The Atlas

Come on baby, light your own fire!

So this is it. Today is the last of the Gallup's 12 Elements of Employee Engagement.

In the last year, I have had opportunities to learn and grow.

I have a confession to make: I hated school. To me school was predictable, boring and tedious -- three of my least favorite things on the planet. I did not see the point in trying to solve a problem that someone else had already figured out the answer to. I wanted to solve new problems. Exploring the unknown is fun for me. Trudging in the footprints of someone who came first held very little appeal.

For me, this was the source of my early career addiction to startups. They lit me up in a way that school never did. I found nothing more exciting than drinking from the fire hose, trying to learn a new industry when it was new and rapidly changing.

But, eventually, if you do something long enough, it becomes routine. How do you continue to grow when you get to the point of being able to do your job in your sleep?

Climbing the corporate ladder is often the default approach most people assume, but that's not always an option -- whether because the company has no where for you to climb, or because you don't have or want to develop the skills needed to make that move. And growth has 360 degrees of options, not just one. The most common ways I watch my clients solve this include:

  • Special projects - This is often the easiest solution for many people to reach for when they are feeling restless. There is almost no organization on the planet without a long list of 'wouldn't it be nice if...' projects. Truthfully, it's often smaller organizations that are more likely to empower someone to take one of these on, but everyone has the need. It's just a matter of aligning that need (and the associated support) with your desire, to get the chance to take it on.
  • Adjacent roles - Expand laterally into something that is familiar and compatible, but still different than you've done before. If you have spent years as a developer, then look into QA or Project Management. If you already know the business model, culture and ecosystem, then you can focus on learning the ropes of a new role in a relatively familiar setting.
  • Company profile - At one point, relatively early in my career, I made the choice to work for a large company (more than 15K+ employees), simply to experience life on that side of the fence. I've since done it again, just for good measure, and in both cases, I learned more than I could have predicted. The best learning here: I know what I look for in a company, and why I don't find it in big companies.
  • Buy a business - This is one that comes up with my 40+ year old clients all the time. There are a lot of businesses up and running already, with owners who are looking to leave the business or simply retired. Buying a company that is already established, is often the shortest avenue to this kind of change. Instead of trying to convince a boss to take a chance on you, you are mainly in need of developing your own spidey sense about the quality of the business deal,and then figure out how best to finance the purchase. Then you are the boss, and you've just bought your new learning curve.
  • Extracurricular activities - For some people the stability of a job is essential, and their need for growth has to come from somewhere else. Sometimes that can be a hobby or coaching their kids sports team; other times it is building or getting involved with things at work: starting a Habitat for Humanity volunteer program with your colleagues, getting involved in a Diversity Program, or becoming a mentor for someone. There are a lot of different ways to introduce learning into your work in a way that helps you be engaged on the job, even if/when the role itself may not be lighting your fire anymore.

Of course, there are a ton of other ways, too. But when it comes down to it, we all either grow or die (pardon the pun!). And to be truly engaged at work, it needs to offer you the chance to stretch in new and exciting ways. But not all companies are great about offering those up, so it's really up to you to make sure you are exploring the opportunities at your disposal. And then chasing after the ones that hold the most appeal.

This officially wraps up my series on Gallup's 12 Elements of Employee Engagement. I hope it's given you some good food for thought.

Alora's Signature