Is It Time To Go?

Have a strategy before the question arises

by Joe Conklin

"Is it time to go?" is one of the most basic career questions a quality professional can ask. Reality sometimes has a way of intruding on that ideal hope of a long-term relationship with an organization. Questions about one's fit or future are the normal trigger.

As with most big decisions, personal or professional, it helps to have a strategy. Ironically, the best time to develop a strategy is when leaving is the furthest thing from your mind. Otherwise the emotional pressure of the decision makes thinking harder.

I recently had a rare opportunity to compare approaches. It reminded me in a big way there is no one right approach for everybody.

My Approach

The occasion was my ex-boss's decision to follow me into the public sector. We were able to compare notes because we had stayed in touch as friends after I left the company. When I was deciding to leave, I had neglected to prepare that "keep it handy in the back pocket" strategy before changing jobs. Being a statistician, I fell back on the analytical style I use for solving quality problems. It made my decision making process a little complicated to say the least.

I had a list of efforts and experiments that had withered on the vine. I factored in the possible effects of the company's reorganization on the probability of being laid off. I crafted four different alternatives to leaving, putting the pros and cons on paper. I even dusted off a model in one of my old MBA books that I thought indicated the company was facing a severe margin squeeze in the next three to five years.

When I received an interesting job offer from a start-up company being backed by one of my old employers, I accepted it with confidence, satisfied I had crunched all the numbers. In retrospect, I think some of my data were a lot squishier than they originally seemed.

With hindsight, I think the main problem with the company I left was that its strength was in R&D, not manufacturing. Since my own niche turned out to be a lot closer to the public sector, perhaps both of us were trying to succeed in a place that was not our best fit.

My Ex-boss's Approach

In contrast to my heavily quantitative approach, my ex-boss placed less importance on looking strictly at the numbers. Unlike me, he had a spouse and children to consider. He found high-tech manufacturing to be very demanding of his commitment and time. With his children growing older, he wanted a better balance between work and family life.

The succession of reorganizations increased the uncertainty. After one, he was returned to a supervisor whose personality and philosophy of quality were hard to mesh with his own. In reflecting on the experience, he shared this quote: "People don't leave bad companies. They leave bad bosses."

Although he still believed in the company, the challenge of working with the old supervisor increased his willingness to consider another position. A response to one ad led to a successful interview and job offer. He changed his mind about leaving after the corporate quality director reaffirmed his value and offered him a transfer, which he accepted.

However, the company's decision to relocate to reduce its manufacturing costs strongly affected his sense of job security. It contributed to a "crisis of the day" atmosphere. At this point, he talked to several colleagues in his professional network about public sector opportunities.

He wanted to find something that would round out his career without having to move his family or to leave his roots in the area. He finally left the company to accept a public sector position. The move turned out to be well timed. Six months later the old company shut down its local manufacturing operations after completing its relocation.

Taking the new job involved a noticeable sacrifice of salary, but the benefits more than outweigh the cost. His approach to quality blends in well with the philosophy and style of his new department. A more flexible work schedule makes it easier to spend time with his family. He feels more secure in his job-- a refreshing improvement over his uncertainty at the previous one.

My ex-boss's approach to the decision was more relationship oriented. Mine was more analytical. In future career decisions, I intend to aim for a more conscious balance of both. It is reassuring that either can help the quality professional find a better career opportunity.

JOSEPH D. CONKLIN is a statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau. He helps assess the quality of the operations and surveys it carries out. He is presently evaluating how well optical scanning and imaging technology can read census forms. Conklin earned a master's degree in statistics from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and holds the following ASQ certifications: quality engineer, reliability engineer, quality auditor, quality manager and software quality engineer.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board on www.asqnet.org, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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