If your company’s fiscal year end coincides with the calendar, then bonuses have been distributed, your new salary confirmed and you have received your annual review. Assuming all were positive – way to go! Congratulations! Another great year has passed and you should be approaching 2012 highly motivated, ready to embrace the objectives that you established in concert with your supervisor. You’re going to rock this year, right?
The reality is that an external motivator – like money – lasts about as long as two pay periods, or however long it takes to adjust one’s budget to a new bi-monthly or monthly net. If a person is being compensated equitably, salary increases and bonuses don’t drive performance in any long term way. A friend of mine recently received wonderful news from her employer – her raise and bonus were exceptional, her review reflective of a reasonable awareness of the scope of her efforts. Upon hearing this news, her significant other said, “Enjoy it – there’s your appreciation until next year”. We laughed at the comment, though the truth behind its humor is far more worthy of a sigh than a giggle.
There is an ennui that arrives in January that comes on the heels of that absence of anticipation. There is no further feedback to receive, all the adrenalin has been spent. There are no more three day weekends to look forward to for awhile (though the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a federal holiday, given that statistically more people call in sick that day than any other in the year). The new year by definition exerts little pressure to ‘bring it’ with the same energy that year-end activities require and the sense of renewal is limited by the sense of purpose. The performance scale is re-set at zero – an enervating thought if ever there was one. Yeah it’s true, you’re only as good as your last show.
Ideally, now would be a good time to take a vacation – a chance to restore one’s self and get outside the routine. Given that many don’t have that luxury, I think we all need to find the time to take stock of our internal motivational index, pose the hard questions to ourselves that we have no time to consider when we’re consumed with work. At the end of each year, I used to ask my boss whether we were going to re-up for another year. Though the question was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to continue in my position if he was going to pursue a different path. The exchange provided us with a chance to talk about the past year’s challenges and successes and ensure that were were in step going forward. We continued this exercise even when we both had moved onward and upward at the firm. The conversation remained an annual touchstone of sorts, checking in when either of our perceived realities needed confirmation.
Absent such dialogues, we still should take time for a little reflection. Are you where you want to be in your career? Are you being given the opportunities to develop and expand your skill set? Does your position provide you with sufficient challenges and responsibilities? Are you working in an environment that is supportive of your values and ethical construct? If your efforts are Herculean and you have the professional muscles to exercise, that’s one thing. It feels good to flex your talent, stretching towards goals that are both intriguing and substantive. However, if the position has a more Sisyphean quality (to keep the analogy alive), that’s another issue entirely. There is nothing more demoralizing than knowing that the damn boulder is going to roll back down the mountain as soon as you near the top.
Your answers should be the mental catalyst to emerge from the mental freeze of January. If you are in an organization where you continue to grow and develop, where your future marketability is enhanced by the responsibilities you are given, then pause for a moment, celebrate where you are and ratchet up the output again. You are in a terrific place on your career path and that in and of itself should be energizing. If you’re not getting what you need from your current position and have done all that you can to alter that course, then you are doing a huge injustice to yourself in taking the path of least resistance. No one should view the decision to coast as an empowering one. You know too that ultimately, your malaise translates into performance issues which further complicate and compromise your position (literally and figuratively). Considering other employment possibilities is an effort, and can be incredibly anxiety-provoking. It can also be exhilarating to find an employer with values and expectations that are totally in sync with yours.
When we talk about thinking strategically, it’s important to remember that this is an exercise best honed first when considering where you are and where you want to go. You are so much more than a passive participant in your career – you are both driver and navigator. Safe travels