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Over the years, I have found myself in a number of less than ideal roles. For some reason, I thought that I was alone in this plight. But, I have since realized that this assessment could not be further from the truth. In fact, it is not uncommon to find ourselves in a role or an organization or both — not adequately aligned with our career goals. Indeed, no role is perfect. However, what if it has become crystal clear that the fit just doesn’t seem to be there? (More about 6 signs of a poor fit here.) We can’t simply pick up and leave — and in most cases no one would advise this. So, the looming question then becomes: What should you do while you wait for your next (and hopefully improved) opportunity?

Consider Jamie, an experienced professional who has re-entered the workforce after a few years on the sidelines. The organization she recently joined is not aligned with the experience amassed in her core sector and she is feels incredibly challenged to keep up with the daunting learning curve. She realized that this first step back into full-time work wasn’t going to be perfect a fit. However, the on-going daily stress is challenging her resolve to stick things out for the longer haul. She knows this step is crucial, but feels she is quickly fading.

Of course, a poor fit isn’t reserved for seasoned professionals.

Jessica, a recent university graduate, entered the world of work with high expectations concerning what she might accomplish in her first year on the job. Active in clubs and organizations related to both her training and intended path, she enjoyed a high level of both autonomy and respect. However, in the real world of work — she is faced with the challenge of proving herself once again. Her manager clearly isn’t open to new ideas from a less established employee and she is struggling to even gain meeting invites. Frustrated and dejected, she toys with the idea of moving on to greener pastures.

Both situations are common — and potentially devastating. Having a heart-to-heart with yourself is often number one on the agenda. Often you must embrace the fact that this happens to many and does eventually resolve. Learning from the situation can offer strategies going forward.

Jill Katz Founder & CHRO at Assemble HR Consulting, shares this advice: “You would be surprised how often people feel stuck in their own role”. Jill who has led HR for several brands, including Macy’s and Calvin Klein continues, ” As we move into a world where personal and professional goals are blending — it is more important to get in touch with what we want — how to get it and how to manage the interim. One critical strategy is to be highly candid with a direct supervisor during the interview process and every week thereafter, to ensure the communication is fluid and open. More than not, these frustrations correlate with this process not occurring.”

In most cases, a combination of strategies can help us move forward effectively.
Here are a few to consider:

  • Get real. Expectations can be a real bear to deal with, especially when you’ve over-extended an idealized vision of the near future. If you’ve realized that you miscalculated a role’s potential or there were promises made that couldn’t possibly be met, you may find that a “come to reality” discussion with yourself may be in order. Clarify what you can — and cannot — accomplish career-wise in this role and emphasize the positives. Look for “smalls wins” that will feed your workplace soul.
  • Chill & give it time. Being impetuous is not a great virtue within the broader context of a career plan. If you are new to a role or organization, for example, give things at least 3-4 months to establish. This allows time to gain an understanding about the ways things work and for your manager and colleagues to learn your strengths. A career is not like microwaveable popcorn — things take time. If you’ve been with an organization for a time, you know how things can change and things can resolve for the better.
  • Look for an inspiring project. Organization work on many fronts. Seek a project with an inspiring mission, that might help build your connection to the organization and those within it. Staying 100% engrossed in work you do not connect with, is a miserable experience.
  • Glean what you can. If you can’t move into the right role, make a commitment to learn something valuable. You could seek inspiring individuals that might contribute to your development. For example, there could be a colleague well-versed in a skill of knowledge realm, that would be advantageous to your career.
  • Take the time to focus on people. Jill point out that, “Regardless of the subject matter, building relationships will always help to drive a career forward. In moments of stand-still, maximize relationships, get to know others on a more human level by offering time and assistance. This will pay off in the end when new teams are formed and new opportunities become open in the future.” These formed bonds could carry you through a difficult impasse.
  • If all else fails, consider short-term “survival” goals. If you find yourself barely hanging on, setting shorter-term goals can help. If overwhelmed or have lost your patience, focus on getting through the week. Then the next week. Thinking longer-term may be counter-productive.

Being in a less than perfect role, doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot continue to move forward. It simply means that you must change the lens — and utilize the time in front of you in ways that you may have not previously expected.

Of course, I hope that a better fit is right ahead of you.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Secretariat & Sham at the 99th Kentucky Derby, 1973

My younger sibling had a rival throughout school. They stood toe to toe in their subjects, perched at the top of their class — while jockeying to earn the respect and attention of their teachers. In the end, it appeared that my sister was deemed a very close second to her academic rival. The long-standing competition was clearly intense (not entirely sure it was healthy) and I’ve never asked my sister about how she viewed the experience. Things worked out in the end, as both attended a prestigious university. But, I’m confident that losing via a close competition was not be comfortable. Second place — can be a very challenging place. (Learn about the new research center at Columbia University examining failure here.)

