How do you know when it’s the right time to move on, to reach for something better? Perhaps you just can’t stay at your job anymore because you’re so frustrated. Maybe you want to get ahead of the organizational changes you sense are coming your direction. Maybe things are OK, but you are called to something different, something new, or something better suited to your preferences. In this blog I will discuss both change readiness and the process of finding that next opportunity.
Several years ago I heard a presentation by Larry Wilson, founder of the Twin Cities based training and organizational consulting company Wilson Learning. Wilson described a mathematical formula his firm created to describe change readiness. Vision + Dissatisfaction + Process > Cost. As Wilson explained it, “The combination of our vision, dissatisfaction and the process of change needs to be more powerful than the cost of change. Most often the cost of change includes time, effort, money, emotion and risk.” In the beginning, the first three parts of this equation are more heavily weighted. One only need look at how health clubs fill up in January and empty in May, to see how eventually one or more of the cost factors tend to overpower the most popular New Years resolution (vision), and source of dissatisfaction each year: losing weight and getting fit. Wilson’s model speaks to both change readiness and sustaining change. Here is a look at each part of Wilson’s change readiness formula, and some suggestions for sustainability.
This is the magnet that pulls us towards something better. Begin by considering possible attractive destinations. What might your preferred future look like? Consider these three elements: your preferred work, organizational preferences, and personal considerations (income, time demands and location). To flesh out each of these elements, read my blog from October, 2013, Evaluating an Opportunity. This blog names the factors tied to each of these three key elements. This can be a helpful checklist to get you started, but when all is said and done, what you are evaluating is future fit.
So how will you know when you have successfully named and found it? Great fit comes from the alignment of talent, purpose and place. In the end, you will have found it when you can confidently say that you will be able to use, develop and stretch your talents, in a meaningful way, within a place that values you and shares your values. Isn’t this an aspirational vision most of us could agree on?
Pursuing this vision requires you to look back to see what talents have been revealed in your past, and decide how to apply and grow these and other preferred talents in the future. You will need to clarify what the term “meaningful work” means to you and attempt to name your top values. Once you have an opportunity in focus, you’ll also need to assess how compatible your values are with theirs.
This represents your aspirational vision. Ultimately, we’ll need to look at each opportunity that comes your way, and decide how close each comes to your ideal. Every good opportunity will be a mix of “fit” and “maybe a fit” for your vision. If you uncover a “bad fit” in the job, organization or personal categories, you may need to walk away from that opportunity.
Don’t do your visioning work in isolation. You need to engage others in this conversation, and also need to move to the “doing” part of this discovery process. You might need to try out new possibilities on a small scale, and test future fit by both experimenting and shifting to new connections. If you are considering a very different new vision, or some other big shifts in your career future, take a look at my August, 2012 blog, Think Big, Start Small.
Using the elements listed in my October, 2013 blog, take a look at your current situation. How do your job, organization, boss, income, location and time factors measure up? You likely can name the specifics of your dissatisfaction, and are dealing with this on your own, or with guidance from a trusted advisor, mentor or coach. Sometimes you can make things better. Sometimes you have to just tough it out and wait for the storm to pass. Sometimes you need to leave. Focusing on dissatisfaction can be a powerful motivator for change, but if you stay frustrated too long without relief, you’ll end up feeling stuck and drained. Here are two questions to ask yourself: Can I stay and change this? Can I stay and accept this? If the answer to both questions is no, then it’s time to build a bridge to your next opportunity. How do you do that? Read on.
Process (while in transition)
If you are out of work, there is usually a logical sequence of stepping stones to help you get from where you are now to your next opportunity. The most common sequence of the career transition process: self assessment, market research, focus, strategy, development (resume, linkedIn, reading “how to” guides and doing campaign readiness work), job campaign (communications, ongoing research, and mostly networking), interviewing, landing, on-boarding.
Process (if you are still employed)
If you are currently employed and looking for a better opportunity, the same process elements I just described apply to you as well, but the experience is different in some fundamental ways. First, let’s focus on the emotional elements. Imagine you are standing on the edge of an elevation, and straight below you is a landing too far down for you to jump safely. Twenty feet in front of you the ground comes straight up from the bottom of this chasm to a landing that is roughly parallel to where you are now standing. At that landing you see an image that represents your preferred next opportunity.
Picture a U shaped valley with you on the top left and your preferred destination on the top right. This destination on the right pulls you towards the edge of where you are standing, while at the same time you are being pushed from behind by the winds of your dissatisfaction and/or organizational change. You are excited about future possibilities, but frightened by the steepness of the chasm immediately in front of you. You could stay where you are, but you feel that you really need to take that next step. The fear of making a bad decision, possibly falling into a deep financial, career or emotional hole, weighs heavily on you. Sound familiar?
To get to that preferred destination, over the chasm of fear and risk, you will use the same “stepping stone” elements described above. You are, however, going to have to build them differently. Individuals who are already in transition are (metaphorically) at the bottom of the chasm, as they have either already jumped or been pushed out. They have to build their steps from the bottom up. If instead, you are at the top looking down and looking ahead, you will need to build your transition base from above with whatever time and energy you can spare for this task. How do you do that? I suggest you employ the Ronnie Brooks method. Brooks is one of the founders of the Wilder Foundation’s Shannon Institute and has taught this method for many years. Here is how it works.
You’ll need to build a bridge to your preferred future by laying down the same building blocks as those prescribed for those already in transition, but from the top down. Brooks suggests that you imagine a steadily growing platform of mattresses you toss down from above. This visual makes it seem less daunting, with a softer landing when you make your jump and traverse to the other side. You’ll need to give yourself plenty of time to complete this transition platform while you are working. After all, you still have to do your job, and you’ll need to be discreet about your attempts to leave your company. Proceed with caution, but keep moving forward.
This is when sustainability of change is put to the test. The most common costs of change are time, effort, financial, emotions and risk. If you recall the health club example, the vision, dissatisfaction and process factors are initially much more heavily weighted than the cost factors. Over time, however, counterbalancing factors often include the demands and distraction of your work, denial, fear, personal distractions, and exhaustion. All too often, these impediments to change grow in significance, as the initial enthusiasm for change subsides. There is no way around it, this is really hard work, and doing it well is very time consuming. It demands sustained effort, continually renewed passion towards the vision, a willingness to take risks, and to forgive yourself and get back on task if you falter.
In the end, change readiness and sustainable change is about clarifying and amplifying your vision and dissatisfaction, committing to your process, and being willing to invest yourself wisely in this change initiative over time. You’ll need to find the structure,support and the will that keeps you moving forward. I hope this blog has helped clarify what it takes to achieve career transition success, whether you are in, or considering, a career transition. I wish for you the wisdom and strength to find a good path, and follow it to the end. Great rewards come to those with the courage to change course when their situation demands it. I sincerely hope that the guidance within this blog helps you in your journey, and I wish you the best as you move forward.