Career Tip: Work to Put Yourself Out of Your Job

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OK. I admit that the title might be a bit confusing – why the heck would you want to put yourself out of a job? What kind of “career tip” is that? In fact, it is one I believe strongly in, and when I look back over my own career I realize that this was pretty much my strategy throughout my whole working life in the corporate world… let me explain…

The way I am naturally wired, I like a lot of change, I like to solve real problems, and I like new challenges. In fact, the more difficult and complex the task, the more I gravitate towards it. In my early days – because I didn’t know any better – my hand always shot up when the managers were looking for someone to take on some new “ugly” project…while others counseled me to “keep my head down” as these projects might turn into CLM (career limiting moves), in my youthful exuberance I ignored the prevailing wisdom and jumped at the chance to learn something new and tackle some new, gnarly project.

What would invariably happen is that I’d jump in with both feet, immerse myself in the problem, start to pull together a big-picture understanding of the issues, and cobble together a strategy for tackling the issue. I learned that clean, clear, no-BS lines of communications were critical, as was setting and managing expectations, and adopting, measuring, and reporting on key improvement metrics. As things started to improve and we could start to see the critical temperature of the project go down a bit, I’d start to think through what the “steady state” solution needed to look like – you know, the one that didn’t involve me. Why? Well, because frankly I knew that I would eventually get bored and would need some new challenge to take on. I started to realize that I was a builder and a fixer, but I wasn’t a “maintainer”. As time moved on, I would start to position the project for transfer into an existing group with an existing management structure. Of course I would only “pull the trigger” on this once the company management was satisfied that the project objectives had been met and the new manager/group was receptive and ready for the addition of new responsibilities.

I did this over and over in my career, and when I look back I realize that most of my roles had a 12 to 18 month time frame to them, and that in each case I worked to put myself out of my job, so I could take on a new challenge. Now at the time I don’t think I realized that this was a very attractive feature to my corporate managers; I did it because it worked best for me, and allowed me what I wanted – the chance to fix and build things, and lots of variety and challenges.

What I realize now is what is very attractive about this from a company performance perspective – with each project I took on they were getting someone keen to jump in and fix/build a major capability in the company, they were getting the integration of that feature back into an existing function of the company (typically reducing overall operational cost by eliminating unnecessary management), and they were getting a fresh “problem solver” ready for redeployment on another critical problem area. What’s not to like about this, if it was your own company?

I was operating this way against the backdrop of the high technology industry in the 80′s and 90′s, when change levels were significant and generally companies were in high growth (or high shrinkage!) mode. Of course, with new technologies and globalizing trends, the backdrop today in most industries is one of even more dramatic change, and companies need even greater agility and flexibility in their workforce.

So, sit down today and think about ways that you could “put yourself out your job”. The good news is that if you are the first to think about it and push to make it happen, it could go a long way towards improving your overall job security.