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The Edge of the Diving Board

Last week I had a performance review for someone who has worked with me for ten years.  In the agency biz it’s hard to hang on to people for that long, but I have always believed that "at a growth company, careers take care of themselves," meaning there is always somewhere to go, something to learn, something new to experience, in a dynamic and growing firm.

During the course of the review, my colleague said to me, "I feel like I am at the edge of the diving board, a little nervous, but ready to plunge into the next chapter of my career here."  He said this because we gave him a new responsibility - to run and be part of growing one of our business lines, and he was refreshed and excited about having a new career experience.  The best people in your organization feel this way.  So I always make sure at Prosek there are a lot of diving boards for people - regular diving boards for all, and high dives for those who really need big challenges.

Edge of the Diving Board

There is no doubt that it takes a lot more time to offer custom careers to people, but I believe the return on that investment is worth it in terms of productivity and retention. How do you bring custom careers to life in your organization? 

  • Make it clear they can't expect to pick and choose everything they want to do vs. what the organization needs. Ask them to identify one or two accomplishments they hope to achieve during the coming year and deliver opportunities supporting those aspirations.
  • Vigorously promote the organization embraces stretch opportunities and encourage employees to raise their hand for a new challenge. This could mean working on a cross-border account for the first time, learning a new industry, or developing and commercializing a new product offering.
  • At performance reviews, ask each person what the most meaningful moments of the past year have been and what kind of experiences would make their next year meaningful. Then, challenge your organization deliver those experiences consistently to all employees.
  • Celebrate the outcomes of stretch opportunities loudly and proudly. As the CEO, reinforce how meaningful continuous learning and intellectual curiosity are to you and your firm. I often drive home this message by giving examples of experiences that took me out of my comfort zone, such as recently guest hosting a podcast in which I interviewed a former U.S Secretary of State.

In the last few years, the workplace narrative has centered around quitting, burn out, resignation and cancelling hustle culture. This has demotivated many leaders from believing that their people want those diving board moments. Just a reminder that the best people do.