First-class coach

I am in a comfortable position at work, and have been manager of a small team for four years. Someone recently told me I should be moving on to the next level or risk being left behind.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It came as a bit of a shock, as I hadn't thought of leaving. When do you know whether it's time to make the change to a new role?

A: Some years ago, a survey of managers in a well-known multinational revealed that, for most, it took about three years to reach peak effectiveness in a new job. The same survey also discovered that their average length of tenure in each role was 18 months. The frequency of role-change was probably the result of trying to keep ambitious high-flyers with a low boredom threshold interested and motivated.

The prevailing belief is that ambition is good and that it's important for all of us to strive for self-advancement, except when we are over 50, when, apparently, we should be realistic about our diminishing powers and be content to stay in the same role for the rest of our working lives.

By definition, though, not everyone can get to the top, or will even want to be there.

There are many reasons you might be happy to stay in the same position for an extended period. For one thing, a lot of change may be going on in the organisation or sector in which you work, so although you have the same job title, you face new challenges all the time. You may also have had satisfactory pay increases, giving you a sense of progress and growth in seniority.

Another possible explanation takes in the relative importance of work in your personal priorities. For some people, work is just one part of their lives, and their excitement and stimulation come from elsewhere, so their requirements from their job are less than for the person for whom work is central.

Then, of course, there is the security that comes from knowing the place and the people well. Few jobs are for life these days, so security is relative. It seems that, nowadays, public- and private-sector businesses alike are downsizing, so that even in traditionally safe sectors such as the civil service, significant numbers of people are losing their jobs.

Men tend to stay in a job for a shorter time than women, a fact that, I suspect, relates to testosterone, competitiveness and their hunter-gatherer ancestry. This puts pressure on those men who are perfectly happy to stay put in a job that suits them.

Apart from ambition and boredom, the main prompts for job-change are usually based on dissatisfaction - with the salary, the working conditions, the culture or the boss. If none of these applies, it's not surprising you are comfortable in your role and hadn't thought of leaving. Yet even if your boredom threshold is higher than most, the likelihood is that you'll need a change sooner or later or risk growing stale and becoming gradually less effective in what you do.

Try asking: Do I see myself in the same role in three years' time? If not, it's time to consider what sort of job you'd like to be doing by then. You can do some job-sculpting for yourself by considering what your ideal next job would be. What sort of work would it entail? Would you be working full-time or part-time? In an office or from home? In the UK or elsewhere? Do you like managing, and would you like to be responsible for a bigger group? What sort of culture would your next company have to have for you to perform at your best? Do you have strengths and interests that are not being allowed to flourish in your current position?

A change doesn't necessarily mean leaving your organisation. You might take on other responsibilities in areas that interest you, decide to extend your knowledge and skills, or acquire a qualification of some sort. You could be eligible for temporary secondment to another part of the business or for a permanent transfer.

My colleague Janey Howl advises her clients to write a new CV every year.

She shares my belief that we all need to develop continuously, to stretch ourselves beyond the comfortable. Recording what new capabilities and experiences we've gained in the past 12 months is a good way of making sure we succeed in this.

In truth, there is no right time for changing jobs, and you can feel good about not succumbing to the pressure of other people's expectations and staying exactly where you are, until such time as that job no longer suits you.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail:

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