Lately, I’ve been speaking with a lot of young and successful insurance pros who complain about the same frustration. Generally, they have been at the same company for a while and have grown into middle-level independent contributor roles and have been in their current role between two and four years. They’ve already followed my usual entry-level prescriptions and they’ve successful grown to more interesting and better-paid roles. They’re doing well in their position and want to grow to the next level, whether that’s a manager-type role or a more senior-level independent-contributor role. But when they meet with their leadership and ask what else they should be doing to remain on the growth path they get the same dreaded answer time after time: “Keep doing what you’re doing. Wait and be patient”.
Previous generations were playing a different game where lifetime employment was pretty much guaranteed and putting in your time was simply a necessary part of the process. The company would take care of you and manage your career. But Millennials and the younger half of the Gen Xers are playing a different game. Lifetime employment is dead and managing your own career is up to you. The taboo on changing jobs has largely evaporated in the face of a 1% unemployment and a brutal war for insurance talent, combined with the easy visibility provided by LinkedIn. It means they’re getting weekly calls for opportunities at other companies at a 20-40% raise!
This is a delicate situation. If you play your cards wrong you could end up in a worse situation by leaving a company where you had a lot of political capital or you end up staying in a place where you’re no longer growing.
Here’s our framework to think through this situation:
1. Are you still learning and growing?
Other than the ability to pay the bills, the most important thing you gain from any role in the first half of your career is continued learning. If you’re still learning on the job after you’ve been there for a couple of years, it might be worth sticking around. After all, you’re becoming more valuable for future roles. If you’re no longer learning, then you’re going to grow bored and disengaged, and worst of all your skills are stagnating and so is your value in the talent market.
2. Are you getting paid fairly compared to your value in the talent market?
During a talent war, it’s almost inevitable that those staying in the same employer (and especially in the same position) for longer than a couple of years will see their income grow slower than those who move around every couple of years and negotiating well on each job change. Take some time to research the market by using sites such as Glassdoor, Salary.com and Paycheck.com. Also, keep yourself fresh by doing a little applying and interviewing for roles and get a real feel for what kind of pay ranges they’re offering. It’s important to understand that whenever you change companies part of the reason the new company is willing to pay you a higher salary is that you will go through the pain of losing the political capital you have built at your previous employer. You’d have to learn a whole new corporate culture and you would have to rebuild a new internal network in order to be productive and get things done. Those things take a lot of work and warrant a higher salary.
3. Do you have a good manager?
People quit managers, not companies. If you have a great manager right now, that you really jive with and who is investing in your growth, be VERY careful about giving that up because it’s very hard to know up front what kind of manager you’ll end up with at the company or department. On the other hand if you have a really crappy manager that is enough to warrant a move, even if most other things about your current role are good.
4. Do you have a credible growth path?
Are your manager and the rest of your leadership making it clear what your potential career paths might look like in the future after the “wait and be patient” phase? Are they giving you a clear path and clear advice on the things you need to achieve to pursue those options, along with an acceptable timeline? If yes, that’s a strong reason you should be patient. If you don’t believe them or if they’re not giving you clear answers to your questions about where you can go next internally then you might want to consider moving on.
5. Do you have good internal mentors?
You should have both internal and external mentors. If you have a great relationship with your internal mentor(s) and you are convinced that they’re invested in your growth that is very valuable and it will be difficult to build strong mentoring relationships in another company.
6. Do you have an executive sponsor?
An executive sponsor is different from a mentor. If you have someone high up in the company committed to finding you opportunities and backing you up when you are considered for a stretch assignment, that is a huge plus. If you don’t have an executive sponsor that might not be a big negative – it’s more of a neutral.
7. Are you trying to get your first people leader/manager role?
Making the move from being an individual contributor to a people leader/manager is a special-case scenario because most companies are uncomfortable moving someone from an individual contributor role in one company directly into a manager role in another. This point probably deserves its own article, but for now I’ll summarize it this way: if your number one goal is for your next move to be to a management role, you need to carefully assess whether you are seen as your company as on the path to become a manager or whether there’s something in your way. If you’re fairly sure the company sees you as management potential, then you probably don’t want to change companies right now, you’re much better off concentrating on getting that first manager role and doing that for at least a year before moving to another company. That is likely to be much easier than convincing another company to make you manager right away when you’ve never lead a team…
Once you have answered each of the 7 questions in the framework you’re in a much better place to make a decision on whether to stick it out or make a move.
We built a companion quiz to this article that walks you through the questions above. It’s available here.