Managers have had to go above and beyond for their teams over the last two years, constantly navigating the changing landscape of the pandemic. Understandably, many are now feeling jaded or burnt out, and wondering whether they should stay where they are or move on to something new.
This article is designed to help managers take stock and spend some time thinking about their own professional progress and development. This will better enable informed decisions about the future, whether that’s in a current role or not.
With Covid rules now relaxed across England, we’re entering another period of uncertainty and managers will yet again negotiate through uncharted territory. Over the next few weeks and months, people will expect different things, and respond to new situations in different ways. By taking the time to focus on your own ambitions now, you’ll be better prepared as a manager to handle whatever’s to come. Here are seven ways to find out the best next step for you.
1. Ask yourself some frank and open questions
Taking the time to sit and think about what you do at work is important and should be done regularly, but many managers fall into the trap of putting their team first and themselves last. But you’ll always be a better manager if you’re happier at work, and asking yourself some open questions can help identify what’s positive and what’s problematic.
There are no right or wrong ways to do this, but it’s a good idea to set blocks of time aside as some of your answers may take more time to formulate than others. Here are three open questions to get you started.
- What do you enjoy most about your job?
- Can you identify the aspects of your role that make you feel fulfilled or elicit feelings of pride? (And what about the aspects that do the opposite?)
- Is it possible for you to do things differently in order to improve things, or are you blocked in some way?
Pro tip: It’s often when we’re away from work that thoughts can arise, so create an easy way of recording these. A notebook in your bag, a notepad file or voice note on your phone, or a document saved ready on your computer desktop are all easy ways of capturing thoughts as they bubble up.
2. Make a detailed pros and cons list
The beauty of these lists is their simplicity. You can compare positives and negatives side by side, and see if one list outweighs the other.
If your cons list is significantly longer than the pros then your next decision may feel like a no-brainer, but remember that not everything carries an equal weighting. After you’ve drawn up your lists, spend some time grading the content within them. Some things may feel non-negotiable, but you may be prepared to compromise on some of the cons if the pros mean more to you in terms of your work/life balance, for example.
Pro tip: Give yourself permission to be brutally honest. Don’t edit your answers as you might if someone else were reading them. In order for this to be a useful and productive exercise, you need to be truthful about what genuinely matters to you.
Here are some things to consider when drawing up your list:
- People you work with
- Commute (is remote work important to you?)
- Salary (current and potential)
- Work perks and additional support
- Working environment
- Freedom within your role or organisation
- Progression (or lack of it)
- Company culture
- Values - your own and the company’s
- Remit and responsibility
- Autonomy and authority
- Reputation - your own and the organisation’s
- Vocation - is it more than just a job for you?
In addition: Take some time to also think about why you wanted your role in the first place — has that changed and, if so, how? (Have you changed, has the company or role, or is it a mixture of both?) Then think whether this could impact or alter anything in your lists.
3. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile
We tend to save updating our professional profiles for when we’re job hunting, but taking the time to reflect and record your recent career highlights can help you to gain new focus. Plus, it’s a great exercise for boosting your professional self-esteem.
By ensuring that your profiles are up-to-date, you’re saving yourself a future headache (you’re ready to go if you do decide to look for a new job) and putting yourself firmly at the top of your to-do list.
Approach this exercise as if you were applying for a job, and set aside dedicated time to concentrate on your CV and online profiles. There’s power in doing something that’s purely for your own benefit, so this is a really positive exercise to complete — especially if you’re in a negative headspace or lacking in confidence. Record your recent achievements and celebrate them.
Pro tip: Use your current job description as the framework for mapping out your responsibilities and accomplishments.
4. Talk about it
Most people don’t have a frank and open conversation with their boss before they hand in their notice — they wait to do this once they have resigned. But employers would much rather keep good staff (it can cost up to £30K to replace a single full-time employee), so having a conversation could lead to things being much better for the both of you.
To be able to talk properly, it’s important to book a meeting. Many people make the mistake of trying to have significant discussions ‘off the side of the desk’ or hoping a good opportunity will arise. A dedicated meeting means that you have the time and space to talk about your role and your feelings around it.
Pro tip: Don’t rely on 1-1s to have this discussion either. Too often they’re focused on the day-to-day, especially if you manage a team. Requesting a meeting means you can prepare what you want to say, and also helps to set the scene for your boss. (The meeting invite could include a short description — “I’d like to talk to you about my role and some concerns I have about it.”)
You could also document your thoughts on paper and leave this with your line manager for consideration, which means they’re more likely to follow up with a more formal response.
5. Buddy up with someone at the same level
Management can be lonely, so buddying up with a colleague at a similar level is a great idea. You can share experiences, tips and worries, be each other’s sounding boards and problem solve together.
Pro tip: Strike a balance to your meetings, so that they’re often enough to be useful but not so frequent they feel like another job on your list. Quarterly catch ups are a logical place to start, and you can increase or decrease from there as your schedules allow. And don’t postpone these meetings when you feel busy or stressed, as that’s likely to be when you really feel the benefit of having a buddy.
6. Find a mentor (from outside of your organisation)
If a buddy comes from a place of understanding of your organisation or culture, then a mentor brings an entirely fresh perspective.
Mentor relationships come in many forms, so take the time to think about what you’re looking for. Do you want someone who: a) guides and challenges, b) supports and champions or c) opens up new opportunities and avenues?
A mentor is typically someone who has experience in your field, but occupies a more senior role in a different organisation. Although this isn’t set in stone, it’s important that they have an understanding of ‘where you’re at now’ and can provide insight and counsel through lived experience.
Mentors may suggest training or techniques to help you improve, or provide guidance for job applications and interviews. You might want them to help you identify and create a progression plan, or work through some real-life examples where you feel you could have responded differently. Just remember that a mentor exists to support you as an individual, and shouldn’t be doing anything for which you’re paid for by your company.
Pro tip: If you’re unsure of how to find a mentor, then asking your professional network is a great place to start. Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn, talk to your friends and peers, or ask your line manager. And when you know how it works, being a mentor is something that you can offer to do for someone else.
7. Inject some variety into your week
The pandemic stole much of the variety from our working lives, and some people are struggling to get it back.
It can be hard to envision things outside of your current routine, but an easy way to identify what’s possible is to ask yourself questions based around the ‘Three Ps’ — place, pace or people. For example:
- Place - can you work from a different location, even just for a day a week?
- Pace - stuck in a rhythm or pattern that feels stale or unproductive? Can you move a meeting to a different day and free up space to focus on other things?
- People - only seeing the same faces and hearing the same voices every day? Can you swap shifts in order to work with other colleagues, or can you move desks and sit with another team?
Changing just one or two things can make a huge difference to the shape and scope of your work, so don’t underestimate the power of a few simple swaps. If a lot of your job ticks the right boxes for you, then this exercise is definitely worth a try before trying the door.
After two years of living through a pandemic, it’s normal and natural to feel as though you’ve misplaced your mojo. But with a bit of care, thought and forward planning, it’s also possible to get it back. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us, but we’re so busy with other things that we look right past them. Taking the time to work through the exercises above will put you in a better place as a manager, as a professional, and as a person. We’d love to know if they help you — tag us with your feedback on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.