Recently I had an opportunity to get caught up with a friend of mine, and former customer, who I hadn’t seen in years. As we got reacquainted and talked about old times, corporate war stories and the like the conversation began to take a turn in an unexpected direction.
Here’s how the conversation unfolded:
Friend (F): “I’m working in IT now.”
Me (M): As I blinked with disbelief asking ‘Wait, did you say IT? What do you know about IT, you’re a purchasing manager – and a good one at that.” (we’re old chums, I can get away with crass comments like that)
F: Right. I started with this company and was turning around their purchasing department when out of nowhere they transferred me. We’re a small company and a vacancy came up in IT doing project management so my boss asked me to slide over for the year.”
M: “Slide over? Bet you enjoyed that nonchalant way of your boss saying “hey, the company needs help and we have no other options but you”.”
F: “That’s pretty much how it went down.”
M: “So how’s it been so far being in IT?”
F: “Awful. I feel like every day is Monday. I dread coming to work cause I don’t really know what I’m doing and haven’t received a lot of direction. It’s been a lot of fake it till I make it type thing.”
M: “Have you asked for help?”
F: “I have, multiple times but the problem is there isn’t anyone else to provide me with formal direction because others above me are trying to figure things out at the same time. I’m on Google all day trying to learn about IT project management, the lingo and work. Honestly, I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I’m five months in and while I’m trying to be a good sport about it because I know the company needs the help this isn’t what I’m trained to do. Or want to do for that matter.”
The conversation continued with the two of us going back and forth on his situation, each time the picture of his job becoming gloomier by the minute. Two weeks after our conversation I found out my friend put in his resignation. Shocker!
So what happened here?
An employee was hired to do a job, things happened and the company asked said person to help them out by moving into a new role. Pretty straight forward, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, this type of unproductive resource alignment happens all the time. Steve Jobs is quoted as saying “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Hiring someone who is an expert in one discipline to then transition them into another that is polar opposites of their skills is in my opinion a poor management choice, one that most often will lead to disenfranchised employees and of course employee attrition.
Let’s be fair here. There’s a measure of truth in that it’s important we challenge ourselves over the course of our career to learn new things, take on new roles, expand our capabilities. This is how we become a better, more well-rounded professional. With that in mind, it’s a delicate balance between expanding someone’s capabilities and forcing them into a situation because it’s what’s best for the company, not necessarily the employee.
If you’re in a situation where you need someone to be a good sport and pitch in to help the company out it’s advisable you approach them with the situation in tandem with a strategy to get them in and get them out. The must be a clear exit strategy to get that employee back into the job you hired them for. Transitioning someone into a role they don’t want, you didn’t hire them for and is a mismatch with their skill set is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps my friend could have been more flexible, or perhaps his employer should have realized the band-aid approach they used with my friend should have only been for a short time and not a long-term solution.
Back to our story.
I called my friend a week after I had learned about his resignation to ask him what happened. He then told me when he resigned his employer asked him in the exit interview why he was leaving. He responded saying “I’m not an IT person. It’s not my passion and I’m not being given any indication this situation is changing any time soon. I also have little support in my new role. I was hired to get our company’s procurement function online and effectively operating yet for the past five months I’m doing IT project management work that I have no experience in, or interest for that matter. I found a job with another company doing what I’m good at and what I love [procurement].”
It’s one thing to ask employees to be team players and have a company first mentality. It’s quite another to remove them from the job which was the reason you hired them in the first place to patch up a problem area that they aren’t qualified to handle. In this, we are setting up our employees to fail.
Key Take Away:
If possible, try not to position your employees in situation where they are doing the company a solid at the expense of their happiness or capabilities. If you must ask an employee to take on a task or job outside of their scope be prepared to have a strategic exit plan in place to get them back to the work you originally hired them for. The work they are best qualified to do.
You have no choice, you have to transition an employee into a role outside their capabilities and comfort zone. Sit down with the employee and explain to them the situation and why you are asking for their help. Explain to them it is a short term situation then lay out your plans to help them get up and running in the role or task, who they can go to for support and how you will work with them to ensure their success. Also outline their exit strategy to get them back into their original job so they know there is an end insight. Lastly, I would strongly suggest offering the employee a bonus or form of recognition as a result of their willingness to help out. This last piece should never be overlooked, otherwise you may find yourself without the employee in the near future.
Are your employees misaligned, doing work that isn’t their specialty? Contact Square-1 Engineering at www.square1engineering.com to learn how we can help solve your biggest engineering and technical business challenges while helping to get your employees back to the work they love doing.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.