27 September 2023

Performance play: How to restart a stalled career

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Many careers hit a plateau after a bright beginning, and if stuck there too long may decline, but May Busch* has some advice for avoiding the worrying phenomenon.

Are you worried that your performance may be tailing off?

When you first get hired, your managers see some spark in you.

With proper mentoring and investment, you start to grow and improve.

Then, at some point you hit your stride and the danger begins.

If you keep doing the same things in the same way you’ve always done them, you can become less effective over time.

Maybe others come along and innovate, or requirements change, or the support system around you has changed.

Whatever the reason, it can be alarming when your results aren’t what you’d like them to be.

The question is, what can you do?

Be open to the truth:

Start by taking a hard look at whether your performance has indeed stagnated or begun to slip.

You have to keep in mind that the bar keeps getting higher each year.

So, staying steady can mean falling behind relative to rising expectations.

Whether your performance is slipping on an absolute or relative basis, it’s time to face the truth.

Only then can you take proper action to remedy it.

Change your swing:

While it’s easy to conclude that you need to make a change, it’s not always obvious what kind of change you need to make.

It’s even harder when you suspect the change needs to be something fundamental.

Whether that’s learning new skills, taking on more challenging assignments or something that feels equally risky, these are decisions that you don’t want to take lightly.

Here’s where observing the people who are successful can help.

What do they do or have in common? Which of those things are you doing too?

Armed with this knowledge, you can make a conscious choice on what actions to take.

Whatever field you’re in, it feels less risky to “change your swing” when you know what you’re changing it to.

Stepping back from the day-to-day grind is essential to gaining perspective on what’s really happening.

Go to the experts:

Once you’ve identified what you need to do, don’t feel like you need to do it on your own.

Instead, find people with the expertise and experience in the area you want to develop.

Get their help, even if you have to pay for it yourself.

When you learn from experts, you gain the benefit of their learning curve and it shortens the amount of time, effort and anxiety for you.

Demonstrate you’ve changed:

Just because you know you’ve changed doesn’t mean that others will see it.

Most people are too busy with their own concerns to notice a change in you unless someone brings it to their attention.

Even then, they may not believe it at first.

Look for a variety of ways to show the new way you do things.

For example, telling your manager what you’ve done, inviting someone senior to see you in action, or having a credible third party vouch for your progress.

It’s the equivalent of having all arrows point to a conclusion, which makes it harder to miss.

Use rejection as fuel for improvement:

Sometimes, your manager or clients won’t give you a fair chance to demonstrate how you’ve changed.

After all, most people don’t make a significant change in the way they operate or perform once they’re past the initial stages of their careers.

If your performance has been going sideways for a while, they may find it hard to believe the ‘new you’ is going to last.

If you don’t get the audience or respect you deserve at first, don’t let it stop you. Keep going.

In the meantime, remember that it’s up to you to own your performance.

From monitoring how you’re doing to making investments in your capabilities and demonstrating that you’ve improved, you are always a work in progress.

Human potential is vast and growing, so don’t short-change yourself by thinking you’re done.

*May Busch helps leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential and build businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on May’s blogsite

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