Uncharted Waters

Sep 3 2012   5:26PM GMT

It might be time to move on if …

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

The Yin-Yang SymbolThis morning I ran across a blog post by Ben Horowitz about managers who don’t have one-on-one meetings.  In that post Ben drew a distinction between a ‘good organization’ and a ‘bad organization.’  According to Horowitz, people in bad organizations struggle to get anything done; the expectations are unclear, and the company culture fights any sort of forward progress.

Now believe it or not, I’m not going to say that, if you find yourself in a bad organization, you should immediately polish up your resume and move. There are just too many bad organizations for that; you’d be jumping ship every two months.

Instead, I’m going to assume that you are trying to stay, and hear some niggling, tingling voice in your ear that life is too short for this.

There are some things are are a bridge too far, that indicate, to me, it’s time to leave or transfer.  Here are my top three.

#1 – You get the reprimand that doesn’t make any sense.  

Large companies have policies to get rid of a problem employee; the written reprimand is usually step two.  If you get the reprimand, you have two options: Fight it through HR, or acknowledge the reprimand and create a personal improvement plan.

My experience tells me that people who fight the reprimand are gone in six months. Nobody really knows why, they just are.  If you want to stay, you need to work on a PIP.

The problem is if the reprimand doesn’t make any sense.  It is vague, or inconsistent.  Example: In my only written reprimand ever, I was rebuked for not providing a leader with a document while I was away at a conference.  I asked what document he was referring to, and he could not remember.

If the reprimand doesn’t make sense, then you can’t make a personal improvement plan.  You’ve got nothing to fix.

It is time to sharpen up that resume, or, in my case, look for a manager to transfer to who’s expectations were clear and consistent.

#2 – You Are (Highly) Criticized for Telling the Truth

At the same organization, year after year, I got feedback to improve my people skills.

I took that feedback seriously.  I read How To Win Friends and Influence People, and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and Getting To Yes, I went to seminars and sought feedback from my friends.

Eventually I realized that no matter how much you I dressed it up, the company was putting me in a position to tell “no” to very powerful people — people who expected to hear ‘yes.’

The problem wasn’t the form, it was the message itself.

When I looked around for examples of how to handle the problem, the main alternative was to either become a ‘yes’ man, or, in the words of Dilbert Creator Scott Adams, to take the ‘weasel way’, finding some excuse or reason to keep myself off the hook.

Which brings me to reason number three.

#3 – The Company Is Rewarding the Wrong Behavior

It is one thing to work in a failing system, to have rules that aren’t helpful and slow everyone down.   It is another entirely to work in a system where the people who are promoted are the game-players and abusers.

So take a moment and look at the people who have been promoted over the past few years.  How do they act?  Are you willing, and able, to act in that way?  Does that sort of behavior align with your sense of ideals and values?

If yes, then your situation is fortunate.  Stay in the fight, and keep me posted.

If you are not willing to act like that, but you are fine technically, you can probably keep your job … just don’t expect to be promoted.

If that isn’t enough — if you want that promotion — then it may just be time to move on.

Of course, those are just my top three reasons to think seriously about leaving.

What are yours?

5  Comments on this Post

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  • StevePoling
    Recently, I heard a talk where the founder of a successful technical services firm in the area spoke about things required of a company. Significant among them was the company culture. Just as every work of software has a design whether the programmers know it or not, so too, every company has a culture whether they know it or not. All the things you're pointing to are aspects of the company's culture and they often betoken a dysfunctional culture. (Or they betoken a dysfunctional ME who just doesn't get it.) Software professionals have it in our power to start our own professional services firms and define the culture WE think will work. A certain failed leader has pointed out that building a successful firm requires more than hard work or being smart. And one needs more than government infrastructure and teachers. An additional necessary condition is the courage and drive to step away from a comfortable position in Dilbertspace in favor of the unknown and unproven.
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  • Ben Rubenstein
    Those are definitely some good reasons. I wonder whether they would be different depending on age/experience - is the bar lower/higher depending on your career level? Obviously we see younger workers job-hopping more frequently, but should these workers be thinking in the same way as those with more experience?
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  • CowboyTesting
    There is an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni titled "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and Their Employees)."  In it he walks through the basics of what management can do to alternately kill or empower their employees no matter the industry or role.  The items you've listed here are all covered in his book but for me the take away as an employee has one element you're missing ... being receptive to feedback.All companies, managers, and colleagues screw up.  There is no way a single person can behave exceptionally with every single person in every single interaction.  As a result you will find yourself in situations where you question whether there is a future for you or not.  When you do, look at what you think needs to change.  Then ask yourself, "What have I done to initiate that change?"  If the answer is "nothing" then you know where to start.  If the answer is "a lot of things, but no one wants to listen" then you should probably polish up the resume.  I've actually been reprimanded at a company for "rocking the boat" when I was hired to act as a change agent and turn around a department that was under-performing.  If you're tried to affect change and have seen no results (or worse ... been dinged for it) then yes, get out of there.
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  • DBAndJ2EEInstruction
    If you are an American that is being discriminated against by illegal aliens from the MiddleEast...the minute I hear Farsi, Arabic or Hindi I'm sending my resume to the next recruiter.. (Editors note: I have a little concern on this comment about the 'illegal alien' qualifier - if all you go by is the language, how do you know they are illegal? But I decided to publish the comment. It is illegal for companies to discriminate on hiring based on race, sex, religion or age; that doesn't mean they won't. It is legal for you, as an employee, to discriminate on who you will work for. I'm not saying it is a good idea, just that it is legal.)
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  • EricJacobson
    Not having a compatible work schedule with your team.I read something this morning about a skilled employee trying to balance her work/life.  She worked a kick-ass 9-5pm day everyday but her colleagues took 2 hour lunches, talked about sports all day, and stuck around till 7 or 8pm to get their work done.  They accused her of being a clock watcher so she left.  I would leave too.
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