Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut. Sometimes those voices in your head—whispering words of caution and concern about your situation at work—are smarter (and louder) than you think.
We ought to remember what is truly important about our roles at work. What makes us tick actually matters. What fuels our “why” cannot be ignored. It’s our life. It’s our career. It’s our story.
A balance between your personal purpose and your role at work (in lockstep with the organization that employs you) is critical to anyone’s wellbeing.
If you sacrifice your personal purpose and ignore what may be making you miserable, who are you trying to impress? What good does unhappiness in your role serve yourself, your family, your future?
By way of example, let me introduce the story of Sheri.
Sheri had been working for a very large company in the high tech space for several years. She had joined in the role of Director, responsible not only for her team but for large-scale, game changing projects that materially helped move the firm’s results in a positive direction. Her role was responsible for the organization’s leadership development and competence reservoir. If Sheri and her team were not delivering, the success of all personnel development ran dry.
Her passion had always been people. So long as she was able to serve and help others in her organization, Sheri was in her sweet spot. It was fair to claim that Sheri’s role at work served her clearly defined personal purpose. The organization she joined in 2010 was not only doing cool things, its mission and purpose was something she was completely aligned with as well. Everything was going ever so splendidly.
After one particular acquisition the company made that swelled the team member population to over 70,000 people worldwide, things began to change for Sheri.
As in, “Iceberg, right ahead!”
What was almost like a family business and full of collaborative spirit, for various reasons became a hierarchical, rigid and very unfriendly atmosphere. It did not happen overnight but over the course of several months, what was the sweet spot for Sheri became a rather sour spot.
“My ability to be effective was no longer possible,” said Sheri to me over a conversation. “We offshored a lot of the transactional work, which was fine, but when I needed to strategize, to work the way I always had, I was prevented from doing so. Far too much effort was being spent on offshoring and implementing shared services…this was supposed to make us more effective but it ended up sucking the life out of me. My team and many others were decimated by staff reductions and the mantra ‘do more with less’ was issued by senior leaders all the time. It was no longer fun.”
Sheri was experiencing what many people seem to go through.
What was once an organization that was once operating as a high performing and engaging machine was coming apart at the seams, like an over hugged teddy bear.
But no one was prepared to patch up poor teddy.
“I was no longer able to grow the team, and by extension the organization,” Sheri added. “We just weren’t able to execute on the programs that would have allowed the business to continue growing.”
My chat with Sheri was becoming all too familiar. An individual defines her personal values and decides how she will conduct herself in work and in life. She joins an organization that matches her values. She accepts a role that offers the chance to perform, to grow, to excel. All is going swimmingly well. Then a disruption occurs. It could be hard times for the business, an acquisition, a merger, a competitive threat, whatever. What was bliss for the team member has taken a decidedly wicked twist to the dark side. You can almost hear Princess Leia saying, “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.”
In this case however, Sheri recognized the signs herself. She knew something was awry. It was like a cheeseburger without the cheese.
“One day in 2015,” Sheri continued, “I phoned a colleague and she asked, ‘Are you really happy here?'” This simple question from a trusted colleague became the catalyst for change. Sheri began contemplating her purpose. Again.
“Over the course of several months, I began talking with my husband, friends, other colleagues and came to the realization that I didn’t have to stay where I was,” she said. “The way the organization was doing business now—how it was operating—no longer worked for me. I could no longer affect change the way I used to and I wanted to be empowered again to make decisions, and to make a difference. I came to the conclusion that the organization was affecting my personal purpose.”
Sheri recognized her personal purpose—alongside how she was going to show up every day in the organization and perform in her role—was in conflict with the changes happening at her organization. She loved her role, but the firm’s cultural descent began to impact the way in which she could perform. Thus, her personal purpose was being negatively affected. Life was not peachy.
“It had become a job,” she said. “It became an exercise in punching the clock, something to do to keep the lights on. There was nothing more I could do to create value for the organization at that point. My worst fear had come true. The passion I previously demonstrated in my role had now simply been reduced to a pay check.”
What happened next?
“I had to reconnect with my personal purpose,” Sheri conceded, “and so I began talking with another company about a potential role that was open.” Interestingly, Sheri knew that the compensation, benefits and perks would not be the same in the new company to her current organization. “When I looked at the opportunity to shift companies, to build something from the ground up, it overrode all the other perks and benefits that my employer was providing.”
Sheri had discovered during several meetings and interviews that the board of directors and senior leaders were huge proponents of leadership, learning and career development. They made it a priority to invest in this facet of the business. There was a large white space with which to work with, and the company’s values included collaboration, trust and empowerment.
Sheri decided to take the role in the new organization.
There would be a repairing of the teddy. The iceberg had been avoided.
Ever since joining the new company she has rekindled her personal purpose. This has occurred in a role that sees her thriving in an organization that is dedicated to serving one another while it pursues business growth.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Sheri concluded. “I’m accountable and I’m doing the things I love. It’s not about a title or salary, it’s about being able to fulfill my personal purpose while working in a role and at a company I enjoy.”
I asked one final question. I wondered if Sheri was aware whether her husband or friends have noticed a difference in her demeanour. “Of yes,” she responded, “my husband and friends have said to me, ‘You are a completely different person than you were in the previous company.’”
“What I care about,” she ends with, “is that my boss trusts me, empowers, delegates, and is equally interested in the growth of our employees. You could say I have regained my sweet spot. You could say I’m myself again.”
Sometimes people have to take the proverbial bull by the horns and quit their role and company in order to ensure their personal purpose remains intact. Sheri is a case study in taking such action.
Dan Pontefract’s next book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization, will publish May 10, 2016. He is Chief Envisioner of TELUS Transformation Office.