(E+R→O) or How to Identify the Root Cause of Career Dissatisfaction and What to Do About it

dissatisfaction to satisfaction

I meet so many people who are unhappy with their jobs but aren’t sure what to do about it.

Think about that for a minute. People enduring unhappiness without any understanding of the root cause of their dissatisfaction. They just keep on dreading going into work each day knowing that they’ll feel exhausted and frustrated about it when the day is done.

People like Joe.

I was a bit surprised when Joe reached out to me and asked to talk about his general dissatisfaction with his job and employer. Joe had only been in his job with a supply chain organization for about a year, having been hired right out of college. He already had a good reputation in his industry and seemed to have a promising future with, Joe hoped, quick advancement.

However, the reality of his current situation was a bit different. At his first annual performance review, he got a mixed response. Joe was told that he was meeting expectations in some areas, but missing many more, and not demonstrating top leadership behavior. He was told he was not currently at the top of the promotion list. In fact, he was not considered a high potential.

“I’m not sure I fit with this company,” Joe told me at one of our first meetings. “I don’t think they recognize what I bring to the table. I thought the people at this company were ‘best in class’ but in meetings, I’m amazed at how much they resist ideas that could make us more successful.”

As we talked further, I asked Joe to identify some specific situations where things were not going well. He quickly shared a couple of examples where his boss told him he was not meeting expectations on a deliverable. Joe blamed his boss for not clearly defining his expectations in the first place. He agreed, however, that these situations probably lowered his overall performance rating.

I asked Joe what the outcome was in each situation. He admitted that every time, it degenerated into an ugly confrontation where his boss walked away feeling that Joe was not delivering.

Then we got to the most important question of all. I asked him if his response—arguing and confrontation—had gotten him the outcome he wanted. Not surprisingly, the answer was, “No.” So, I turned the equation around. I asked Joe “If what you are doing is not getting you what you want, what could you do differently to produce a better outcome?”

“Well, even though I shouldn’t have to, I guess I could ask him for more clarity in what he wants when he assigns me a project.” We also talked about adopting a calmer approach the next time his boss asked for a deliverable, and ensuring that Joe was completely clear on expectations.

I met with Joe a couple of weeks later. His boss had given him a new project with a short turn-around time. To make sure he and his boss were on the same page, Joe simply asked for a clarification of exactly what was needed and when, and then repeated his understanding to ensure they were on the same page. When Joe completed the project, his boss complimented him not only on the quality of his work, but said he really appreciated Joe asking for clarity.

The relationship became stronger and over a six-month period, Joe had pulled himself out of the ‘not meeting expectations’ category and according to his boss was on his way to the high potential list.

It may seem like magic, but in reality this is just an example of how important it is to identify the root causes of career dissatisfaction and take immediate steps to address them. To simplify the moral of this story, let’s think of it as an algorithm:

E + R → O

The E stands for ‘events that happen.’ Let’s face it, stuff happens all the time in our lives: the furnace breaks down; you get a flat tire; someone at work or home does something that really bugs you. These are the day-to-day events that make our lives busy and complicated.

The R in the algorithm is ‘your response’ to that event. Stuff happens, but how do you respond? You may get angry, you may kick your car tire or that faulty furnace, or you may yell at another person who is frustrating you, sharing your expansive vocabulary for everyone in the room.

The O in the algorithm is the ‘ultimate outcome.’ In other words, when an Event happens, how you Respond is what ultimately drives the Outcome.

Put another way, it is important to remember that the only piece of this equation that you control is your response, and that response dictates the outcome.

This is as constant to career management and satisfaction as the laws of physics are to the physical world around us. True to form, the people who have learned about E+R→O tell me years later that it still helps them navigate problems and produce successful outcomes.

The E+R→O model is a powerful but simple truth: to resolve many of the issues you have with other people, you need to stop focusing what they are doing and start looking at how you might change the way you are responding to produce a better outcome.

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