Most of us would like to believe that with time and practice we might excel and possibly land at the top of the heap. However, both life and work are laden with disappointment, rejection and failure. We might think of the role or promotion that we didn’t quite earn — or the accolade in an area meaningful to us, that went to another. In many situations, a winner emerges and it is not us.

However, the key issue remains: How do we process the vital moments of work and career in which we were not that clear winner?

In that moment, how do we re-group and move forward?

Disappointments such as these, can certainly feel like failure.

Somehow, I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Sham — the incredible horse that had the untimely honor of being born the same year as Secretariat. (His fight to earn even a single leg of the Triple crown in 1973, was incredible). Sham was remarkable in his own right, identified early on as a potential champion. However, that was not meant to be. The reason for that outcome is both heartbreaking — and glorious — at the very same time. This excerpt from the LA Times story by Art Wilson in September of 1993, tells the story beautifully:

A son of Pretense might only naturally be called Sham. Still, it wasn’t a fitting name for this dark, leggy, elegant bay who rode alongside history instead of into it. By the clock, Sham would have won every other Kentucky Derby contested at a mile and a quarter. Through 118 Derbies, Secretariat and Sham remain the only entrants who ever came in under two minutes.

I’m often asked about what to do in the midst of disappointment or failure. My advice always remains the same: Give things time. These situations create a muddled fog concerning our own abilities and potential. When we suffer a setback, we cannot see the possibilities of another path that may lead to another valued, yet to be identified goal — that may prove equally as fulfilling. In my own life, this pops up frequently (in races of consequence and of lesser consequence). It is never easy.

As human beings, we have to deal with the aftermath of that lost race, as only human beings can do — with time, kindness and reflection. We are forced to repair our resolve and lift our spirits. We must rest and dust ourselves off, so to speak. To move along. To build resilience.

However, I must still think of Sham, the horse with heart, that gave it his all and will forever remain #2 — in a year of horse racing that was like none other. I am grateful in some way, that he wasn’t entirely aware of his predicament and what he might have accomplished in another year.

However, no matter the day, he was fierce and true to his own gifts. He came in second to Secretariat with a lasting message about his character. (We should offer that to ourselves.)

In any other given year, he would have been the champion. Yet, he always ran like one — because in his bones he knew, what he had to do.

I love him for that.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

This interview is part of a series of conversations with HR Tech Founders who are solving key people-centered issues within today’s organizations. This interview is with Srinivas Krishnamurti, Founder of Zugata.

The revolution has come to performance management — and feedback is central to that dynamic.

To be quite plain, it is performance management with the goal of actually improving performance — not simply measuring performance. While many platforms will help you collect feedback, Zugata takes it further with a twist. By utilizing algorithms to build a personalized social graph, the platform helps individual contributors gather feedback from those who have a clear view of an their performance.

The twist? No one else has access. It’s designed for the individual. Organizations that utilize Zugata are committed to this philosophy.

Ultimately, the platform helps employees collect feedback, interpret it — and put them on their paths to development through personalized resources based on that feedback data. Creating a culture of growth & development, leads to higher engagement and retention.

Feedback is the natural place to begin.

What is the backstory behind Zugata? What led you and your team to develop the platform?

The idea for Zugata came about through our own frustrating experiences using HR software at previous companies. Honestly, I would only log in to our HR system once a year around annual reviews, but other than that —  never.

“Broadly speaking, most of the HR software is built and optimized for HR teams and not for individuals like you or me.”

The focus wasn’t on helping me be a better employee or a better manager. We wanted to address the needs of employees (vs. HR) and set out to build a platform that helps employees develop and reach their potential. Additionally, we wanted to help companies collect and use data to help them make better decisions about their people and organization.

We noticed that organizations have a wealth of data about their customers, competitors, market trends and even their data centers, to optimize their operations. However, it’s surprising how little data they have on what’s so often referred to as their most valuable asset, their people.

What key features does Zugata bring that have been previously missing in other platforms focused on feedback/performance management?

Firstly, our overall philosophy about performance management is different. Our belief is that performance management must drive an improvement in performance, rather than just measure it. Everything we do percolates from that core mission.

While we do believe that companies need to measure performance to make compensation decisions, we separate this out from all other activities that focus upon performance development. We believe that development is continuous — and not a once or twice a year discussion.

Continuous feedback is critical to guide employees in terms of areas of strength and growth.

“Our AI algorithms automatically identify who you work with — and solicit feedback from the right people on your behalf. We’ve developed a best-practices based approach to offer feedback that is specific, actionable and objective.”

