At a glance
Decide, don’t slide is advice typically given to people stuck in stagnating romantic relationships, but it is equally relevant to careers. It is all too easy to move from one project to the next without stepping back to evaluate the bigger picture and addressing feelings of unhappiness.
Those who constantly slide at work or at home run the risk of waking up one day and realising that life has been unfulfilling.
In Logan Ury’s bestselling book How to Not Die Alone, the dating coach and behavioural scientist highlights research that shows that couples who make a conscious decision to commit or break up are happier than those who coast.
Find meaningful benchmarks
Ury, director of relationship science at dating app Hinge, previously led Google’s behavioural science team. She contends that data-driven relationship science also applies to professional relationships and achieving success at work.
For instance, in Ury’s view, the “secretary problem” behavioural science riddle proves true. If a company is hiring a secretary and there are 100 applicants, they should interview 37 per cent of them and identify who is the best. That person is the “meaningful benchmark”, and the next interviewee who seems even better should be hired.
Ury says it works the same way with romance: those who date between the ages of 18 and 40 have dated 37 per cent of the people they will ever date by the age of 26. Their best ex-partner at the age of 26 is their meaningful benchmark. The next person they date who is an improvement on the meaningful benchmark is who they should choose as their life partner.
However, most of us would balk at the idea of using this life-changing strategy, even if it seems to be the right one.
Most of us are inclined to stick with the status quo, says Kathryn MacMillan, managing director of CIRCLE Recruitment and HR.
“Many people fall into behaviour patterns that are more people-focused than task-oriented. Those who are people-focused tend to be a bit more relaxed and care more about the impact of their decisions on others. This makes them hesitant to make strong decisions, and they may even place the perceptions of others ahead of their own needs.”
Transform the culture
The pandemic complicated matters, and living through it has caused widespread exhaustion and burnout. This has changed the workplace as we know it, eroding our appetite for risk. We would rather play it safe, and lethargy, unfortunately, can be contagious.
“Often people haven’t had enough connection or fun and have gone without the normal events and functions – or even lunch together – that break up the routine,” says Dan Auerbach, executive coach and CEO of Associated Employee Assistance Providers.
“Cultural rejuvenation may be needed, but transforming culture requires genuine commitment. It’s an ongoing piece of work that requires strong leadership.”
Stay on track
In a distributed workplace, team members’ ability to prompt one another other from moment to moment is reduced, which makes it easier to work on assumption and stray off track on a project.
Always finish a project planning meeting with everyone clear on their individual responsibilities and the purpose of their contribution to the end goal, says Auerbach.
At the best of times, it is still easy to fall into the trap of sliding from project to project without stepping back to evaluate.
“When you’re in the midst of a project, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees,” says MacMillan. “Sometimes, a third party who’s not involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project can provide an aerial view and ask questions about things you may not have thought about.”
Talk about it
Open communication is effective for keeping a team unified in its goals. MacMillan suggests holding project progress updates that cover what’s working, what isn’t and what could be improved. Team members know in advance that an open and frank discussion will occur and get used to these kinds of conversations.
“Talking about how a project could be done better may lead to some conflict, because not everyone will agree,” she says. “But, so long as it doesn’t escalate, it can be very healthy. It leads to better outcomes in the long run.”
Another strategy is to ensure accountability through goals at the individual or team level. Identify what success will look like from the outset, how it will be measured and how frequently. Use the SMART goals framework, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Write down goals and use them as visual cues to check progress.
Check for boredom
Auerbach believes that ambition for ambition’s sake is unnecessary. It is fine to be comfortable in a long-term role, but check in with yourself from time to time. Be honest if the situation changes.
“If you feel very comfortable in your role and eventually boredom kicks in, pay attention to it. It may be that there is a fear of exposing yourself to failure,” he says. “You may feel safe where you are right now, but you end up with a sense of dissatisfaction. Sometimes it is about taking a big, bold step and finding out what you can do.”