Human Resources Today

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Why Do You Care What's Next?

downloadIt started as early as eighth grade. Field hockey tryouts came and went, and we gathered around the team lists like crazed Madonna fans (the Bieber of my day). I was a decent athlete, and I made the A team. The season passed, and everyone wanted to know whether I was going to try to make the high school team. Ninth grade found me playing softball. At under five feet, I was the smallest girl on the team, but also the fastest. That meant a sometimes-bump to varsity as backup for second base and the designated pinch runner. Everyone asked, “Will you make varsity next year? I did. Then it was, “Will you start at varsity next year?” I was cut. I’d been good enough to play varsity my freshman and sophomore years, but too many bigger, stronger girls rose through the ranks.

It was embarrassing — not even because I didn’t make it, but because everyone kept asking what the next milestone was. I was out of milestones. We’re so achievement-oriented, we can’t handle defeat (let alone appreciate the moment we’re in). I’ve learned that it hasn’t gotten better as I’ve gotten older, either.

Everyone wants to know where you’re headed next.

Fast-forward to college. I was constantly asked about my post-graduation plans. Same with graduate school. And my personal life? That was even worse. My husband and I dated for seven years before we got married. It made people crazy that we dated for so long. I know, because many told me so.

But what made me crazy was the constant questioning about our engagement timeline. And that was just the beginning. Now that we are married, people want to know when we’re having children. (For my friends already blessed with children, it’s: “When are you having another?”)

This phenomenon isn’t limited to our personal lives. The constant milestone madness is everywhere. A good friend of mine is on the partner track at a well-known consulting firm. People can’t stop asking if she’s up for partner this year. For my fellow entrepreneurs, the what-next question is constant too. Everyone wants to know your growth plan, your exit plan, your plan to go public.

Are you as exhausted as I am?

I get it. When people ask these questions (personal or business-related) they’re trying to be nice, interested in your work, or are genuinely curious (if they want to promote you or invest in your company).

But we’ve created a world where no one is happy where they are. No one stops to ask how you’re doing in the moment or what interesting work you’re accomplishing. And the repercussions of this what-next syndrome? We’ve forgotten how to mine the moment for what it is: a chance to appreciate the good and learn from the bad.

Study after study show that Millennials want to be promoted quickly. They expect raises and conversations about what’s next on a regular basis. And they’re not to blame for that attitude. We are (their managers, leaders, GenX-ers and Baby Boomers who have come before them). Instead of focusing on the best lesson an employee learned this year in performance reviews, we have conversations primarily focused on getting to the next level. Instead of asking someone what cool thing they’re working on right now, we ask them what job they want next....

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Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce strategy that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.




Memo to Executives: Women Don't Want It All

There are a million voices in the debate on women in the workplace. And I was reticent to add another. But there's a perspective no one is talking about and that's the work. Until the work changes, the ratio of women in leadership positions won't change.  My latest post in Forbes addresses just that. What if women don't want it all? What if it's not about promoting us but rather whether we even want it? This is an important conversation. I'd love your take. Check out the Forbes article and then share your perspective.



Forget Work-Life Balance. I Mean It.

I'm pretty sick of the work-life balance argument. It's not one or the other. Or sublime balance all the time. It's flexibility how and when you want it, understanding that working less may mean earning less. But it's your choice. Read my latest Forbes post "Forget Work-Life Balance: Give Us Choices Instead."  I'd also love if you added your comments here and/or on the Forbes site--this is such an important topic for women and men.



A Gold Isn't Guaranteed: Why Skills Are Only Half Of the Equation

As the London Olympics continue on, we're glued to our televisions, mesmerized by feats of power, athleticism and raw skill.  In particular, watching gymnastics always results in shock and awe: "did a fifteen-year old really do that?" Yesterday, the women competed in the individual vault event and American McKayla Maroney was the overwhelming favorite to win gold. So overwhelming, that the announcers couldn't stop talking about the "inevitable" win. And then she didn't.Her first of two vaults was fantastic, but on the second she missed her landing and basically sat down on the mat. Contrast that to the vault she did in the team finals that was just shy of perfect (though there's debate on that too), and it seems shocking that she fell.   But this isn't about her jump, the scoring or a comparative analysis. Over at The Atlantic they got some handy GIF guides for that. (Yes, you'll see all the videos of the falls). It's an issue of skill being just one factor. Like any professional at the absolute top of her game, Maroney was in the zone last night--you could tell by looking at her. But after it was clear she'd have to settle for the silver, it was one particular sentiment from the announcers that struck me. They called Maroney "the best vaulter in the world"... "just not tonight."

And that's the thing--when she had her near perfect vault in the team finals, it was a different scene, a different set of circumstances. She had the team on the floor to pump her up. There wasn't a guarantee the women would win gold. Her performance was essential to strengthening the team's score. The announcers weren't sure how she'd do. Contrast that to the individual competition where she was the only American on the floor--her teammates were in the stands. And the announcers (well, everyone quite frankly) assumed, and said as much, that gold was a sure thing.

But skills are only half of the equation--and we should all remember that. Think about the college football players who perform great at the NCAA level but fail famously in the pros. So much of the success of talent is about how we behave in the moment and the environmental and cultural factors that support skill deployment. There's no guarantee that a professional who was a star in one environment can replicate that in another.

When it comes to talent--there are no guarantees. We can't assume we've struck gold with a particular hire. Instead, we should get better at looking at all the factors, the environment, behavioral strengths, potential risks or how and when weaknesses occur.  Maroney's young, she'll have another chance. And she lost the gold as an individual. But if you bet on gold for a key hire in your company, and they famously fail, there's much more at stake--the team, profits, the company--and maybe even your job.

Job seekers: show you're more than a set of skills.

Recruiters, hiring managers, executives: don't just look for skill. Look for skill plus circumstances.