Freedom while working in organization is a most critical aspects. It not only makes you comfortable, but indeed allows you to actually control your career path. There are many management books which typically focus on how to empower people and why we should give freedom to all employees. But the point is really mutual. What to do when employees don’t quite appreciate or know what to do with the freedom?
In the book Winning, Jack Welch was asked if you happen to ask only one question to the hiring candidate what would it be? As he puts, it would be “Why do you want to change your current job?”. In essence ‘is the person is leaving because of work, environment or due to performance? or he/she has too much energy to be held back?’ If it is later, he/she is the great hire! For many years, I have seen this working spectacularly. It is quite crucial that how and why one enters and exits jobs you exit holds key parameter to judge what one really stand for. Yes, it is true that many people will give a very polished answer irrespective of the real reasons; but, Jack-Welch test definitely eliminates a whole bunch of idiots who are wrong hire no matter the talent.
But there is more to it. This blog is not really about how to interview people or find best of the people – but over time I have judged that in spite of the equally great potential, why some people make it big and some don’t; and you cann’t make out from the interviews or from this Jack-Welch-test. … finally I found the missing link.
It’s been more than 6 years for me in the current company and not only that, but many among my first team are also about to finish their spell of six years – and still counting for others who joined later. This was the first time I have had such a long spell, and from what I know in many Indian companies this would be a record. This success is something about organization rather than my personal achievement. But interestingly, 6 years tells you a lot of interesting stuff. In 6 years, you do many things, you succeed, you fail and from all these you grow and in the process you change and become mature.
But I had seen that the whole thing applies differently for different people. Some take on with critical project, contribute not only in terms of work but put forward ideas that propel the whole team, over time become critical, indispensable for the team as well as management; and of course grows by the leaps; where as over 6 years some people might jump from one project to another, work, slog and later drag things; in all eventuality might just get stagnated and most likely might have to leave the job because it is boring, not so challenging or exciting. If you put both the people on Jack-welch test – “Why do you want to change your current job” – you will see they both on same ground; that they want more challenges. Unfortunately if you happen to take the type 2 here – it is likely that once again after a couple of years you will see the same story repeating.
Just to clarify, I am not complaining about the people and definitely not talking about work-dodgers. Here are the good folks, talented and willing to do great stuff – and are equally valued in the organization having resources and opportunities; but somehow when you compare people of same great institutes, similar technical expertise, same company, same work culture, and even the very same boss! Why then there are some who grabs opportunities after opportunities and some who just needs to be pulled and dragged and still wait for commands? This is really striking to me.
As you compare half a decade long careers the real difference between the two types is that the later don’t quite evolve that much rapidly. As the Type B guys fail to evolve – they find themselves doing same old stuff repeatedly than growing; The senior management would always wish that people get matured and take on a higher responsibilities on their sleeves. And many think that a new jobs, new environment or even higher designation will solve their problems- it would but only to a limited extend.
The 5 or 6 years mark is no magic number. Yet, shorter the average span of the person’s tenure, the more serious is the problem. On a first glance, you will see that these folks would pass the Jack-Walch test; they would say “I am looking for more challenging job, more growth”. The real question (for me) is, if they are really so serious about doing challenging stuff – did they really ask your bosses before hunting for jobs? Does their existing work show that they are apt for taking up challenging work ? Have they even been recognized by their bosses in the form of scaling up of responsibilities (not just salary) in a single tenure? and ever ended with a home run? What we really need to judge is not whether person is willing to work hard – but if you give him/her all the freedom and resources – can they really make it big? So in all, people’s claims and desire needs to be validated against the past work. This is not to say that Jack-welch-test is wrong, rather, I feel I now understand it a bit better!
In my last company I never really notice this phenomenon; primarily because most people churned-in and out rather quickly, but more importantly that organization had a rather restricted exposure to things and much less freedom. I have seen good people every where, yet very few in that organization had command and aura to drive stuff. The balance guys looked up to them and always thought somehow they were the fortunate chosen ones who are entitled to hold beacons; and more importantly many thought who-are-we-to-take-stance. In reality it was not particularly hard to seek freedom and drive your stuff. But most middle level management would happily disdain and carry on with their life rather than doing deep retrospection. What I realize from this, is that those chosen few are not from the heavens; they just know how to use freedom, make more value for the organization and in the process how to gain more freedom as well as power.
The difference between getting into a commanding and indispensable position vs. keeping yourself dying in the waiting zone is to know how to use freedom.
Even to the best of the employees, quite often they don’t assume that freedom exist for them. This nice article Claim Your Freedom at Work, shows that sometimes people actually find that “aha” moment as you tell them that freedom exists – where as it would have existed all along. While the article references someone who took freedom with great happiness and drive; there are also some who would be rather clueless about what to do with it or may even stifle! This is a serious challenge that all bosses face.
I distinctly remember my “aha” moment came in 9th standard when I made a very strong decision to join an extra curricular program without even asking my parent. When my parent weren’t surprised at all, and appraised me. Not that my parents won’t stop me from going wrong – but that day I discovered that I was always free to make my own choices. This has helped me to drive through my journey from graduation, IIT and of entrepreneurship. Most bosses I worked under also never hesitated to give me freehand most of the time.
Only through self driven challenges beyond your limits, can you stretch and evolve yourself for bigger stuff. Repeating the same thing wont ever scale you!
Today, I find it rather surprising that in spite of coaxing people to turn on their freedom flag – some may be just more comfortable being passive followers. Some are just far more happy for being content and obedient or are wary of end-up-disrupting-something. Some people knows how to make good use of that, but will still wait until that “aha” moment when you tell them to go free! May be some of this is just hardwired in people or they got it from their childhood days. Whatever the reason, these are really the great career destroyers. People don’t realize this because as soon as they feel stagnated they move on, and start things all over again, but they don’t quite unlock their wings and until they do that, they don’t even realize their true potential. And I am only beginning to ask my self as to what is the bosses should do so that people learn how to unlock themselves.
Freedom is part of every job and it is the ultimate element that can get the best out of your talent. Some organizations might be relatively strict but most good organization give you the natural freedom; some part you freedom with your rank. Ultimately as you end up on top brass things are almost always left on to you to achieve results all by yourself. In that sense, your destiny lies in your own hands, and hence knowing how to capitalize on this asset and do useful wonders is just as far important career trait than your talent itself! Learning to use freedom effectively is perhaps most important career training for all!
Freedom is what you make it to be! It can take you places, or it can potentially make you suffocated.
What’s your opinion?