Diane felt undervalued in her role as team leader. Over the past 12 years, all of her performance reviews had been stellar, but her most recent was less than glowing. The criticism felt personal. Diane gave her heart and soul to her job, and it wasn’t appreciated. The younger people she trained were moving ahead faster than she was.
Confusion, resentment, and anger bubbled up throughout her day, although she once felt capable and confident in her work. These days, just walking into the conference room and seeing her co-workers joking around is irritating. Friends say, “Diane, stop being so prickly!” The last time she took a vacation, the whole project fell apart, and it took weeks of hard work when she returned to right the ship. Yet no one seems to recognize her value. They just tell her what she is doing wrong. Living like this is miserable.
What options would you consider if you were Diane? She could stay and learn to live with it, find a different organization, or she could reinvent her role while staying in the same position. Feeling disconnected from your company’s leadership, locked in a box you don’t like, and no longer growing or excited about your work doesn’t mean you need to leave. Reinventing your role could be a game-changer. How do you reinvent your role? Start with these six steps.
1. Change your perspective.
View your situation from the outside looking in. It takes a conscious effort to be objective. Diane chose to do this after a weekend off work, and looked objectively at the larger industry trends impacting her company.
What were the root causes of the challenges she faced? She thought long and hard about how to make a shift for herself that would also benefit the company. How about in your workplace? Even if you are not feeling as disrupted as Diane, it’s a strategic move to consider the larger issues and emerging trends in your industry, your company, or your community. How is the context for your role changing? What does the organization really need from your team or department? See your situation in this current role from a big-picture perspective to gain insight on how you might leverage these changes, and adjust your perspective on where to focus.
2. Add value in ways you haven’t yet.
What strengths have you not yet been able to contribute? Design a pathway for greater contribution that you would enjoy and that would move the company forward based on what you learned in step one. Identify a small, specific step you can take to begin adding greater value.
For Diane, she could see how much swirl was resulting from a lack of process and structure in her company’s project management. She began to explore how she could adopt the more modern practices of other organizations in their field. She created a presentation to her managers on the cost savings and investments needed to address the issues.
3. Develop a learning agenda to build the skills and abilities you’ll need.
Find out what it takes to be stellar in your re-invented role. Build the opportunities for learning and experimenting. Gain mastery by using everyday work experiences for development. If possible, supplement your experiential learning with a course, instruction, or research.
Diane began by talking with her industry peers and collecting templates and methodologies used by others. Once she found a system that could be customized for her organization, she began studying it in depth and eventually went through a certification program.
4. Manage your time in relation to your objectives.
Use the full discretion available to your in your job. Be the author of your day with as much vigor as possible toward the results you wish to create.
Time management was hard for Diane. She was used to helping everyone who asked her and felt pulled in a million directions. With a mission of her own to move forward, she became more aware of protecting her time, declining meetings she didn’t need to be in and initiating a schedule for herself that ensured she focused on what mattered most.
5. Create a meaningful project.
What aspect of your job could feed your sense of fulfillment and bring you a little closer to your ideal? If you don’t have something like this, it’s time to start looking for how you can create it. Imagine something that lives at the intersection between what you want to do and what benefits the organization.
For Diane, upgrading the company’s project management systems, refreshing her expertise on the topic, and producing better throughput with less stress was really meaningful and got her noticed for her positive contributions. A small project infused with personal passion and excitement that benefits the organization can become a breakthrough for a career — new inventions are born from just such efforts.
6. Build a bridge from one project — or one role — to the next.
Doing what adds value to a company’s priorities gives you leverage to propose, ask, and adjust in your negotiations with leaders. It also gives you a perspective on how to align your talents in ways that elevate your contribution to the next level. As you explore new roles within the same company or in a different organization, you are increasingly well positioned to work on relevant projects you will find satisfying.
Diane’s misery became a catalyst for reinventing her role and ultimately her career. She is now a senior project manager at a firm in the supply chain of her prior employer. She remains mission-focused and crafted a role that has less pain and deeper satisfaction. Looking back, she is amazed at how actions she took turned the situation around.
Jessica G. Hartung is the founder and CEO of Integrated Work, LLC which provides real-time leadership development to mission-driven organizations. Author of The Conscious Professional: Transform Your Life at Work, Jessica provides tools and mentorship for purpose-driven leaders to help them grow personally, professionally, and collectively from work experiences. Jessica is a trusted advisor to executive teams helping to clarify, focus, and co-design strategic options, building leadership capacity to accelerate positive impact. Find tools and resources at jessicahartung.com.