Let's discuss loyalty, but not the kind of tie that binds a top employee to a good employer. The loyalty you need to review now and again is more about self-preservation, or loyalty to good old Number One.
I remember when my father, a 40-year veteran of technical management at a Fortune 100 company, would come home and complain about the "new engineers." He was referring to those on his team who didn't seem quite as committed to the company as he was. These young professionals grew up in a different age, when shifting loyalties affected the way
that employees viewed their companies. At this same time,companies were rapidly moving to the concept of a disposable workforce.
My father was asking, "Where did the concept of loyalty go?" just as layoffs became the order of the day. This created a situation where we rarely see any company flag waving. Instead, company loyalty mutated to what would best be called "situational loyalty," where people are held together by team or project loyalties, perhaps fostered by group leaders, but not by company presidents.
But what about the other kind of loyalty, the kind of loyalty that doesn't get spoken of or written about nearly as much? Is there a time and place to wave the flag of allegiance to yourself? What happens when 'situational loyalty' breaks down, and it is just not possible or practical to keep the company's best interests first?
Five Scenarios in Which #1 Should Be #1
Some people still believe that a headhunter's job is to sow seeds of company disloyalty, but I've never found that to be the case. Most good recruiters will go to the opposite extreme. I like to know about what efforts my candidates have made to fit in - how they feel about loyalty to their team and company - because I need to feel comfortable about their fit with my client. Those who have consistently been more loyal to themselves than their organizations over the years are generally not the best candidates.
There are certain situations, however, in which self-preservation has to be the strongest instinct - scenarios which many of us have encountered that take all of the personal loyalty that we can muster to break free of. Here are some examples:
The Bad Boss
John could feel it coming: another ranting-and-raving review of the poor progress on the therapeutic project. As the team began to assemble in the meeting room, he looked over the faces of his colleagues. Their boss, the director of Process Development, was known to be the most critical and difficult-to-work-with person in the company. Despite the long hours and many successes that they'd had along the way, he was never satisfied. John had seen most of his co-workers lose their excitement in their work, and if he stayed much longer in this company, he felt that he too would become a victim of this terrible supervisor.
It's easy to understand why people want to stay with a good boss. After all, there is nothing better to help make one's work life enjoyable. Why some people have a hard time leaving a bad boss is much more difficult to understand, however.
Dr. Jacqueline H. Plumez, who wrote the excellent book, Divorcing A Corporation, says that this is because bosses can become surrogate parents.
"The complex relationships between bad bosses and their subordinates are often an extension of childhood struggles," Dr. Plumez wrote. "Boss-parents can push the same buttons your real parents did. You might find yourself caught up in an endless cycle of seeking praise and approval, for example."
Reaching The Plateau
Despite the many successes she had seen in this job, and her love for the science, Jun felt that it was like seeing Gone With The Wind for the 14th time. She knew what was around every corner. After six years of the same assays, the same projects, and the same daily grind, she felt ready to go to sleep on the job. Jun had approached the Human Resources department and her supervisor several times over the last three years to find some new way in which her skills in analytical chemistry could better serve the company. Their answer had been to promote her to Research Scientist II, which meant a bump in pay. But the job, and the plateau she was on, seemed to be the same despite the additional dollars in her paycheck. Jun had to find a way to achieve job happiness once again.
It is not money that is at the root of most job changes. Instead, recruiters typically hear that the job has "lost its challenge" or that a candidate is seeking to "break free of a rut." People who have spent years developing a specific area of expertise find that they need to be learning something new throughout each stage of their career. When the learning process slows and the job becomes more and more repetitive, trouble begins.
Every job has its mix of challenge situations along with those that require a mastery that comes from repetition. If you've found yourself on this plateau recently, looking at tasks that offer only the opportunity for more repetition, you would be smart to consider making a job change before your senses become permanently dulled.
White Shirts Versus Birkenstocks
When the new CEO arrived, George felt a sense of excitement. "Now we are really going to take off," he thought at the time. "This guy's a Big Pharma executive. He'll know exactly what it will take to get this company off the ground!" Some changes were made in short order that felt quite promising. But what George didn't expect was the corporate culture clash that erupted a few months later. Many of them, himself included, enjoyed the early days of the company and the casual approach to doing business. Long hours in jeans and sandals had morphed into 9 to 5 in a lab coat and tie. On top of that, a creeping bureaucracy had set in. One day he found himself needing four signatures to order media. At that moment, he knew that he had to get back to a company culture in which he would feel comfortable.
Our whole industry seems to be going through one gigantic culture clash. There are large pharma corporations going through huge mergers. These merger/acquisitions have put thousands of people into an environment in which the culture clash is evident daily. In biotechnology companies, new managers from outside the company can bring a "big time" feel to firms that have only 100 or 200 employees. This happens all the time.
When this clash of "white shirts" managers and "birkenstocks" employees occurs, there is almost no middle ground. You feel comfortable on one side or the other of this division and it may not be until you change companies that you can regain your happiness at work.
Politics and Power
Jane loved her job. She was in a fast-moving, exciting biotech company with more than a dozen products in the pipeline. She couldn't imagine a better situation for a business development person with a love of deal-making. The company's niche was hot right now, and everyone wanted a shot at licensing their technology. Sadly, though, she felt as though she were at the end of her potential at the company. Her boss, the COO and executive VP, had played politics with the board and was now out of a job. The CEO had scheduled a meeting with her to question her loyalties. Through no fault of her own, she was now "branded" in the eyes of her new boss. She wouldn't lose her job immediately, but she knew somewhere down the road she would be the next "designated scapegoat."
Every company has some degree of politics being played out. Despite the fact that many people are indeed fired for being on the losing side of a political battle, recruiters believe that more are terminated for not playing politics. In this example, although Jane wasn't a willing participant in her boss's gamesmanship with the board of directors, she was close enough to it to have been left with an image that she doesn't think will suit her well for future growth. It's time for her to get into a new company and start again with a fresh reputation.
The Proactive Approach
The merger was only in the rumor stage, and already the project meeting had turned to talk of possible layoffs and job duplication. Somesh could sense the group dividing between those who were going to "hang in there" and pray for their job or a severance package, and those who, like him, would take the proactive approach and get out before it all hit the fan. His boss took a moment to bring the group back on track and mentioned how in these situations it was veryimportant to think about getting the project moved along successfully. There would be plenty of time to consider personal options, he said, if and when any announcement would be made about a merger. Somesh made a mental note to touch up his r�sum� that evening.
It goes without saying that being proactive is far better than waiting to be kicked out of the nest. Despite this, thousands of people affected by today's downsizings, mergers, and acquisitions have waited until they have heard the "company line" before drafting a r�sum�. This is like suspecting that you have termites in your home because you see sawdust everywhere, but waiting until the roof falls in on you one night before calling the exterminator.
Being proactive is a state of mind. I'd rather be proactive and ahead of the pack than to be at the tail end of the line and wondering how everyone else got there first.
I believe that a strong loyalty to the people you work with will be one of the reasons why you will succeed long-term in your career. Our companies are interdependent organizations that rely on loyalty to both one's boss as well as to our co-workers. However, from time to time it is important that we review our "stay or leave equation" with an open eye for our best option.
In a lousy job market like the one we are experiencing currently, don't you think that you owe it to yourself to be true to 'number one' on occasion?
David G. Jensen is Managing Director of Kincannon & Reed Executive Search (www.krsearch.com), a leading retained search firm in the biosciences. You can reach Dave at (928) 274-2266 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.