Stop getting jobs at companies that don’t nurture your career growth

Let me tell you something. You stupid little runt. I own you. You’re my bitch. So don’t walk around here thinking you have free will, because you don’t. I could crush you anytime I want. So settle in, cause you are here for the long haul.
- Dave Harken, Horrible Bosses

Ok, so you don’t have it quite as bad as Jason Bateman’s character but maybe your career trajectory is leveling out at your current company and you’re thinking about leaving your job. If so, you’re not alone. The other day I was talking with a really bright engineer who had recently left her job after only 11 months with her company. Curious to learn more, I sat down with her and asked some questions.

Why did you end up leaving?

The number one reason is that what I had to say fell on deaf ears. This made me feel undervalued.

What did they want you to do for the company? What were the expectations for the position?

They told me I would be a senior engineer and would be able to do “some architecture stuff.”

Red flag #1. This is where many companies start off on the wrong foot with their new hires. There were no expectations set up front. Clearly the company hadn’t put much thought into her career goals, but was it possible, I wondered, giving them the benefit of the doubt, that things might change later? Not quite. About 6 months into the role, she was being asked to take on more arduous projects and was not seeing a dime for the additional hours required to complete the projects. On top of that, her input on the architecture side of things was being ignored.

Did you go talk with your manager about feeling overworked and undervalued?

Yes. About 6 months in, I talked with my manager and he agreed with what I had to say. The problem was that, after agreeing in our 1:1, nothing happened. Nothing changed.

Red flag #2. In her case, the manager didn’t take any action to improve the situation. This left her feeling defeated, like the company didn’t have her back.

One way to think about this is that employees start off with a full tank of gas and, over time, if not replenished by their manager, they will run out. This is what happened. Her manager was not refilling her tank and, about 10 months in, she was running on empty.

So what was it that finally made you decide to leave?

I went to my boss again to discuss how I was not being listened to when it came to architecture discussions. But again, nothing came of it, and I knew then that I needed to get out of the situation I was in.

She was snapped up in hours by another startup offering more money and a clearer path to success.

Does your manager put profits before people?

As an employee for various startups in SF’s tech industry myself, I’ve seen this time and time again over the past 6 years: turns out the number one reason people change jobs is lack of opportunity, not money. This leads me to two questions:

Why do some companies fail at helping you grow as a professional while others succeed?

What can you do as an employee to get out of this situation if you’re in it and prevent it in the future?

What we see in the above example is that the leadership did not create an organizational culture that would engender a sense of self-worth and purpose in its employees. Companies exist to make money, albeit, in Silicon Valley that notion is played down. But in truth, that is exactly why you are going to work every day; to enable your company to make money.

So let’s revisit the above scenario, using an approach called the 5 Why’s to try to deconstruct what was really going on.

Why 1: Why did she feel undervalued?

Answer: Because she wasn’t being listened to.

Why 2: Why was she not being listened to?

Answer: Because the people at the top thought they had all the right answers.

Why 3: Why did they think that?

Answer: Because the leadership of the company created a culture where that was how things operated.

Why 4: Why did they do that?

Answer: Because they didn’t trust their employees to have valuable input in key decisions.

Why 5: Why did they not trust their employees?

Answer: They believed that because they were more “experienced,” they should be the ones controlling the important decisions in their department.

The easy path is for your manager to treat you like a resource in getting some job, task, or project done so they can meet a business objective. The harder path is for your manager to think about both why they hired you and why you show up to work. This means thinking about the future, not just the here and now, for both the company and the employee. Where does the employee want to be in 2 years, 5 years, and beyond? When the company chooses to deploy you to win the immediate battle rather than launch an offensive with long-range objectives, you experience battle fatigue.

If you can accept this, you can start to connect the dots as to why you might be feeling unhappy in your current role. Most likely it is not because of your performance or aptitude, but because your manager’s poor decisions or your company’s priorities.

Improving the situation

at your current company

As the employee, you should be in the driver’s seat and lead open and honest conversations with your manager about your level of happiness. Get your relationship past the tactical layer and into the emotional layer. The emotional layer is where you create candor, trust, and openness. Start by saying, “I really want to help this company succeed. Right now, however, I’m feeling that the company doesn’t want to help me succeed.”

If your boss is not an idiot and truly does care about your happiness and success, they will at the very least listen to you and, at best, find ways to improve the situation.

Prepare for your conversation by providing some solutions to the problem so your boss doesn’t have to. If you are feeling under-challenged, ask to join a new team and work on a more challenging initiative. If you are feeling undervalued, demo your work at the end of the week in front of the team.

If your personal growth has stalled and the company is not providing a path to new challenges, then you might be better off at a company that focuses on cultivating the careers of their employees.

at your next company

Moving on to a new opportunity is exciting but you want to be careful that you don’t find yourself back in a similar situation. To avoid feeling undervalued and under-challenged, consider these 3 things before you say “yes” to that new position.

First, take the time to figure out what you care about and then compare what you come up with to the stated values of the company. Nothing is more important than being aligned with the company on the important things.

Second, talk to employees about their experiences. You’ll have to go deeper than “What’s it like working here?” in order to uncover any potential red flags. Try asking for specific examples of how managers help their subordinates with their career paths. You are looking for signs indicating a company culture of employee empowerment, trust, and candor.

Third, consider going on a tour of duty. A tour of duty is an innovative new model of mutual enrichment for employer and employee in which you take on a challenging, longterm mission with an agreed-upon completion date. Some examples:

  • build out a sales team
  • re-architect a product
  • launch a new product line
  • roll out a new development framework

During the course of the tour, the employee’s contributions transform the company and, in turn, the employee’s career is transformed by gaining experience. This agreement is built on openness and trust between the employee and the company, which makes handling career transitions much easier once the mission is complete.

In the next post: Are you doing the wrong things to grow your career? I’ll explore the parallels between what restricts company growth and an employee’s career growth, arriving at some conclusions for what to focus on in order to accomplish your career goals.

If this post resonates with you, either as an employee or a manager, please comment below. Mision is focused on helping leaders use the tour of duty framework to find and excel in meaningful work. Ready for a new mission? Consider talking with us.