Saturday, June 24, 2006

Time to quit?

Great piece by Seth Godin justifies why I left IBM


The Cowen Group reminds me of this piece I wrote about five years ago:

I just got back from lunch with my friend Doug Jacobs.

Doug just got another promotion. He works for a software company in Indiana, and over the last 14 years, he's had a wide range of jobs. For the first seven or eight years, Doug was in business development and sales. He handled the Microsoft account for a while, flying to Redmond, Washington, every six weeks or so. It was hard on his family, but he's really focused -- and really good.

Two years ago, Doug got a huge promotion. He was put in charge of his entire division -- 150 people, the second-biggest group in the company. Doug attacked the job with relish. In addition to spending even more time on the road, he did a great job of handling internal management issues.

A month ago, for a variety of good reasons, Doug got a sideways promotion. Same level, but a new team of analysts report to him. Now he's in charge of strategic alliances. He's well-respected, he's done just about every job and he makes a lot of money.

So, of course, I told him to quit.

“You've been there a long time, my friend.”

Doug wasn't buying it: “Yes, I've been here 14 years, but I've had seven jobs. When I got here, we were a startup, but now we're a division of Cisco. I've got new challenges, and the commute is great --”

I interrupted him before he could go on. I couldn't help myself.

Doug needs to leave for a very simple reason. He's been branded. Everyone at the company has an expectation of who Doug is and what he can do. Working your way up from the mailroom sounds sexy, but in fact, it's entirely unlikely. Doug has hit a plateau. He's not going to be challenged, pushed or promoted to president. Doug, regardless of what he could actually accomplish, has stopped evolving -- at least in the eyes of the people who matter.

If he leaves and joins another company, he gets to reinvent himself. No one in the new company will remember young Doug from 10 years ago. No, they'll treat Doug as the new Doug, the Doug with endless upside and little past.

Let's look at it from the perspective of evolution: Species that evolve the fastest are the ones that don't mate for life. By switching mates, swapping genes with someone new, you continually reshuffle the gene pool, making it more likely you'll create something new and neat and novel and useful.

Our parents and grandparents believed you should stay at a job for five years, 10 years or even your whole life. But in a world where companies come and go -- where they grow from nothing to the Fortune 500 and then disappear, all in a few years -- that's just not possible.

Here's the deal, and here's what I told Doug: The time to look for a new job is when you don't need one. The time to switch jobs is before it feels comfortable. Go. Switch. Challenge yourself; get yourself a raise and a promotion. You owe it to your career and your skills.

No word back from Doug yet. How about you?

[this is post #1505 for my blog (I missed the milestone earlier in the week.) No plans to quit any time soon, I'm afraid].


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