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Managing Principals by Julia Kramer Pivotal Moments

Be prepared. Don't miss your chance to make your move.

By  Julia Kramer

The ball is in your hands. You plant one foot to stay anchored, revolve around on it to scan your surroundings, identify your options, decide what to do next, and make your move. During a game you may have only seconds to plant, pivot, scan, plan and take your next steps. But in life, specifically on the job, pivotal moments typically unfold less rapidly. You have the necessary time to analyze the environment, size up the situation and plot your course of action.

Think back on the pivotal moments of your career. These moments reflect critical choices made, outcomes realized, progress or inertia, and success or failure. Were you fully anchored and knowledgeable of the options and risks before you made your decision? Did you forfeit potential advancement by staying put? Take a look at the following approach to sound decision-making. It may make the difference for you and may help you coach others to win at their own game.

Plant one foot to stay anchored. In other words, don’t change everything in your life at once. But don’t plant both feet or you’ll never move forward. Know your own bottom line, what’s negotiable and what’s not, your own strong points and your sources of strength. These are things that you don’t want to change and for good reason. For example, if you have young kids who must be picked up at a regular time each day and you want to be the one picking them up, then a job that routinely requires schedule flexibility may not be for you. Conversely, if you have no travel opportunities in your personal life but have been bitten hard by the travel bug, then a position that requires domestic and international travel just may be the ticket.

Pivot and scan your surroundings. No one works in a vacuum. We all have co-workers, customers, competitors, suppliers and our own needs to consider. Before you take a big step, make sure you’ve set priorities on all issues and options. Then systematically determine the pros and cons of these options. Make a list if that helps. I found this process helpful when, many moons ago, I was offered a promotion in a different field. At the time, I had managed the routine accounting functions of a corporation, and I assumed accounting would be my career. Due to an unusual set of circumstances, I was offered the sole personnel position in the company.

A career change decision is complex at any stage in a career. I started by identifying my anchors, my non-negotiables. Primarily, I enjoyed working directly with employees at all levels and in every department, and secondly, I required the potential for significant, if long-term, income growth. Then, I looked around and weighed such factors as the steep learning curve, the risk of not being successful in this new position, a change in reporting structure (from a safe CFO to a less safe CEO), leaving my accounting “home,” an increase in salary (this one got double weight at that time), schedule flexibility, potential for advancement and possible negative consequences if I didn’t accept the position. Whew. Lots of work, probably too much anguish, but the resulting decision to take the new job (and ultimately start on my life’s work) was the right one.

Make a decision and plan your next steps. After surveying the scene and weighing your options, you have to decide one way or the other. An entry level employee who wants a promotion has to make the decision to go for it and then must plan the best way to achieve the desired result. There are many options: prepare for the new position by taking a relevant course, pitch the promotion with a well-timed presentation of skills and abilities, or simply apply for the posted position. If a senior executive has been told to exhibit leadership skills more frequently, then she has to decide to make the change and may demonstrate that decision by making plans to address the staff at the next company meeting.

Make your move. This is the easy part because you’ve done good preparatory work and you’re looking forward to something new. You did the work knowing that, once you take the plunge, everything and everyone is changed and there’s no going back. The simple fact that any change brings about irrevocable modifications of some sort makes it all the more important that you’ve avoided reactive action.

The beauty of this process is that it can, and should, be repeated over and over. A player may miss a practiced and planned layup (clearly not the results he envisioned), but he can make some changes, practice and try again in the future. So, too, should you continue to look around and see all possible options. Then plan and take your best shot. And remember, most pivotal moments are not random mistakes.

Don’t make the mistake of not being ready to catch your moment when it comes your way.

Kramer, an HR consultant, is a contributing writer.


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Got a human resources problem you can?t resolve? Ask our HR guru Julia Kramer, SPHR, how to handle those sticky personnel issues everyone wants to avoid.