Time for a Change?

Sometimes the Grass is Greener

We’re not equally suited by disposition, interest, and aptitude to work or live in all places. Sure, most of us will discover self-limiting tendencies to overcome. We must adapt, it’s critical to thriving as a person. But human beings are far from plug-and-play creatures. So, there’s something to be said for finding our place in life. And it calls for insight, trusting our gut, and sometimes tough choices.

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This truth registered with fresh impact recently when I met with a coaching candidate. He is a hi-potential professional and represents much of what his boss wants more of in the department – a positive attitude, service orientation, resourceful problem solving. He’s only been there 5 months but has already noticed that the culture in his department is “bad,” something his boss has obliquely acknowledged.

The issue for this new hire, let’s call him John, is that he’s not so sure his manager has what it takes to change the culture. “It’s unfortunate,” said John, “because I get the sense he’s smart, a good mentor, and someone I could learn from.” But he just wasn’t convinced that his manager is “tough enough” to take on the changes in personnel and behavioral norms necessary to create a positive culture.

On the one hand, John enjoys working with the internal clients his department serves. On the other hand, in staff meetings he retreats into himself rather than contend with the “snarky” attitudes and interactions of his peers. Moreover, he’s worried that he’ll be tainted by association in the eyes of key stakeholders outside the department. So, does he stay, or does he go?

That’s how it began.

So, What’s the Coaching Agenda and Focus?

An unusual theme to emerge in the first of a series of developmental coaching sessions for a hi-potential candidate? Yes, although you might be surprised at how frequently we encounter such retention issues among hi-potential candidates. I had to tease out this issue for discussion, but it simmered just below the surface, so it would have been negligent of me not to “go there.”

In most cases, and especially when these kinds of private worries are surfaced early enough, the person ends up finding reason to stay. But more importantly, candidates discover ways to talk frankly with their boss about the issues and the risks they pose. In this way the coaching becomes a stimulus for systemic change and prompts adaptive action by the manager.

This is not intended to reflect badly on the manager. We can all get stuck and lose perspective on what is possible as well as the risks of inaction. Moreover, it’s important to recognize that the manager’s initiative in seeking out coaching for this hi-potential candidate implicitly conveys a message that he or she is worried about retention, and perhaps a broader awareness that something needs to change.

So, in many respects, the coaching engagement takes its usual course of promoting the adaptive development of the coachee. But in addition, it may also prompt candid discussion of systemic factors that are relevant for the coachee and that become a stimulus for action by the manager. And this pathway of intervention and change reveals some basic facts and a bit of mystery about human development.

Individual behavior and development is always situated. It’s embedded in a social context that affects it and is affected by it. When we recognize that change is needed, we don’t always know fully what that change is or must be. But when we acknowledge and explore these felt and observed needs for change – whether through coaching or team development – we position ourselves to learn more about them.

That’s the mystery, which I alluded to. No matter how smart and well trained we might be in these matters, we can never fully anticipate what we’ll find. But what is very important, even critical, in the context of a professional helping relationships is that we share what we notice, even what we feel in some “fuzzy” way, sooner rather than later.  

Where is the Greener Grass?

Sometimes it is the right choice to leave an organization, or at least a department. But it’s never the best choice to do so without knowing why you are doing it. Greener evokes images of greater vitality doesn’t it? It’s a scene in which we can picture ourselves, our department, or our organization growing. So quite often the greener grass is found somewhere close to where we already are!