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Lost a highly intelligent, motivated executive

Text and line illustration by Franke James, MFA.; workers with boxes in field ©istockphoto.com/rene mansi

Dear Office-Politics,

We recently lost a highly intelligent, highly motivated executive to another firm. During her time she generated a lot of ideas and initiatives for helping the organization develop and expand. However, her style was in direct conflict with the rest of the executive team who are much more conservative (almost passive), eager to maintain the status quo and definitely do not like to ‘rock the boat’. Her frustration with the difficulty in getting things done was a key reason for her leaving the company.

Since her departure, the organization has taken a step back to determine the best course of action for the future. Almost overnight, there seems to be little or no drive to move forward on a number of key initiatives she started.

This is frustrating to the few people in the company who adopted her approach and shared her desire to improve. This group is definitely a minority in the organization and is starting to feel hopeless and demoralized. Is it time to come to grips with the fact that the broader organization is unwilling to change and start seeking other employment? (This is a tough choice because the pay and benefits are great and I have lots of freedom and flexibility in my work. Bottom line – they treat me very well, it’s a decent place to work, but the work itself is rapidly becoming unfulfilling.)

Or, do you have any advice on how to stick it out and keep driving change and innovation?

Sincerely,

Down and almost out

P.S.: GREAT content on this site – I visit often. Keep it up!

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
franke james

Dear Down and almost out,

What a timely dilemma! Innovation versus so-called ‘Job security’. However since you’re stuck in the middle of it, you may not feel quite as enthusiastic.

Let’s take a look at the end of your letter to figure out a path forward:

“Bottom line – they treat me very well, it’s a decent place to work, but the work itself is rapidly becoming unfulfilling. Or, do you have any advice on how to stick it out and keep driving change and innovation?”

Job security is important in your happiness. A secure job pays the bills, and that means less friction in your life. But if your competitors are about to eat your lunch (due to lack of innovation) will you have that secure job for long? (Look at GM versus Toyota.)

Your letter takes a big picture view. You speak less of your own situation than you do of the well-being of your company. I believe that earning money has to be balanced by the emotional price. Doing work that is ‘unfulfilling’ would suck the life energy out of me. I can’t imagine staying unless I had a clear vision that things were going to improve. Am I saying that you should immediately look around for another job? No. Your last line indicates that you have the spirit and determination to make change happen at your company. So this could be a big opportunity for you…

Are you the best person to drive change and innovation at your company? You may shake your head and say, “No. Big strategic decisions come from the top.” And while there is truth to that, anyone in the organization can be instrumental in making change happen.

I have a few ideas on how you can plant some seeds of change…

First off, to drive change and innovation you need to be well informed and ask yourself some smart questions.

What’s coming down the pipe? What global forces could adversely affect your industry? Are your competitors outsourcing low-level tasks and thus producing their product more cheaply? Does the rise of China and India as the low-cost ‘workshops of the world’ impact your business? Does the US Government’s focus on Homeland Security present a threat or an opportunity for you? Are your competitors adapting new technologies — and thus speeding up the sales cycle — quicker than your company? What is your company’s ‘Achilles heel’ that everyone knows, but no one wants to talk about?

Those are just a few questions that could result in some critical changes in how your Company operates their business in the next 5 years. I’m sure you’ll think of lots more. To jumpstart the thinking process I’d recommend reading a few books on innovation and world trends.

The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman. It is excellent. It will tell you things you may already have sensed (and worried abstractly about) but then puts the trend into perspective. Here’s a short snippet on the pressing need for change from the first edition:

“The experiences of the high-tech companies… who failed to navigate the rapid changes brought about in their marketplace… may be a warning to all the businesses, institutions, and nation-states that are now facing these inevitable, even predictable changes but lack the leadership, flexibility and imagination to adapt — not because they are not smart or aware, but because the speed of change is simply overwhelming them.”

Also take a look at Ready, Set, Done: How to Innovate When Faster is the New Fast by Jim Carroll. Jim is a futurist, innovation and business trends expert who identifies international trends that could blindside your company. Jim could be talking to you when he says, “From my perspective, too many people and organizations have lost their momentum; they’re stuck in a rut, spinning their wheels. They are ill-equipped to cope with change, and don’t have the mindset to fuel future innovation.”

So, let’s imagine that you’ve read these books. You’re all psyched up and you’ve got some ‘bright ideas’ or at least some concerns about a major trend. You know what you’d like the company to do but you don’t have the power to make the changes. Now what?

Actively but gently spread some of your ideas throughout the company. Tell coworkers about the books you’re reading and some of the questions they are provoking. Management meetings might be an ideal time to raise some of the issues or concerns. Ideally you want other people to start thinking, and mulling and chatting about these same questions — and coming up with their own ideas. (If you want to introduce innovative ideas I suggest reading Dr. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. It can give you tips on how to introduce ideas without them getting squashed by the naysayers. And also teach you the power of getting everyone in the room thinking in the same direction.)

I would also recommend bringing in a selection of the sharpest business book authors for company ‘pep’ talks, and strategy sessions. That could change the direction of your company. Or make it crystal clear why they will never change, and why you have to!

Good luck. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Franke

Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game

_________________________________________________________

Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005 — however book references have been updated to 2008. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

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  1. One Answer to “Lost a highly intelligent, motivated executive”

  2. Feedback from ‘Down and almost out’:

    Thank you very much for replying to my letter. I appreciate your advice and will look to those books for guidance. One thing that I have learned in corporate life is that consistently delivering a message is a key factor in your ability to succeed. I will remain positive and do my best to plant the seeds of change in the organization.

    Once again, excellent site. Keep up the good work.

    By Letter writer on May 12, 2008

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