Beware The Hopper

I apparently did everything wrong as I pursued a career in healthcare. That is the conclusion I must come to after reading–actually listening to—an excellent new book with the intriguing title of “When-The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink.

According to the book which asserts that timing plays a big part in outcomes, research shows that ambitious people should change their employer every three to five years to maximize their chances for success, however that may be defined. Given that criteria, I failed as I had only two employers in a career of forty-five years–one for 10 years and one for thirty-five years. I feel totally inadequate.

I took this failure one step further. I was always suspicious of candidates for positions on my senior management team who did job hop frequently. If they did it to someone else, they would do it to me.

The few times I did hire someone with such a job history, sure as heck, they left after less than five years. In their minds that must have been good for their careers but it was not good for the organization as far as my retro mind was concerned.

Most of my senior managers hung around for at least ten years. I knew it was important that they have challenges which went beyond their job descriptions to keep them engaged and growing. So strategic planning was a group effort of all senior managers who each had their unique insights to bring to the process. We always used different planning processes to keep all of us interested, including me. Staying and growing in place does not necessarily mean stagnation.

We also later in my tenure developed with the help of outside consultants and inside experts a robust career development and succession planning process for all managers, including senior managers. Just developing that process as well as the ongoing management of it was of particular interest to some of the senior managers.

I also tried to convince senior managers when the opportunity arose to take on new responsibilities which did not necessarily fit within their comfort zones. The kind of senior managers I had for the most part readily accepted that challenge.

Sometimes, though, it was clear that for a senior manager to progress in their career they did need exposure to a different organization. One such senior manager was in a highly specialized job area and he came to me one day after ten years of tenure to tell me he was leaving to become CEO of a small healthcare support business completely out of his area of comfort. He felt he needed to break his mold.

We kept in contact as he spent seven years in that CEO position and then moved back into a hospital as a VP over a variety of services. After three years in that position, a great opportunity became available on my senior management team so I asked him if he would like to come home which he did. He was happy as a VP in that other organization but the lure of coming back was too strong. In his case, this was not job hopping but a thoughtful career development plan.

I believe that it takes more than three to five years to beome effective in a senior management position and that organizations and managers suffer when job hopping occurs. As the book’s title indicates, “When” is important but how long is equally significant.

One final comment about “When”. Late in the book, the author speaks to the power of endings. He offered several examples of endings done right. One was a restaurant which whenever someone spent a certain amount of money gave that customer a card listing three charities. The customer was asked to pick one of the charities so that the restaurant could makes a donation in his name as a mark of appreciation for his patronage.

If you are going to be a job hopper every three to five years, it may be a good idea to keep your endings in mind. Perhaps, a personal note to each of your colleagues thanking them for helping you or a Starbuck’s gift card—anything that indicates your appreciation. Completing that circle is important, particularly for job hoppers.

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