Each employee has his or her own performance dashboard, providing clear visibility into strengths and areas to improve. Another differentiator is that we don’t stop with feedback; we then deliver personalized development resources to each employee based on this data. We’re constantly building out these resources and have partnerships with Lynda.com, Skillshare and The Muse to offer classes and coaches.

Second, Zugata is designed for the modern world of work. For example, as Bersin often discusses, today’s organizations are moving away from the hierarchical organizational charts and moving toward a network of teams. Your manager isn’t always the person you work most closely with. However, most systems depend on the manager to provide developmental feedback to an employee.

Instead, Zugata integrates with the platforms people use to get work done, like your Gmail, Calendar, Exchange, Outlook 365, Slack, Jira, and so on.  We are able to build a personal social graph for each employee based on the metadata in these systems. This means that feedback requests are automatically triggered based on who people are actually working with. We also have an agile goals module and have recently designed team-based goals to support this new organizational model as well.

Third, Zugata also offers intelligent insights concerning organizational performance. In order to create a culture of high-performance, you not only need to help employees improve — you also need to optimize the environment in which they work.

Earlier this year, we launched Zugata Insights, which enables HR leaders to understand their organization in unprecedented ways. We run text-based feedback through a machine learning algorithm, then categorize attributes and phrases being used to describe people within an organization. We can filter these attributes by gender. Companies can start to measure and manage unconscious bias by seeing if men and women are being described differently across the organization. We can also help companies see the top attributes of their top performers, helping them to clearly understand the attributes they reward at their organization and assess how well they line up to their published cultural values

What are the most vital benefits?

Our customers use Zugata to create a culture in which employees have constant and fair opportunities for development. Today’s employees are self-advocates; if you’re not providing them with ongoing skills development and growth opportunities, they will leave. Research shows that by providing better career opportunities for employees, organizations can decrease turnover by 33 percent, saving an organization with 10,000 employees $7.5 million dollars per year. In addition, using Zugata is a step toward creating an inclusive culture. We help companies ensure that all employees are receiving quality feedback and receiving personalized development resources, that evaluations are designed for objectivity, and that and they have the data to measure and manage unconscious bias.

Zugata allows HR leaders to be strategic partners to the business. Historically, HR Tech reporting looks more like activity metrics. Knowing how many managers have submitted evaluations or how many goals are entered into a system does not help HR make strategic decisions.

“We provide data that allows HR leaders to actually understand the organization so that they can use data to make and measure their impact.”

For example, a clear understanding of skills and skills gaps — can inform hiring and training decisions. A list of the attributes you reward can help you evolve your culture. Or, finally, a way to measure unconscious bias can help you get ahead of unconscious bias before the promotion cycle.

What is your long-term vision for the platform? What comes next?

Zugata will continue to invest in adding value through the use of data. For employees, we will help with not only getting better in their current role but also with achieving their career goals and aspirations. For people leaders, we are very much in the first innings of what we could achieve with our Zugata Insights initiative where we leverage NLP, machine learning to help leaders better measure the biases that hold their organizations back. Look for us to invest a lot there in the future.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Most of us join an organization with the intention to progress career-wise. Finding an employer who will help us develop our skill set, discover motivating paths and avoid stagnation is vital. Yet, even in this day and age — these qualities can prove elusive. Our managers simply don’t have the time to help us sort it out and the information available internally can be spotty, unclear or inaccurate. To be truthful, the deficit to explore our future path begins early in the job search process, where the information provided with which to make career decisions is sorely lacking. This information deficit can continue, when employees struggle to find information to inform their career journey.

Ultimately, both engagement and retention suffer.

This problem is multi-faceted. But, there are two sides I’d like to consider here: 1) The information shared during the recruitment phase and 2) the quantity and quality of information available to current employees seeking internal growth paths.

Sadly, there exists a “lop-sided” emphasis on talent acquisition vs. career development. (Yes, recruitment is an integral element of the talent pipeline, which I respect.) Admittedly, this has much to do with the inherent difficulty of capturing the complexity of roles within organizations, describing them accurately and securing the right mechanisms to communicate that information. As a result, employees often (as a last option) seek a change organizations to reach their career development goals. Moreover, because recruitment channels receive the lion’s share of attention — managers seeking talent within their own organization might acquiesce and fill the role from the outside.

This sets up new problems on both sides of the exchange. Firstly, built knowledge about both the organization and the work at hand walks out the door with the established employee. Secondly, employees must again play the role of the newcomer and all that brings — wasting precious time mastering a new culture and its own contextual concerns. (I am ever hopeful that HR tech will begin solve these problem for us. Listen to a discussion concerning implementation of the Fuel50 platform at Ingersoll Rand here.)

