Part of InSync Training's Thriving as a Learning Professional Series
In our individualistic society, it’s easy (and sometimes smart) to hold yourself responsible for your own success. If I am successful, it is because of my skills, my hard work, and my choices. But that’s a lie we tell ourselves to bolster self-esteem. The truth is, success is achieved because of a wide range of factors, only a few of which are ours to own.
A number of years ago, I came across an article (the particulars of which are now lost to the annuls of time) that talked about high performers changing jobs and then not living up to the hype. If these high-flyers were so good, then why did they fail? The answer always stuck with me. They flamed out because they and the people who hired them failed to realize that the secret of their success was in the context in which they worked. They were successful because the original organization provided supports that the new organization could not or did not anticipate would be necessary. Keep this lesson in mind as you contemplate career moves.
The real secrets of success
Performance consultants would not be surprised that talented people don’t always succeed. They know that there are a number of elements that influence performance, and each of them plays a role in individual success. Individual capability is key, of course, but that needs to be continuously developed. Other factors include work flow and systems, performance resources and tools, supervisory practices, team dynamics, expectations, and incentives. Perhaps these aren’t exactly secret, but they do tend to be played down when they may, in fact, be critical.
This insight is useful to people who are contemplating job changes. If you’re among them, it’s advisable to take the time to analyze what helps you to be effective in your job and make sure those elements are in place wherever you might choose to move. These elements might also help you to analyze what’s stopping you from being as successful as you might like in the role you have now.
Let’s take a look at each of these factors in turn:
Your own capability
If you are currently successful, you obviously have the skills needed for your current role, but required skills are also constantly evolving. How is your organization supporting the development of the skills you need to be successful? It’s not just about whether your organization offers training or funding for conference and workshop attendance. It’s about all the informal things that help you to develop–access to online resources, supportive peers, feedback, coaching, mentoring, challenging work assignments, and a solid learning culture.
When you look at opportunities, observe and explore the ways that the hiring organization supports development. Identify what has been most useful to you for your ongoing development, and evaluate whether those elements will be present in the job you are considering. Ask how leaders are encouraged to engage with employees in their development and whether managers are accountable for that in their performance evaluations.
Work flow and systems
As the late great Geary Rummler said, “Pit a good employee against a bad system and the system will win almost every time.” But when systems are working well, they are almost invisible. When you think about how you get great work accomplished, what supports are at work? What technology and other tools do you have that smooth the way? How do others contribute?
When you are thinking about taking your skills elsewhere, be sure to evaluate the systems that you’ll need to do the work with the quality you expect from yourself. Does the new organization have the same technology? If not, how does their technology compare to what you are used to, and how easy or hard will it be to become proficient with it? What is the quality of the preliminary work that would get passed to you, and how supportive are others in the process of each person’s needs? Take a look at the final products being produced by the organization, and ensure they value quality and coordination up and down the line.
Performance resources and tools
These days, online resources seem to be ubiquitous, if not on your organization’s systems, then on your own smart devices. Still, there may be resources that your organization makes available to you that you’ve found to be particularly helpful–data bases, subscriptions, libraries, etc., as well as equipment and office space (whether in a company-provided office or for your home office). Consider what you have handy that enables you to work smartly and efficiently.
If you move, you’ll need those same kinds of resources in any new role. Ask about the resources that are provided by the new organization you are considering. Make sure that you’ll have the reference tools and equipment you need to do your best work.
Consider what your supervisor does to ensure you can work at your best. Does your boss assign projects that allow you to use your strengths? Is your workload taken into consideration, and does your supervisor ensure that you are not overworked and stressed? Supervisors also support people by giving effective feedback, coaching skill development, providing resources, cultivating a good working environment, and showing genuine care.
You will likely meet your potential supervisor in the interview process for a new job, so take the time to learn about that person and their philosophy of management. Ask specifically about the kinds of supervisor engagement that are most important to you. And when and if you get to meet other people on the team, ask them about the leader’s management style. Get a feel for company leadership in general since it’s entirely possible you’ll work with more than one leader in your tenure.
You may be an individual contributor, but you are likely also part of a larger team. And those in leadership positions also have colleagues at that level. In what ways do those people enable you through knowledge sharing, feedback, coaching, collaboration, pitch-in support, and general camaraderie? If the group operates in a hybrid environment, how are interactions facilitated? What works for you? These dynamics play a role at the macro level as well–in what ways does the overall company culture create an environment that enables your success?
Whenever possible, arrange to meet some or all of your potential teammates when you are considering a new role. They give you a perspective on the job that is different from the hiring managers’, which may be informative. Ask them to describe the team dynamic from their point of view. Meeting them can also give you a feel for how much (and for what) you can rely on them, how they get along with each other, and to what degree you may enjoy working with them. Ask straight-out about team dynamics and company culture to get a feel for what you will encounter if you join the team.
In order to do well in a job, you need to understand the expectations. To what degree do you have clear role definition and an understanding of the criteria used to judge good work? How are those expectations communicated to you? Do others’ expectations align with your expectations for yourself?
As part of the interview process for a new job, get details about the role and responsibilities, and be sure you understand what the organization uses to evaluate success. Consider whether you agree with their standards.
Incentives and rewards
It may be true that people do what gets recognized and rewarded, but everyone has different feelings regarding what should be rewarded and how actions are incentivized. Take time to critically evaluate the incentive and reward structure in your current role, and ask yourself how important this aspect of the environment is to you.
Looking at a new opportunity, then, be sure to ask about what they reward and how. Look for possible negative outcomes (from your perspective) related to competition, disproportionate rewards, and bias. You may find some inside scoop on internet-based rating sites (e.g. Glassdoor), but you need to interpret that commentary carefully. There may be folks in your network who can share an informed perspective as well.
Once you fully uncover the secrets to your success, you can be a lot more discriminating in evaluating new opportunities. Talent can’t stand out when the environment doesn’t provide the right supports. Be smart about your career, and make moves that will allow you to do your best work.