163 - What does your report likely mean when she says she wants to do new things?


leadership and org culture

Several times in my career, I’ve heard this and I’ve said this: “I want to do new things; I want to grow; I don’t want to just keep doing the same thing again and again.”

The responses such a lament may get may vary from “But you’ve only just shifted projects. You’ve to stick it out.” to “Ok, would you be interested in so and so?” to “You need to develop expertise in one area before moving on to something else.”

More recently, I’ve noticed a broad generational brush being applied in the response to such situations: “Oh, this is Gen Z stuff.” There may be some truth in the assessment but it doesn’t matter.

Because none of the responses answer the question. They don’t quell the unease of the requester. That’s because the source of the unease isn’t named by either the requester or her responder.

In my experience, the stone in the shoe is not that the work itself is boring or underwhelming in any particular way. It is that the requester has no idea how her work makes a difference. There are many degrees of separation between her work and the eventual impact it has—too many for her to see the point of her effort. So, while she’s putting in the hours, growing louder in her ear are questions about the value she’s adding. That’s self-worth.

Result: there’s a wobble on the balance beam at work. A shift is needed. It tends to come from any of the following sources.

  • Her reporting may be moved to the new business unit head where she can be “in the thick of things.”
  • If she’s a high performer, and the company can ill-afford to lose her, she may negotiate a better salary, rank, or occasionally business function.
  • The boss may make it a point to draw attention to the (many) high-value projects that need her attention as a means to convince her of the significance of her contribution.

When any of this is done, it may appear to her and her employer that balance has been restored. Most likely, it is not. More often, that balance is temporary.

After one or two such cycles, she may learn to spot the old wine in any number of new bottles. She may decide, if she doesn’t quit, to coast. “If I’m being paid to do this, let me just do the bare minimum and get by.”

A chef sees the point of a new dish on the face of the diner. A filmmaker measures her work in the response of the viewer. Even a bricklayer has a full view, day after day, of the cathedral she helps make.

Only, sometimes, office workers are not as sure.

Overheard at the office cafeteria, a conversation between two friends.

Friend in need: “This is the third such monthly report I’ve turned in but, honestly, I’ve no idea if anyone is reading it.”

Friend indeed: “You should do what I did last quarter. I put in my favorite line from Dune: ‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.’” No one noticed.

Friend in need: Hmm…what should I put?

Friend indeed: Kwisatz Haderach?

Friend in need: Great idea!

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