Some of the informational issues could at least partially impacted during recruitment — where the information provided concerning roles, triggers early decisions about the job-candidate “match”. There has been progress in recent years to abstain from job descriptions that are simply a long lists of needed skills, responsibilities and requirements. However, there is one category of information that may be rarely shared — but could offer a wealth of information to potential job candidates. This is information concerning career paths of those that went before them. If shared in some way candidates could at least envision how they might develop professionally if they committed to a longer-term tenure.

As an illustration of this issues discussed here, I’ve just read another article about strategies to attract talent, with the word “lure” in the title. This article provided useful information — but somehow utilizing the word “lure” in reference to a job candidate defeats the purpose. We should set out to attract contributors in a transparent and informative manner. This involves putting the right information out there, so that effective decisions are made. For example, the “context” concerning a role does matter. How will you actually apply a specific skill set? What outcomes will you working toward? (See a great video from Ruutly about this very topic here).

In summation, we need work together and solve these information gaps. If we are to tackle the engagement crisis, we need to look beyond the initial role that an individual holds and look ahead. This inevitably involves how we describe and communicate internal opportunities that will comprise their  “future”.

Yes, all of this requires much more thought and devoted resources.

Yes, this would require organizations to adequately describe roles internally and keep track of contributors’ paths.

Yes, this involves paying greater attention to “internal recruitment” within organizations.

Yes, this would involve an even greater level of transparency.

However, collecting and communicating more information concerning where starting point “A” might lead during organizational tenure, could not only attract future employees — but keep a few more great people down the line.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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The Office Blend by Marla Gottschalk - 8M ago

My interest in the stability paradox — the need for a solid foundation to support organizational agility & resilience — has deep roots within my career. (Read my other posts here and here. Read about ARA theory here). In the late 2000s, I had the unique opportunity to work with a number of small businesses. Many were successful, family-owned and displayed an extreme passion for the products or services they provided. They were filled with remarkable people, who had nurtured deep ties with the community and intended on leaving a lasting, positive impact. After spending time and listening, I quickly realized that their challenges were a microcosm of what would occur in larger companies. There was far less “noise” bureaucratically, so to speak, and the challenges were much easier to see. However, the consequences of inaction were equally as devastating.

Most were experiencing some level of distress. Some had survived the economic crisis — only to realize they were one of the last companies standing of their kind. They were relieved, yet stunned. Others were facing new and disruptive competition. But, they all sensed they were on shaky ground as to how to move forward effectively and grow.

However, regardless of the industry, there was a certain similarity in their predicaments — and the thread that connected them was growth.

Rather, how these organizations was unprepared to support further growth.

To my astonishment, most had managed to grow rather ferociously with a sparse internal structure — until they reached an inflection point where the “informal” structure no longer supported the organization. Then all hell began to break loose. Communication channels began to fail. Cross-functional teaming was in disarray. Response times expanded. Customers were unhappy. Tempers would flare.

I was challenged to help them, but soon realized that increased internal stability was required. Without a stable underlying foundation, nothing would work. (Read more about this here.) However, preserving what made them both innovative and unique, was also important. That became the goal: a set of best practices that supported the supportive skeleton of the organization — such as mission, values and communications channels — but still allowed for flexibility that helped these organizations survive and thrive.

We would usually focus on a few elements:

  • Discuss mission & strategy. It was usually time to revisit the core principles of the organization. Did the mission still fit ? Was there and agreed strategy to support that mission? Without these elements, the moving parts that drove growth would become locked.
  • Stabilize communication. By the time an organization reached 80 or 90 people, the informal communications network became stressed and or had fractured. Investing in intranet software, for example, to facilitate conversations and collaboration became critical critical. A technology investment was also needed — especially if a sizeable group of contributors were in the field.
  • Examine software solutions. Software does need to match the demands within an industry. However, in many cases platforms were added as a particular need presented, with little consideration concerning how the addition impacted employees and customers. So, the “house that Jack built” became the plan. Solutions didn’t work together, and in some cases they competed, adding needless steps and little added value.
  • Review talent needs. Inevitably positions needed to be added that could serve a strategy function for key functions. These individuals could keep an eye on growth opportunities and what the organization would need to do to respond effectively. Moreover, role clarity for existing roles, was usually weak or absent.
  • Look at development. Contributors need to believe that they have room to grow. Adopting practices that encourage feedback and coaching are also factors which affect internal stability. In small business, when an individual departs, a library of experiences goes with them. A completely new role may not always be possible — but a discussion of what a contributor may want to learn may be possible.

I was awestruck by the risks that small business owners happily shoulder for the good of both their customers and employees. Helping them in some small way was incredibly rewarding. Pointing them in the direction of stability, with the goal of preserving flexibility — seemed the right move.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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