Q: I was one of the first employees in a company that's grown substantially. I worked really hard in the early days and felt appreciated by my boss and was promoted, but now it's grown and is successful he seems to have changed his attitude towards me. He says I don't have the profile needed for the future and has hinted I should move on. I'm not sure whether to look for another job or hang on here.
A: One of the hardest things to do when you've worked somewhere for a while and you're pretty happy in your job is to realise something has changed to disturb your contentment and that the change may be permanent. Sometimes this is an external factor - the market, for example, with the advent of a new competitor. But at least this sort of change affects the whole business, so you're not alone in experiencing it.
Sometimes the changes are internal and can be tougher to come to terms with because the impact is more personal. A merger, a change of management or a restructuring can reverse the fortunes of a previously favoured individual. For you, the situation is probably more painful as the shift is less tangible: an apparent change of attitude in your boss; a boss who until recently has been an important factor in your advancement.
Failure to recognise what's happening results in the 'boiled frog' syndrome, where the water is getting hotter and hotter but we don't notice until it's too late. Assuming your boss' comments weren't offhand, you need to think seriously about your options. Deciding on the best course of action depends on exploring potential causes for your manager's disaffection and whether, real or perceptual, they are remediable or not.
Begin by considering current and past performance, asking yourself if there are genuine grounds for dissatisfaction. Are you resting on your laurels? Have you failed to move on as the business has changed? Are there some areas where your performance is not quite what it could be?
Next, start focusing on the organisation's future and its goals. How well equipped are you to further the ambitions of the business? Are you up to speed with recent changes in technology? If the customer base is becoming more international, how well placed are you to move into other markets? What matters here is not just previous performance but your potential. Write a realistic job description for the sort of skills, experience and personality that will be required next year and beyond, as this will give you a yardstick by which to measure your capabilities.
There will be one of two outcomes for this exercise. Either you'll discover your boss is right and you currently lack what it will take to fulfil a position in the future similar to the one you now hold, or else you'll see that, despite his negative perceptions, you do have what it takes. From here you have a number of options. You might need to undergo some development to update your skills and knowledge so you can re-pitch yourself to senior management, showing how fit you are for future challenges and how determined you are to create success. Or you might decide that a different role with the same company might be better.
Alternatively, if you feel the gap between what's required and where your strengths lie is too great, you will need to re-package yourself and move on. If so, be sure to value the contribution you made in the early days of the company and look for a situation which would allow you to display some of these talents. Rather than lick your wounds, recognise you have a track record for helping a business get off the ground. There are plenty of start-ups crying out for someone competent to help them over their teething troubles.
There are phases in the life of any business. Initially what's needed from the founders is a lot of energy, commitment and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get things accomplished. With a small number of people there's no need for much formality in structure or communication. It seems as if this is the environment in which you have performed well in the past. But, as the firm grows, change is required: specialists are hired to take over from generalists and systems and processes have to be developed to ensure the growing number of staff know what needs to be done and how to do it. Change in role and activity in the founding management is also required. Your decision is whether to adapt to these altered circumstances or to move on.
- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org