrong with this company: the financials and the people. I’ll take care of the financials. What do we need to do to fix the people side?”

I asked him what he thought was wrong with the people side. “Simple,” he said. “Our managers are a bunch of clowns more interested in pissing on each other than doing anything for the customer. What do we need to do to fix it?”

“We need a massive leadership development program for the whole bunch,” I blurted out.

“What will it cost?”

I quickly calculated travel costs (we had twenty-five locations in North America) and design costs and said, “$150,000.” I expected his response to be, “Shit, I can fire you for a lot less than that.”

Instead, he said, “Okay. Go figure it out.”

We then embarked on what turned out to be a remarkably successful journey that turned a company losing over $10M a year into a company paying profit-sharing checks to every employee. I often look back on the experience and say, “Damn, I’d wish I’d written a book about that experience. I coulda been a management guru!”

Oh, well. I never wanted to be a guru anyway. But I did want to use my skills in support of some very important personal values to make a difference for all of the people I’d worked with over the last four or five years. I knew these people, their stories, their problems. They mattered to me, in spite of my tendency to keep an emotional distance from my work. If we could give the leaders a strong set of skills and get them committed to an ethic of personal responsibility for the company’s success, I knew we could change this company into something worth fighting for and working for.

For the first time in my career, I didn’t hold back. I threw everything I had into the leadership program. Because I designed it as a 48-hour course, it meant I would be spending six days a week for six months delivering the class and traveling about half of that time. Even that kind of schedule failed to dampen my commitment. During those six months I was on a strange sort of high, full of energy and creativity, totally engaged with the people whose minds and hearts I was trying to reach. Part of the secret was that I had designed the course with plenty of humor, doing crazy skits and exercises that made the practice of management both the object of satire and something that people could begin to see as a fun thing to do. The program worked miracles; people came in skeptics and left believing in themselves and each other. In the end, I have to say that the leadership program was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

When the program was over, we worked hard to make it real by changing policies, procedures and practices to align them with our new reality. Backstabbing disappeared and collaboration became the norm. Scores in our annual leadership survey went up every year. Turnover fell to an all-time low. We also went five years without an employment-related lawsuit, which in California was nothing less than miraculous.

After a few years, though, I was getting restless. I had done all I could do and was beginning to feel a change would do both me and the company some good. I talked to my CEO about it. “Why don’t you hang out your own shingle?” he asked. “What—go into business for myself?” “Sure,” he said. “You’ve got the smarts for it.”

I had a business trip to Atlanta and used that dreary alone time in the cookie-cutter hotel room to mull it over. Once again, here was an opportunity right up my alley. I had no idea how to open or run my own business. I had no core business skills, very little in the way of connections and I had very little money in the bank.

Perfect! I was uniquely unqualified! Let’s do it! Hooray!

—to be continued

© Pamelajane | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

When It’s Time to Leave Your Lousy Job


A recent Mercer workplace survey claims that about a third of the American workforce is seriously considering leaving their current places of employment.

I’m surprised the number is so low, even with the unemployment rate and the dreariness of a job search. Executives everywhere are leading from fear and uncertainty, and Maslow 101 will tell you that when someone is in fear, they think of their own survival first, and to hell with the rest of the staff.

My sense is that many employees are unhappy with the state of things today. They’re not making any more money, they’re paying higher premiums for reduced benefits and most of their managers are self-seeking jerks who are as just as grumpy as they are. They bitch and moan and pray for deliverance, but in the end, fall victim to the classic rationalization: “It’s probably not much better anywhere else.”

At this moment in time, the rationalization is closer to the truth than not. Still, sitting around complaining about your lousy company, your lousy manager and your dysfunctional colleagues can’t possibly do you much good.

Consider this piece of transcendent wisdom:

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,

Know when to fold ‘em,

Know when to walk away,

Know when to run.

When you have nothing left to give to your employer, or when your level of frustration exceeds your desire to contribute, leave. If you find yourself blaming everyone around you and sidestepping responsibilities, move on. If you find yourself consistently depressed on Sundays after you’ve realized that the lottery didn’t come through and you have to go back to that dump, get going.

Too many people stay too long in untenable situations out of a lack of self-confidence, fear of interviews or even a misguided belief that they can somehow turn things around. The problem with staying and bitching is its corrosive effect on the soul. It leaves you a victim, wasting away in psychological paralysis. Taking action in the form of a job search is a healthier alternative.

You may find a great job with a better commute, but other possibilities are just as likely. You may not find a job, but you may find out that things aren’t so bad where you are. You may have been nursing an old wound that you need to let go, or you may have lost your sense of purpose. Either way, taking action gets you out of the doldrums and in charge of your life again.

“Thinking of leaving” is an endless purgatory. Go or stay, but make it a conscious choice.