I recently met with a good friend for a coffee and catch-up. We were discussing all sorts of business analysis related topics, and our conversation quickly moved on to projects, careers and jobs. As we started to discuss jobs and careers, I sensed unease in my friend’s voice. This was unusual—he is the kind of guy who is normally really up-beat. I asked what was wrong. He took a long sip on his coffee and his forehead contracted into a temporary frown. He took a deep breath:
“Adrian, I’m really not happy in my current job. I’ve made some suggestions on how they could run projects better, but management see this as ‘rocking the boat’. I’ve been sidelined. They’ve put me on a dull, boring, pointless project, which will deliver a pointless outcome. It’s a train-wreck. I am so bored. I think they’re hoping I’ll leave.”
This came as a complete shock to me. My friend is one of the most innovative and positive BAs I know. He’s the type of person that you can imagine fitting in just about anywhere, with the ability to quickly build rapport with stakeholders and really start delivering effective change. Clearly moving someone to the right place for the right reasons can benefit the individual and the company—but in this case it seemed to be a pure case of sidelining.
Why would anyone sideline him?
If you have worked for large corporate organisations for long enough, you’ll probably know someone who has been sidelined in this way. Someone who has been seen as too ‘radical’ for the status-quo—they raise positive ideas which could make a significant difference but challenge the tunnel-vision of established middle-managers. Rather than reward them, the organisation responds by moving them to another role, another team so they are less inconvenient. They never seem to fit, so they are moved around and around — after a while they get moved to a remote outpost somewhere, in the hope they will give up, keep quiet or leave. Maybe it has even happened to you.
This is an example of what I call getting quasi-sacked – or “quacked”
Why people get ‘quacked’: The good, the bad and the ugly
Quacking can happen to very good people, and it isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. There are many reasons for quackery, including the three listed below:
The good: The person is good, but too good. They want to instigate valuable systemic change, but the current middle-management aren’t ready. They enthusiastically talk about disruptive ideas, which sends shock waves through the organisation. They are seen as a danger, they need to be quacked otherwise there is a danger that things might change too quickly.
The bad: Conversely, sometimes people are quacked because they are bad. Really, really bad. Perhaps they were recruited into the wrong job in the first place—or perhaps they weren’t given the training and support that they need. Maybe the management didn’t even know what they wanted—but they now know this person certainly isn’t what they want. But sacking someone takes time. Moving them around relieves the problem-temporarily. And hey, eventually they’ll find their feet somewhere, right?
The “ugly”: I mean metaphorically ugly of course—or being more specific, people whose face doesn’t fit. There is something about their manner, appearance or demeanour that means people don’t take them seriously (however good their ideas). Eventually, they’ll be seen as a bad penny — and the quackery starts.
Whatever the reason, it is likely that both the employer and employee have tried to compromise as much as they can to make things work. Yet, still things don’t work out.
What to do if you get Quacked
Being quacked feels bad, it often plays into the very centre of feelings of self-worth. It is easy to take it to heart—and it can be tempting to fit in, to find a ‘groove’ and conform. Of course, there are always subtle ways we can change the way we present ourselves and the way we talk about our ideas—but if the way the organisation acts and behaves is at loggerheads with a strongly held belief or value, then resentment is likely to build over time.
So, what can you do if you’ve been quacked? Here are three suggestions, in no particular order:
1. Leave: Clearly this is a hard an important decision which shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if the gap is too wide and adapting to the organisation isn’t an option, then perhaps a better option is to find somewhere that appreciates your individual blend of skills and leave on your own terms. Leave on good terms, before you are ‘quacked’ again.
2. Stay with a time-limit: Give it a go, try and fit in. Perhaps try to find another job within the same organisation. See how it feels for a defined time period, and then make a choice (but be sure to set a clear time limit, and stick to it as time has a habit of drifting).
3. Adapt: If the organisation’s values and culture are close enough to your own, then perhaps there is the option of subtly adapting to the context. This involves being diplomatic, building rapport, and working within the constraints of the organisational context.
4. Take no action: Drift on as you are. By taking no action, you are resigning yourself to staying and continuing to have an inner sense of conflict and resentment. This is probably the worst option for your psychological well-being, but might be necessary in the rare situation that a constraint means that options (1) and (2) are impossible.
Either way it is important to notice when you’ve been quacked and take a conscious decision on how to respond. Being quacked is hard and emotional—but can provide the catalyst to open up new and unexpected opportunities.
My friend? He took option 1, left the organisation, and is now working on some exciting consulting work.
What would you do if you were quacked? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? I’d love to hear them—please add a comment below!
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