“I’m in a dead end job.” “My job is operational, we do routine work. There’s no opportunity for learning or innovation.” “I have ideas but my boss doesn’t act on them.” “I want more responsibility but my boss isn’t giving it to me.”
Are you at the mercy of your job description? Can you re-define your job into what you want it to be? How do you know if you can shape your job or if it’s time to get a new job?
Ray Dalio has defined “Shapers” as people with a vision who can implement it.
Here are some things that have worked for me.
Identify problems where my job plays a role. What are the big, recurring issues keeping your team from improving? The key is to look for things that everyone thinks is “just the way it is” or “always been that way.” Focus on clear problem definition; what is the root cause? What forces are creating this problem? Don’t try to solve it just yet, simply map out the causes. Try using the “5 Whys” to get deeper into the problem. I had an issue with an external group that never met their commitments to our group. My team had them under all sort of labels, “they are incompetent”, “they don’t care”, etc. I spoke with them and found out that they were getting calls from 25+ people on my team, all pushing for their item to be completed. They were running around trying to keep everyone happy. Once I knew the problem, I simply created a single communication point and prioritized the items. The problem disappeared overnight.
Connect Strategy to Execution. Connecting strategy to execution is the holy grail of organizational success! If you are working on execution, it is imperative that you fully understand how your work impacts the organization. This understanding will allow you to make small decisions that have a big impact on the strategy. Conversely, it will prevent you from making small mistakes that have a detrimental effect on the big picture. For example, someone is running a week late on their delivery. Well it’s only a week, right? It’s important to know if a week will blow up a multi-million dollar deal or if a week doesn’t matter because it won’t go the client until next month anyway.
Look for adjacent learning opportunities. I’ve heard people say that they have learned everything they need to know for their job and there’s nothing left to learn. There may be nothing left to learn about the current workings but there’s always something to learn. What do you need to learn to move the team into the future? Can you learn about how to have more effective meetings? Are there new tools you can leverage? Can you bring in ideas from Design Thinking to develop customer empathy?
Automate your current work. “What? That will put me out of a job!” If you want to shape your job, you need to be willing to make your current job obsolete. It’s ironic that often the same person who doesn’t want to automate their work is the same person who complains that they are too busy to try new things. In order to be a Shaper, you need to make time. In order to make time, you are going to have to figure out how to get your current job done faster. This kills 2 birds with one stone, as automating your job might give you credibility as a shaper.
Be willing to get fired. One of the best executives I ever worked with tells stories that always end with “I almost got fired over that.” She was always willing to stand up for what’s right for the company, even if it was in conflict with their policies. For example, there was the time she circumvented her spending limit by thousands in order to save the company millions of dollars. In the ensuing investigation, she was forgiven. Your boss may not love the idea of you shaping your job. You can try aligning with your boss’ interests. But ultimately, if you want to truly shape your job you need to be willing to get fired.
When to leave. If you truly feel that you've pushed as hard as you can, and the company policies and values are impenetrable, it's time to go. What did you learn to avoid in your next job? If you are in an impossible situation more than once, it's time to examine your own practices.
On any given day, I may either get fired or promoted. I’m never sure which.
— Anonymous Transformation Executive
How are you shaping your career? We'd love to hear from you!