You have a big career decision to make. Maybe you’ve been offered an exciting new opportunity — on the other side of the country. Or maybe you’ve been unhappy in your job and need a change — but haven’t been able to find inspiring alternatives.
Several of the professionals I’ve coached share a common struggle: how to make major decisions that balance career growth with satisfaction in other domains of their lives. While it’s often easy to see the impact a certain choice will have on objective criteria such as duties, position, prestige, salary, and opportunities for advancement, evaluating the “softer” considerations is tougher. But things like cultural fit, the quality of interactions with colleagues, ability to exert influence, and impact on family and social life, all deeply affect how personally satisfied someone feels with their work.
To help my clients take an objective look at decidedly subjective considerations, I’ve developed a tool that allows them to quantify and visualize the pros and cons of various choices — taking into consideration the impact each would have on matters of both heart and head.
Here’s how I used it with a physician I’ll call Dinesh. He was feeling stuck trying to decide whether he should continue working in his current position at a prestigious academic medical center, which he truly enjoyed, or accept an exciting leadership position at a nearby community hospital. Dinesh was weighing some pretty standard “head” issues of salary, resources, leadership potential, commute, and call schedules. But he knew this was a huge change and needed to evaluate the more feelings-based issues such as how much would he would enjoy his new colleagues, have the flexibility to manage his workload, and be able to prioritize family time, etc. Some of his “heart” issues also included his self-image as it related to “just” being a busy, highly regarded clinician vs. being seen as a leader with broader influence beyond his own patient care responsibilities.
We started by listing all the factors he was considering and the relative importance of each, on a scale of 1-5, so Dinesh could see how they related to one another, shown on the graphic below. Under the Current Hospital and the New Hospital headings is the score he assigned each choice regarding how good it would be for each factor, again rated on a scale of 1-5. We then multiplied the rating by the importance and added the total for each factor to derive a weighted total score for each job option.
And a very interesting happened. While the Current Hospital job scored higher overall, viewing the scores in this way made it possible to see that the relative downsides of the new job were likely temporary. Even though it confirmed his gut feeling that his day-to-day life in the short term was better at his current job, his potential for career growth over the long haul was greatly enhanced by taking the job at the community hospital. The issues that decreased quality of life at the community hospital were mainly related to workload, protected time, and flexibility of schedule – considerations that would likely have a negative impact on his family life. He also realized that a promotion of this magnitude would be very unlikely to materialize in his home institution. By having a tool that allowed him to visualize the relative impact of each factor, he was able to see that he’d likely be better off at the community hospital after the first year once he’d finished recruiting new physicians who could share the workload, a concept that was hard to grasp by just thinking things through without a structured framework.
You and Your Team Series
- Andy Molinsky
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Another client, whom I’ll call Martha, had always been in management and needed a change from her current position. She was looking at executive roles in other organizations as well as fundraising opportunities, but wasn’t getting jazzed about any of these options. I suggested she complete a similar decision grid comparing the options she was currently considering. The result surprised us both: looking at the completed grid, she could plainly see that each option scored very low. Martha felt dispirited, worried that no job that would truly satisfy her. When I asked her what kind of job would satisfy her most highly weighted factors such as taking advantage of her natural talents, providing opportunities to help people in the moment, and being active and on her feet, she finally uncorked the true desire that she’d kept buried for years beneath a pile of “shoulds.” In her heart of hearts, she’d always wanted to be a nurse. However, the few times she’d confided this desire with someone, they told her she’d have more success as an executive. But after completing this exercise, her true career passion was undeniable. Her heart was pulling her hard into nursing even though her head told her it would be costly to go back to school and difficult to let go of the prestige factor of her management career.
But once she put nursing on the table for consideration, we were able to address her concerns one by one. There was a way to marry her heart’s desire with her head’s abilities to have it all — eventually. There are numerous leadership roles available within the nursing field that will provide rich career opportunities down the road. While she pursues that long-term goal, she is enjoying her volunteer work in a nearby emergency department where she confirms each day that working in a hospital is the place for her. No prestigious management job or huge paycheck could give her more satisfaction than she receives from her patients’ grateful smiles when she provides comfort just when they need it most.
The intangible parts of a job — autonomy, collegiality, prestige, purpose — can make an even bigger impact on our overall well-being than the easy-to-count factors like salary, benefits, and vacation time. To avoid undercounting the “soft” factors, try translating them into hard numbers. The way they add up might surprise you.