When to Grow, When to Go

by Ram Charan

by Ram Charan

Utility Links

Thursday, November 9, 2006

One of the questions that constantly comes up when I work with people is "When is it time to move on to continue growing?" In other words, "When do I know I've outgrown my job?"

These are great questions, because you -- and only you -- are responsible for your career. Not the company's HR department, not your boss or your boss' boss. You.

If you don't think that is the case -- if you have no ambition to test yourself in the workplace -- there's no point in reading further.

That said, I can help you create a three-part checklist that will allow you to see if it's time to move on. Let's start with the most basic question to ask:

1. Are you exceeding all expectations and getting 15 percent better every day?

That is, are you exceeding the expectations of your boss? Be honest. Your answer isn't about trying to impress someone else, it's about objectively assessing how you're doing.

If you aren't impressing your boss -- and you can tell by the feedback you're getting -- you probably have room to grow where you are.

But impressing your boss shouldn't be your sole focus. You should be striving to become the "best in class."

I've known Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing, for 25 years, and I love what he had to say about this in a recent article in Fortune. He believes, and I agree, that we all have the ability to improve by 15 percent a year. So even if you're doing a superior job and are getting rave reviews, you should focus each day on getting even better -- 15 percent better every year.

Do exactly what the best athletes do. No athlete, no matter how naturally talented, becomes a champion without determined, repetitive, consistent practice. It's the same for people who excel at work. They identify areas they need to improve and discipline themselves to practice and continually improve.

2. Have you redefined your job recently?

Even if you're getting raises and compliments -- from your peers, your boss, and even your boss' boss -- and are working to get 15 percent better each day, that is still not enough.

No content in any job remains static. The world changes. Your organization changes. Customer needs change. The competition changes. Sometimes your boss changes. Any such change means new challenges and more opportunity to grow.

You can and should redefine your job periodically, not for personal gain or to encroach on someone else's turf, but in order to help your company grow organically and be more responsive to the outside world. Maybe there are interpersonal skills you need to polish or new knowledge you need to acquire to help you and your company adapt to new requirements.

You must be changing at least as fast as the economy is -- and that means you may need to change very quickly indeed. Google had no revenues in 1998. Sales now top $10 billion on an annualized basis. It took AOL slightly less time than that to go from an industry leader to becoming an also-ran rumored to be for sale.

3. Have you mastered all the elements of your job?

Don't think of your job only in terms of how HR would describe it. Dissect the many activities you do from day to day, from running a meeting to learning to spot talent in others. Each of them can be improved with practice.

No one becomes a successful leader without the ability to build relationships, for instance (something I discussed in my earlier column, "An Undiscovered Path to Personal Growth."). That includes interpersonal skills, but it is much more than getting along with people one-on-one.

You need the ability to mobilize groups, especially those over which you have no power. You also need to be able to win the trust and respect of others through your conduct. One CEO told me recently that he wouldn't promote anyone to a higher level of responsibility who wasn't respected for his or her character and integrity and didn't have the ability to work well across functions.

In almost any job, you can practice being a better listener, a better synthesizer of other people's ideas, and a better idea generator.

The Inner Peace of Striving

The moral here is clear: If you aren't growing in your job, don't whine. Look into the mirror and see if you're overlooking opportunities.

But if you've done everything I've discussed here and still aren't being recognized, or aren't getting a chance to move up and test your potential, then it's time to move on to another job if not to another company.

If you develop the discipline to exceed expectations, identify newly required skills, and try to continually improve each element of your job, you'll be making the most of every job you have and preparing yourself for bigger opportunities.

But you gain another benefit as well: You'll have a sense of inner peace, which of course will have a direct impact on your physical, as well as mental, well-being.

Here I borrow from the Indian philosophy I learned as a child. You achieve inner peace by totally immersing yourself -- concentrating totally -- on working toward a higher purpose. When you stay focused on that purpose and give it your all, inner peace naturally follows. So don't be in a rush to climb the ladder, but do develop the discipline and determination to focus on growth and strive to be better.