SPEAK UP OR MOVE ON? What’s the smart career choice?

I’ve had some good bosses and some dodgy bosses.  The good ones challenged and stretched me. The dodgy ones—in my view at least—were either out of their depth, overly controlling or underestimated what I could do (and treated me accordingly).

I hope I learnt from both, what does and does not work.

If you are not growing, then move on

A few months ago, a young friend we will call Louise, shared with me her frustrations at work. It was an organisation with about 100+ staff with a CEO who appeared more interested in papering over difficult issues than facing them. Externally he was well regarded; internally he was slowly strangling a significant part of the business—the part where my young friend worked. No matter what she did, she could not get traction and every day was a struggle to meet client expectations whose funds were being allocated elsewhere.

In those situations, the smart career choice is to ask a few questions: Are you continuing to learn—in a good way? Do you respect the organisation’s leadership? If not, is it likely to change and can you impact that? Is your contribution truly valued? What sort of an impact could you make elsewhere, that is, where the situation was not so fraught?

My friend came to the conclusion that looking around for another role would be timely. She was committed to her client group, but she could not go on trying to do the right thing by them when funds were being directed elsewhere. She applied for a couple of other roles and took one where she was valued. She then thrived, both personally and professionally.

All too often we see that not-so-savvy executives underestimate the choices that good and talented employees have.

There is saying that ‘money and capital goes to where it can be well invested’. It is true too that ‘good and talented people will go to where they are appreciated and where they can do well’.

If you feel undervalued, speak up

Quite some years ago, after my first three or so years at Gartner, I came to the view that I was either underpaid or undervalued. 

I was recruiting staff to my team in the US and Europe and no matter how you compared the figures and the cost of living, they were being paid far better than I was. The dollar was plummeting at the time, and though my role was global, my employment contract was in Australian dollars. At the same time, I was getting unsolicited job offers offering much more than Gartner was paying me, and some of these were Dean or academic roles!

I had asked my then boss about this a few times but he was not interested. In the end I mentioned this situation at the highest levels, and to one executive in particular, just by asking him to guess how much he thought my salary was in US dollars.

He was surprised with the number I gave him and promised to do something about it.  I explained the other offers I was getting, but that I did not want to move. I just wanted to ensure there was respect and recognition for the considerable contribution I made to the business and at least some of that should be reflected in my remuneration. He agreed and asked me to put it into an email to him.  That evening I prepared and sent a well-crafted email of about six paragraphs.

The following morning, he put some figures in front of me on the desk and asked if they were acceptable. It was a 33% pay rise. While my eyes nearly popped out of my head, I retained my composure and graciously accepted.   It was clearly one of the most effective emails I had ever written.

I phoned husband Rob later that day when in a long security queue at NY’s Kennedy airport to give him the news, and asked him to guess the size of the rise.  I said ‘more’ several times and finally said yes.  Those in the long queues around me, who had of course heard my end of the conversation, burst into spontaneous applause and shouts of ‘go girl’ and ‘well done’.

It was not easy for me to take this issue on at the time, but I include it as an example of the importance of making the right case and being honest and direct.

It is great to see that the issue of pay equity is finally being addressed in many organisations, but avoid getting so caught up and pleased to be doing the work you are doing, that you forget to have the perspective you should have.  The smart career choice is to always maintain perspective, and to work where your contribution is valued.

Adapted from: 
The Agile Executive: Embracing Career Risks and Rewards
by Marianne Broadbent