5 simple methods for changing “tours of duty”

So the 5 simple principles and behaviors that I recommend for those changing tours of duty are as follows :

  1. The best people are always being recruited and competent managers at the best companies assume that you are being recruited all the time. If you are young, don’t view someone knocking on your door with a new position as some form of validation. Instead consider it the first of many potential tours of duty that will be presented to you over time. Before you jump, consider if you are really interested in the next tour of duty being presented and separate any feelings you might have that are associated with being desired by a new employer or manager. For anyone who is a fan of the show “Mythic Quest” on Apple TV — the process that Poppy went through in considering leaving Mythic Quest for Cold Alliance 2 is a classic example of this dynamic. Somewhat cliche — but the right question should be “is the grass really greener?” and is this next gig going to get me closer to what I want to do in the long term. (see principle #3 below).
  2. Time matters — and a little more time to transition in the short term is highly valuable in the long term. If you are considering a new tour of duty — especially one that involves leaving one company and going to another — communicate as early and as frequently as possible with your manager. It can be difficult to have these discussions, but I’ve seen time and again that if you give your manager a heads up early and give them time to adjust, you will essentially enlist their support in helping you make the transition without negatively impacting other people on the team or your current employer. If the company you are working for cares about professional development and has invested in your development — giving them 2 weeks notice before you depart (the absolute minimum) feels like a slap in the face for the folks that were investing in you and working to help you build your skills and align your interests with the needs at the company. The extra 2–6 weeks that enables an effective and smooth transition of your responsibilities and commitments is a small price to pay for the loyalty and respect of the people on your team and the managers/leaders who were investing in you. One of the best examples of this in my experience was when my good friend and trusted colleague — Elliot Knudsen — was going to leave Tamr and move to be an early employee at DataBricks. I remember standing on the train platform with Elliot in Stamford CT after a conference. I had spent the previous year promoting Elliot as the “voice of Tamr” in the marketplace. Despite his young age Elliot was incredibly talented — not only crazy smart but also very articulate. He had desired a tour of duty that would enable him to exercise his skills as an evangelist for Tamr’s mission and vision of how data engineering was going to evolve over the coming decades and of course how Tamr could help those companies that were interested. Elliot had crushed his 12-month tour of duty — which of course brought many potential suitors to his doorstep. As we were standing on the train platform he told me he was going to DataBricks — but the next thing he told me was truly a role model for the behavior that I think works so well. He said that he wouldn’t leave until I was comfortable — even if it took 2+ months to transition. He told me how thankful he was for the professional development opportunities I had given him over the previous year and beforehand. He said that he respected my need to transition as gracefully as possible and knew that, because I had given him significant responsibility, the transition might be complicated. It was brilliant. I gave him a HUGE hug (as I’m prone to do) and told him how proud I was of him and how much I appreciated his maturity in handling the transition — that I knew that his next tour of duty was going to be spectacular and that I couldn’t wait to watch what he would do at DataBricks. By giving me flexibility and time he had shown me how deeply he respected my investment in him and how much he cared about Tamr not being negatively impacted by his decision to make a transition to his next tour of duty. It was awesome.
  3. Always strive to go “towards something new”. Resist a process and narrative focused on “moving away from where you are” — ie the negative aspects of your current tour of duty/team/manager. It’s incredibly dysfunctional to make a change that is driven by a need to “move away from something negative.” If you are unhappy with your current tour of duty, find something that inspires you to move towards before making a change. This enables the conversation and narrative to be positive about you moving towards something that is better for you instead of negative about your current situation. It’s a red herring to think that your departure is going to “change things that are broken in your current role/group/company” — if you really want to change things — you should provide open/honest feedback to your manager, peers, leadership — either directly or anonymously if that makes you more comfortable. The idea of “leaving a company to make a point about what needs to be fixed” is a fundamentally broken idea — it doesn’t work and most people will likely perceive your departure as negative because you’ve “given up” instead of trying to improve things. It’s much better for YOU to find your next tour of duty (inside or outside of your company) and set the narrative about your change in the positive context of how excited you are about your new tour of duty. Of course use your exit interview with the company to offer feedback and most companies are psyched to get the objective feedback as you are leaving — but don’t make this the primary narrative of your move.
  4. Carefully consider the timing of your transition. If you’ve recently made significant commitments that aren’t yet delivered as part of your current tour of duty or have recently been given significant responsibility, consider the impact on those around you of making a change at that time vs. waiting awhile. Per #1 above, the best people always have great opportunities. I have rarely found that passing on one opportunity prevents someone from having a successful, productive and happy career. If departing “mid commitment” or “in the middle of new responsibility” is going to have a dramatic negative impact consider that in the context of the upside in the new tour of duty. It’s often easy to under-value the negative impact in a situation like this and to over-value the bright shiny new tour of duty in front of you.
  5. The grass is ALWAYS greener. Full stop. No matter the situation — the proverbial grass is always greener in the next tour of duty/company. It’s cliche but true. If you are working for great companies that expect a lot of themselves and the people who work for the company, the challenges will always be large and intimidating, some level of dysfunction will always be present and the risks will always be large.

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