• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

“There’s a lot worse out there.”

E – a long-standing friend – was wondering whether he had one more career move in him.

“Coming up to 20 years with the company, albeit under four different owners.

“A lot of change, and there’s more to come. I wonder if I should get out before the new owners make that decision for me?

“But while it isn’t perfect, there’s a lot worse out there.”

E’s comments sent me on a flashback, to my first full-time job after graduation. The company owner gave me an unexpected instruction which turned out to be invaluable.

We were having a sandwich in a local café a couple of weeks after I started. Even though it was a small company, the boss was already thinking big and wanted his staff to do the same.

The conversation turned to appraisals and personal growth:

“With every project you take on, I want you to grab 30 minutes with me at the end. Tell me what you’ve learned, what you could do better next time, and how we can package the capability as more value to new Clients.”

I nodded vigorously, realising that after gaining a business degree, my real education was starting now.

My boss continued:

“At the end of the year, we’ll review your overall performance. Don’t worry; I won’t fire you. If there are any problems, I’ll know that a long time before year end. And I’ll tell you what to improve.

“And if you’re serious about being here and helping us grow, you’ll step up. Won’t you?”

I blanched. He continued:

“This is a two-way street. Part of my job is to help you get better; part of your job is to help me and the business get better. Fair?”

I nodded.

“So this is what I want you to do: Go for a job interview every year, starting this year."

An interview in Year 1!

“Find the best opportunity you can, in a company with a fine reputation and the best benefits available to you. Get yourself in front of the most senior person you can. And present the best version of you.

“Afterwards, let me know as soon as possible: Why have you decided to stay; why have you decided to leave; what I have to do to keep you.”

At the time, I thought he was trying to get rid of me. But when I interviewed during that first year, I couldn’t get any better brand to give me any time.

When a door finally opened, the interview was awful. It confirmed my already good fortune. Stay.

It took four years before I found something worth moving for: Bigger, bolder, one of the major players in Central London.

I told my boss as soon as I’d accepted the offer. And apologised repeatedly.

“What are you sorry about? We’ve grown a lot in the four years, but not so big that I can compete with your offer now. Time for you to go.

“Anyway, you stayed two years longer than I expected. A good deal for both of us.”

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of my departure.

And in January we’re having lunch together.

Which will still be a good deal for both of us.

Coachaiku: 17-syllable reflections, in a 5-7-5 form, for personal and professional development.

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