Career Messaging: Are you missing them?

I was volunteering in a job mentoring program and reviewing a participant's job history which included several short-term jobs. When I asked him why he left each position he replied "It was the people." After hearing him repeat this four consecutive times, my polite-self left and I said "You're the People!" He looked startled and said, "What?" I explained that he had two options. He could get a restraining order against these people who were stalking him from job to job, or he could look at himself-the common denominator. He became quiet, looked angry, and hesitantly said, "You may be right." After this, we discussed creating a stable job history, dealing with conflict, and the art of transitioning without the blame-game.

Sometimes you have to look at your people (me, myself and I) first and with honesty to get to the root cause of your state of discontent or transition. This is hard for most of us because blaming others is much easier than examining the clues that our successes and failures tend to leave. Like any other investigation, ours should establish the facts from the clues, and evaluate them to surmise an objective conclusion. Depending on your objectivity, you will end up with the ugly truth or a pretty lie. The ugly truth will provide insight behind your discontentment or constant state of transition, and a pretty lie will constantly keep you in a place where you are "Swinking"- not quite swimming, not quite sinking. "Swinking" is where you will find:

• Short-term job hoppers-blaming "the people" for pushing them out

• Frequently downsized people-blaming unstable companies versus their unstable performances

• Fired people-blaming it on the company or boss who obviously had it in for them

When ‘your people' are out of sync and living the ‘pretty lie' it creates a defiant victim with a narrative that only speaks to whom and what is working against them. I often ask people who are terminated, "what did you learn?" and very few learned anything about themselves. They talk about what they learned about the bad company, manager, coworkers, or industry. But when we start examining their clues, we often find that months before their termination:

• Their workload was significantly reduced OR

• Another person was hired with similar responsibilities OR

• They were reassigned to a junior department/responsibilities

In other words, they started becoming insignificant and they didn't do anything about it. They didn't try to fix the problem, look for another job, or discern what was happening...they just kept showing up while disappearing.

Most of us see what we want to see, when we want to see it, because the truth typically leads us to places we don't want to go. Unfortunately, it's not just a people thing, but a company thing too.

Companies have their own strategies for avoiding the ugly truth. One I've commonly seen is to "reassign" ineffective senior executives instead of terminating them. They would announce that "Bob" is leaving his current position to work on a special project. You may see Bob in the hallways for a few weeks faking excitement about his special project and then, after a few months, you notice that Bob is gone.

Even though most of us know the "special project" tale, we play along while betting on Bob's disappearance...will it be 30 or 60 days after the announcement? It's one of those sad ‘why didn't he see it coming, because we did!' events from the history of workplace cautionary tales.

The bottom-line: you can't afford to be clueless in this dynamic world where companies are looking for contributors. Once you feel like you aren't contributing, it would behoove you to confer with ‘your people' first and your manager second to determine if you are missing something or if you are becoming a missing person. Sometimes lessons knock softly and sometimes they break down the door. But in either case, you should ask yourself, what are your results honestly telling you?


Gwendolyn M. Ward is a Principal at FOOW? (Fish Out of Water?, LLC) a professional development company. FOOW? offers customized unique workplace solutions for Companies and Business Professionals experiencing leadership, employee and career management challenges. Our tailored, creative and highly interactive services supports: Entry and mid-level Managers, Corporate Team Building, Employee Engagement Sessions, Companies and Professionals in Transition. FOOW? Blog is for people who are asking...

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