I was speaking with someone recently who had recently been downsized from a company that they had been with for over 15 years. Over that 15 years they had moved up the corporate ladder and were regarded as a rising star in the organization early in their career. Over the past couple of years however their political “stock” had started to fall as the organization had shifted their focus and direction slightly and there had been some turnover in the senior management team. Ultimately this individual had been part of a broad set of job reductions that the company had taken to improve productivity.
They were lamenting the fact that they had given 15 years of their life and hard work to an organization that didn’t appreciate that legacy and they were feeling very “hard done by” by the whole situation. Having recently gone through a similar experience myself it gave me a great opportunity to reflect on what was different between our two situations and why my own experience didn’t leave me feeling wronged by the organization.
At the same time as all this was happening I was enjoying the Blue Jay’s second post-season run in 20+ years, watching a team of exceptional athletes put it all on the line after a grueling 162 game season to push through the pain and deliver their best efforts through a wild card game and then two playoff rounds. While the wild card game and the ALDS (first round) went exactly to plan the Blue Jays ultimately came up short against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS and the fans started to “take stock” of the players and their shortcomings.
It made me realize that there really are a lot of similarities that can be drawn if we rationally think about our own careers and organizations and the experience that these professional athletes go through on an annual basis (with the exception of the million dollar paychecks and national television audience for our work). In both our own work and the land of professional sports it comes down quite simply to “what have you done for me lately”.
Let’s start with the Blue Jays and specifically Jose Bautista, the perennial all-star right fielder with an explosive bat and an incredible career with the Jays. He holds the single season home run record for the team with 54 home runs in 2010, and is in the top-ten all time for the Blue Jays in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases, home runs, and runs batted in. He will almost certainly have his name added to the outfield wall dedicated to the greatest Blue Jays of all time when he finishes his career.
Perhaps most memorably Bautista hit a game winning home run in the 7th inning of the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers propelling them to the ALCS after an emotionally charged inning that will likely go down in history as one of the most dramatic 53 minutes in baseball history. That home run was punctuated by an epic “bat flip” that put the exclamation point on how Blue Jays fans felt about their hero – Jose Bautista could do no wrong and he would deliver us to the “baseball promised land”.
Fast forward 12 months and Jose Bautista is a free agent who had an injury filled year and who did not deliver in the 2016 playoffs. He struck out more than he ever had, couldn’t help the team offensively, and made a few blunders in the outfield that have fans happy to see him leaving town. In a playoff when the Blue Jays needed the team to deliver more singles and doubles, more speed on the bases, and more runs from something other than the home run Bautista couldn’t adjust his game. He is a power hitter with a knack for coming through in the clutch, but when that wasn’t working he looked lost at the plate. He couldn’t adjust to the new direction needed by the team.
In 2015 fans were calling for management to sign Jose Bautista to whatever crazy contract he demanded and couldn’t believe that a deal hadn’t already been done to extend the contract of their hero. In 2016 fans are thanking him kindly for his service but happy to seem him go and play for another team. How did this happen? How did the fans so quickly forget everything that Jose had done for them in his time with Toronto? Easy… what has he done for us lately?
When I thought about that I realized how similar it was to my situation and that of the person I had spoken to. We had put in several high performing years in organizations that we believed in. We did everything we could to help them “win” in their market in our own way. We were recognized high performers, we had climbed the corporate ladder, we had been recognized as high performance leaders, and then we were on the outside looking in.
I think for me the reason I didn’t feel “hard done by” in the situation was that I was able to recognize why the shift happened, and hopefully Jose Bautista and others in the situation can see it as well. In my case the part of the organization I worked for was going through transformational change and had brought in new senior leaders to help drive that change. Focus shifted from the work that I had been doing around innovation and the front-end of the process to creating efficiency in the execution phase. The organization wanted to apply its resources to more technical delivery changes as opposed to the consultative work that I was doing (and have been recognized repeatedly for my performance in). And at the end of the day I wasn’t able (or willing) to make that transition with them. The skills I brought to the table were plentiful and had served me well in my time there, but with the new direction of the organization I wasn’t the right puzzle piece to help them succeed… and that’s OK.
Jose Bautista is an incredible baseball player. He sees the strike zone better than almost any player I have ever watched play. He can hit home runs at will (when he is healthy), and he has been a big part of the reason that the Blue Jays are winning again after 20+ seasons of mediocrity. But he is a power hitter with a polarizing personality and as the Jays look to learn from their playoff exits over the past couple of years they are realizing that they need people who can “manufacture” more runs through something other than the home run. While Bautista is very effective at getting on base he hasn’t had success in a “small ball” environment, and so he will likely be moving on to a new team.
The fact that Bautista and the Jays will part ways this year doesn’t mean that he is a “bad” baseball player or that he is “done” in his career. It means that the alignment between his skills and the organization’s needs is no longer there and so in both of their best interests it is time to move on. It isn’t a win-lose proposition where one of them has to be right and the other has to be wrong, it can be thought of as a win-win where the organization can move in a new direction that helps improve them for the future and Jose can move to a new team and also enjoy success doing what he does best.
For the person I was talking to who felt “wronged” by their former organization I think the same thing. Just because the skills, experience, and value that you bring to the table is no longer appreciated or needed by your former organization it doesn’t mean that they aren’t valuable. By the same token just because you put in 15 years at an organization and performed well to their needs and expectations over a good part of that doesn’t mean that the organization “owes” you a future. If you reframe the thinking a bit you can realize that really what the organization has done is given you an opportunity to bring your skills, experience, and value to a new “team” that needs those skills and is aligned to what you bring to the table so that you can enjoy success in your work again. It can be a win-win situation if you think about it the right way.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.