New Year. New Job? Not So Fast.

The telltale sign that I’ve entered a new year is not the champagne corks on New Year’s Eve or the repetitive 2014 2015 error on my checks.  It’s the small but predictable influx of phone calls, emails and LinkedIn contact requests from long lost acquaintances during the early weeks of January who casually suggest, “let’s have coffee or a glass of wine sometime soon. Would love to catch up.”  I’ve learned that these are code words for: “I am thinking of leaving my job and would appreciate some advice.”

“Career coach” isn’t listed in my LinkedIn profile, and there are certainly others who are certified and well-trained to formally offer this type of advice.  Nevertheless, since I’ve successfully navigated through several 90-degree turns in my own career—from practicing clinician to a managed care executive to healthcare strategic consultant—I’ve navigated many of the very issues that these professionals are wringing their hands over as they contemplate leaving the economic security and stability of their job.

While each conversation varies as much as the brand of cabernet or the number of espresso shots I order in my latte, I have noticed some consistent themes in the advice that I share during these discussions:

1)   Get clarity. The first question I ask as we’re settling in:  “So why now? Why do you feel the need to change your job…now?” A basic question, but all too often, the answer is an emotionally jumbled set of complaints that include a dysfunctional work culture, an unsupportive boss, feeling unchallenged, the lack of future career opportunities, and being short-changed on their bonus or salary.

I poke and prod.  Which ONE issue it is?

Is it the company’s quirks? Or are you in an industry that doesn’t turn you on? Do you feel unappreciated? Or do you have skills that aren’t being utilized? Is it your boss? Or is it you? Or both? Or do you simply mesh with a different kind of boss? Do you need your own attitude adjustment with a fresh start?

My advice: Force yourself to understand– and be accountable to— the specific issues that are driving your desire to leave your job.  Just as you shouldn’t jump into a new romantic relationship without analyzing what went wrong with the last one, don’t jump into bed with a new employer without evaluating the dynamics of your current job situation. 

2)   Stay with your current employer…until you shouldn’t.  Figuring out a transition from your job should start with a genuine exploration of all the opportunities your current employer may offer.  Why? Regardless of your level of seniority, you own stock—-institutional knowledge– in the company where you work. That knowledge is a valuable asset, and re-investing it in the company is likely to get you your best return–financially, personally and professionally.  I consider it a win when a conversation energizes someone to look at internal opportunities through a fresh new lens. I’d estimate that 80% of the individuals I speak to decide to pursue a new role in their organization.

What about the other 20%?

A few clearly say, “I’m done” and want to bolt. They won’t, can’t or refuse to drum up the momentum to pursue internal opportunities. My antennas become radioactive as I probe to understand what people, issues, or skeletons they are escaping. Like a divorce without marriage counseling, this scenario tends to suggest that there are significant irreconcilable issues.

Finally, there are those for whom I have the most empathy: professionals who are in a well-compensated, senior executive role with stellar performance and are appreciated. The problem? They feel stuck, pigeonholed into their current “expert” role and highly unlikely to get tapped for something bigger, broader, or different despite being ready, willing, and capable.  While no one is immune, the individuals most likely to face this scenario have MD, RN, or JD behind their names. As they share their frustrations, their question to me is, “What is the risk of leaving?” My response: “What is the risk of staying?”

My advice: Recognize when the organization is incapable of appreciating your gifts and broader talents. And, when the risk of leaving is greater than the risk of staying, it’s time to go. 

Whether you decide to explore new internal or external opportunities…

3)     Find and use your genius. Everyone is and has a genius. It is the zone where your greatest passion meets your innate talent. When you’re in it, you excel because it’s naturally easy for you. Typically, people confuse talent with title and academic designations. But, talent isn’t what you do; it’s how you do it. Mine is story telling. Figuring this out shortly before my transition from UnitedHealth Group, the “aha” helped me understand why I craved sales, public speaking, and the media. More importantly, this self-awareness has significantly shaped my  consulting practice since I decided to only take on clients and consulting opportunities that leverage my communications skills.

My advice: Commit some time to finding your genius. The process I used was a formal facilitated workshop conducted by GapInternational. At the other end of the time/investment spectrum and one of my favorites is from Oprah’s O‘s 4-Step Guide to Discovering Who You’re Meant to Be” (For the men reading this article…this exercise is not for women only.)

4)   Compensation comes in different currencies. Beyond meeting your cash flow needs, your financial compensation package should be fair, market-driven, and demonstrate that the company values you. After that, put small incremental dollar differences (as well as title differences) aside and make your decision based on where you will have the broadest scope of influence and the greatest opportunity to have a societal impact.

My advice: DON’T do a Jerry Maguire.  

Have a happy new year…commit to making a difference.