Staying motivated throughout the life of your career is challenging to say the least. There are so many forces that will drive you away from career satisfaction. The major problem is that we are always changing. I don’t just mean you will change, I also mean that your environment will change as well. I hear arguments all the time that you need to make sure you have a good “fit” for the new company you want to join. While I agree with this idea, it’s important to understand that organizations change too. In fact, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) seem to be very common today as M&A activity has increased by 42% in the last year and now rivals records set for such activity in 2007. Even though M&A activity is exciting to Wall Street, it can wreak havoc on your career. Many years ago I worked in an organization that was acquired twice in 18 months. There was so much change occurring that I didn’t know who I was working for from month to month. After each acquisition, restructuring always occurs. Luckily, most companies don’t engage in this much change but organizations do seem to be changing their culture to meet the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace. All of this change will not be handled well by the companies involved and will place considerable pressure on your career plans.
You’ve probably already seen your current organization’s responses to some of these tensions in the marketplace. One organization I worked with in assessing their cultural transformations had flattened their organization considerably to the point they had no organizational chart, which was their response to increasing speed to market by pushing decision-making to the lowest level. As you can imagine, this environment has little tolerance for failure and isn’t one of your best learning environments. Then, there’s the factor of flexibility, where organizations are responding to both globalization and diversity forces. These forces are pushing employees to be more cognizant of different cultures and, at the same time, are allowing employees to be more flexible in their working arrangements (e.g. telecommuting). These forces have induced the need for greater communication skills as employees are now communicating with individuals directly, anywhere in the organization, as opposed to communicating through “proper channels.” Globalization, diversity, flexibility, flatness, and networking are huge stresses for organizations today that won’t go away. Most struggle to optimize these factors, which has a tendency to complicate matters considerably. In other words, companies will continue to transform themselves for as far into the future as we can see.
Therefore, you have to develop a strategy to deal with a lot of change. Many years ago, your career was driven by your own needs, but this was a time when companies were more stable. It was easy to assess a new company’s culture and decide whether you liked it or not because it didn’t change much. Once you were in the company, creating a long career was easy, assuming your needs didn’t change too often. Today, your job satisfaction is determined more by your ability to deal with your company’s changing needs, not yours. This makes figuring out a viable career path very difficult. Here are few things I’ve learned over the years that will help you strike a balance with these seemingly unstoppable forces.
Understand what you need. So few people think about what they really work for. We often have some vague sense of what would make us happy but we fail to define it in enough detail that we can create a plan to achieve it or always make sure we are working towards it. Without such an understanding, our success becomes a victim of circumstances. So what motivates you? I’m not talking about getting a raise every six months and a promotion every eighteen months. I mean you need to know what makes you happy at work. What motivates you to be your best? Is it challenging work, managing people, autonomy, altruism, work-life balance, career growth potential, security, recognition or variety of work? Don’t worry about whether you can control the presence of these factors. Even if we can’t control everything, a failure to work towards your needs is simply leaving success up to chance. Would you need all of them to be happy with your progress? Not entirely. You would, however, be able to understand why you aren’t successful by identifying what’s missing. Then, you could find ways to bring those missing factors back into your life.
Understand your work environment. You’re not going to get everything you need from your job. It’s not any company’s goal to do that. It’s yours. You must manage your expectations accordingly. With that in mind, what factors that motivate you are present in your current work environment? I realize that these factors may be present at various levels, such as you don’t always get exciting work but you do get at least one exciting assignment per year. Check out my table in this link. It’s a view of values from a MBA graduate who is still in their same job after graduation. You can see what’s important to them and what their job provides. Take a little time to figure out what your work environment provides for you.
Find sources for your needs. If we only learned from the experiences in our jobs, how much would we really know? While your job won’t provide everything you need to grow and develop, you can find these opportunities elsewhere. In fact, that’s what drove me into consulting and then publishing. My needs were changing and weren’t being met. So I had a choice: accept it or change it. Once you identify your needs and determine which ones your work environment doesn’t provide, try to find other places outside of work that can help you fill these needs. For the most part, you won’t really care where they are being met, you’ll just be happy they are met. The only time this would become a problem is that if you allow your environment to remain the same for 2 or 3 years. Luckily, change is much faster than that.
Assess your needs often. Decades ago, it seemed that careers were modified by our own personal needs. But, today, the organization is transforming itself at a faster rate than its employees. As companies learn more, they reduce the size of the workforce, outsource, re-engineer processes, merge with other companies, acquire smaller companies and so on. The point is that the company changes often too and this has an impact on your career. Every year at your annual review, you should take time to assess what you need and what the company provides. It’s important to know the alignment of your needs with what your environment provides, as this will often be your sole source of stress. The misalignment will also give you areas to work on improving for the future.
Build your own team. This is probably my favorite idea but one very few actually utilize. A career is still viewed by most as something that can only be done individually. Yet when you look at the history of many highly successful professionals, you find out they had help. Just check out this site to see who got help from others. You should reach out to others to help you in your assessments of your needs and development of plans to meet them. There is such a stigma around career development that most people will never even breach the topic at work, but we will complain to all of our family, friends and neighbors. All you have to do is to talk with a few people you trust and get them to help you. Show them your assessment and get their thoughts. People want to help. It makes them feel valuable and needed. You won’t be disappointed in this tip if you use it.
Little things you should do daily. Success is the result of good habits. I create new habits all the time and test them out for a year to understand how they will impact my surroundings. The good part is that it usually doesn’t take very long to see the results. Here are a few things you can do daily to impact your environment in a positive way.
- Develop your own catch phrase – Every year I develop one. This year it is “living the dream.” Any time anyone asks me how I’m doing, I respond with my phrase. I try to say it with passion and belief every time. This phrase does two things for me: 1) it reminds me how much progress I’ve made over the years, and 2) it reminds me that I’ve still got a few things to do in my career and that I can accomplish them.
- Be positive – No matter how bad things get, shed a little sunshine on everyone’s day. Look, a career is very difficult but you can only take it one day at a time. So make every day a good day. Not just for yourself but for those around you. People like being around those who make them happy, despite reality. And if you’re employees really like being around you, maybe managers will keep that in mind should there ever come a need for the unthinkable things companies do to employees (you know… like a layoff!).
- Stop the comparisons – Too often we judge our success by measuring it against other’s success. We have no idea what others have sacrificed to gain their success or how it has left them on the inside. The comparisons don’t really do much for you other than take time from working on your own plan. If you need to make comparisons, think about where you came from, where you are and where you want to be. That kind of thought has benefits.
- Bask in the good things – Do you take enough time to soak in the moments when you’re successful? When I experience success, no matter how small, I make sure that I live in the moment as long as possible. I focus on the good emotions so that my body remembers what it feels like when success happens. I want it to develop an addiction to those feelings and a longing to repeat it over and over again.
Yep…there’s nothing magical about this post. It’s all common sense stuff. But how many of us don’t do them on a daily basis? How many of us get trapped in our daily lives? It’s too easy to do. Life and your career can be much better. All you have to do is plan a little and develop some good daily habits. If you’re not doing this, then you already have good habits or the pain isn’t bad enough yet. By why wait? Give yourself every possible advantage to be successful and happy. And who doesn’t want that?