You’ve had a bad day. Your project isn’t delivering. Your colleagues are grumpy. The client is being unreasonable. Your manager is disinterested. And when the phone rings, there’s a recruiter on the other end of the line, painting a vision of opportunity elsewhere. How do you know when to ignore the call of greener pastures and when to move on?
There are two reasons why this issue is particularly challenging for strategists. The first is the most obvious, namely that there is huge demand for our services in the marketplace today. The second is that we operate primarily in the mid to long term, so short term challenges should mean less to us. We are trained to be able to look beyond them as steps on the path to an objective. But if we constantly dismiss immediate problems, are we in danger of missing the signs that they are becoming persistent and systemic? How do we recognize when something simply isn’t working and that it’s time to move on?
I propose a framework that can be applied to help make this decision. Not only does this work for deciding if it is time to change employer, it can also be applied against a project strategy or a client relationship. Here’s the questions you need to ask yourself:
First, have you clearly defined what you expect to get out of the engagement, and by when? Most hasty decisions are made in an emotional state and are a result of a lack of clarity when it comes to objectives. An objective is the foundation you build on that helps you weather the inevitable storms. It needs constant reminding and reinforcement if we are not to lose sight of it. But just as it can be a foundation, it can also be an anchor. An objective can keep us in place with a strategy, a client relationship, or an employer far beyond the point that it makes sense to. That is why a timeframe is critical. If you have set an objective and a realistic and reasonable timeframe, and you have passed the deadline with little to no progress to that objective, then it might be time to move on. Strategies need tangible progress for you to stick with them.
The second question you need to ask is what are you learning? Every engagement needs to teach you something. This applies to a client engagement or an employment contract. If this is entirely one-sided, with you giving constantly, there is no ability for you to grow your skills, your capabilities and your value. Strategists have to exist in a state of perpetual learning to stay vital in our careers due to the constantly evolving nature of our industry. If we aren’t learning from a project or a business relationship, then it will become stale and unsatisfying very quickly.
The third question to ask is do you have the freedom to test, to explore, and if necessary, to fail? Without this, your ideas become safe and stale. We need the safety to experiment in order to be innovative.
The fourth question to ask is do you work in an environment of mutual respect? Life is far too short to work where you are not respected or valued. To ignore this is to allow a client relationship to become abusive or a work environment to become toxic. Not only is this detrimental to your health, with all the stress that it brings, you rarely deliver your best work when you are resentful. Ask yourself if the current difficult environment is temporary or persistent. If it is temporary, by when do you expect it to improve and what are you doing to make it better?
The final question to ask yourself is are you appropriately compensated for your contribution? Of course we always want to be paid more, and there is always someone willing to pay a higher amount. But is your compensation in line with the value you are generating? Think beyond your immediate employment and consider client engagements. How many times are you facing situations where your strategy is delivering huge value, and yet client demands have rendered the project financially unprofitable for you?
There is a comfort in the status quo. But inertia can be an anchor for your career and wellbeing. The opposite is true. Jumping ship at the first opportunity or constantly changing direction in your strategy due to short term challenges will leave you unfulfilled and eventually frustrated. You need a framework to look beyond immediate challenges and help you achieve your full potential. This framework, with the sum total of all the answers to the questions outlined will help you strategically determine if you should stay or go.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.