Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 49;   December 8, 2021: Surviving Incompetence: II

Surviving Incompetence: II

by

When your organization undertakes a misguided effort that will certainly fail, you have options. One is to head for the exit. To search for a new position in such circumstances requires some care. Example: an internal transfer might not really be an exit.

When the organization you work for, or the team you work with, makes a commitment to a course of action that you're certain will fail, you have some difficult choices ahead. last time we examined two strategies that can be helpful if you feel that the inevitable failure won't cause irreparable harm to you personally. And we observed that if irreparable personal harm is almost certain or very likely, it's time to move on.

So if you decide to move on to another position with more upside (or less downside), here are two suggestions: beware internal transfers, and pause to reassess.

An internal transfer might not provide safety

The side mirror view from an automobile

The side mirror view from an automobile. Faintly printed on the mirror are the words, "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear." It's a common warning on side-view mirrors. There should be a warning for retrospectives. Something like, "Insights you acquire here are subject to cognitive biases." There is a reasonable risk that you'll miss important and painful realizations, and focus instead on less important and less painful stuff. Have courage. Look at the hard stuff.

Image by askifte at .

An internal transfer can be a most appealing solution to the problem of finding a quick exit from a high-risk position. You might not need to relocate; the interviews can be convenient; the employer is more comfortable because hiring from within can be less risky than hiring from "outside."

But there is risk for you. The fundamental problem is that in some situations, internal transfers are only partial exits. When you exit by means of an internal transfer, you might not be out of reach of your former supervisor. And if the outcome you feared does come to pass, your former supervisor might take steps that could affect the success of your exit strategy. For example, for executives, a change of portfolio might not protect you from the coming failure. You'll still be available for anyone who wants to exact a price for failure. For non-executives, your former supervisor might decide that you were partly responsible for the unfavorable outcome that you had been warning about. And if your annual performance review requires commentary from your former supervisor, you might be heading for an unwelcome surprise. Such an event would of course be unfair, but it could happen.

There's more. One of the reasons for seeking an exit was to escape the consequences of bad decisions made by others. If the only people in the larger organization who were making bad decisions were your former colleagues, then the internal transfer could be an effective means of escaping those consequences. But if your former colleagues can remain in place even though they make bad decisions, a natural question arises: are there more makers of bad decisions in this organization? Given that you've already found some such people, it seems possible that there are more makers of bad decisions lurking about. Possibly there are a few among your new colleagues. A repeat of the present unpleasant scenario is possible.

Pause to reassess

You're If irreparable personal harm is almost
certain or very likely, it's time to move on
probably familiar with retrospectives in the context of team building or project management. Retrospectives identify what we've done that worked, what didn't work, and what we might add to help us improve. A personal retrospective has similar objectives. It differs from team or project retrospectives in a very important respect: there is only one attendee.

To be effective, a personal retrospective meets three requirements.

It has an objective
Personal retrospectives can have a variety of objectives, but in this application, you're trying to learn what you could have done that might have made unnecessary a quick exit from what was supposedly a satisfactory position. Formulate three questions that might help meet that objective.
A commitment to honesty
You must be willing to examine yourself, your situation, and the constraints you encountered as you made choices.
Enough time
You need not complete the personal retrospective in one sitting, but each session will require 10-15 minutes of quiet time before you can really start to work. Commit to two or three 30-minute sessions.

Examine your results. Did you find any insights that might help you in your search for a new position? Can you ask in interviews how the organization handles failures?

Last words

If your most recent previous search for a position preceded the pandemic, keep in mind that things have changed since then. Because many organizations are now more comfortable with virtual operations than they were before the pandemic, you might consider broadening your search to include virtual positions. Relocation might not be as necessary as it once was. And that means that you can choose from a wider array of possibilities. Since searching for positions is essentially a numbers game, more possibilities means a shorter, easier, more fruitful search. Happy hunting! First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Do My Job  Next Issue

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