Stick around – dont vegetate

In another 15 days I would have spent ten years in Aon Hewitt, a firm I absolutely love working in. As I think back on these ten years, nearly half my career, I see the fruits of sticking around for this long.

I joined as a mid-level manager and all the right things happened. I had a great manager, we were a small team that was just setting up shop, and it was a great brand. I learnt about the business and started making the connections. I got great advise as I started – my then colleague and now a dear friend Rama said to me – “settle in, understand the culture, get accepted and then make the changes you want”. Brilliant advise for anyone starting out in any organization. I spent a lot of time understanding our culture and everyday was new learning. The culture evolves and one must always remain alert and adapt to the changing culture. The organization was warm and welcoming and while we didnt have the sophisticated orientation program, my manager ensured I was on boarded well and on a plan. Critical for new employees – inducting and onboarding done right, is like laying a great foundation, so spend the time doing it well. Am almost maniacal about ensuring every new team member at any level goes through the orientation session. I love inducting new hires and have been closely associated with our Induction program and have always done atleast one orientation session every other month. It’s our responsibility to ensure the culture is sustained.

I have donned many hats in Aon Hewitt and that has been possible because I chose to stay around for as long as I have and was willing to try new things. The reason I titled this blog as “stick around – dont vegetate” is that many people end up doing the first part of sticking around, but don’t try new things, don’t take on new challenges and don’t learn new things but get into an entitlement mode – remember “tread doesn’t equal mileage”. I love this definition of experience that one of Krishnan’s ex-bosses gave “do you have twenty years of experience or one year repeated twenty times?” It is so apt. Think not just in terms of longevity but also in terms of gaining varied experience.

I have realised that it takes atleast a year for you to fully understand an organization and even then you may find something new, another year to make some changes, leave your impression on the work, and the next year to figure out if what you did was of any use. So less than three years clearly doesn’t work. In my case, I moved roles almost like clockwork every three years and that’s how the ten years have gone by very quickly. There was also so much to learn.

There are several advantages to staying on – the time wasted looking for jobs is time invested in doing something productive. The great network you build over the years, helps in so many ways – you can test ideas in a safe environment, you can get help to understand a new role, you can lean on expertise and you can make some great friends along the way. I have some great friendships that have continued even after some of them have left the organization and this network has kept me going when I felt low, needed advise or just wanted to share a laugh.

Staying on also helps you see careers evolve and its a special privilege to see people you have hired and coached reach great heights and grow into awesome professionals. It’s almost the pride that parents feel when they see their child up on stage. This opportunity to coach and develop people has been special and very fulfilling. The stories you collect along the way are the collective firm history and just as knowing history helps you not to repeat mistakes, knowledge of your firm’s history helps to avoid pitfalls and perpetuates the culture.

I have a deep abiding interest in corporate social responsibility and again the long innings helped me in establishing Aon Cares and developing the whole community involvement program within the firm… Not possible if you do a flash stint. Have run a three year transformational initiative called the “destiny” series and created a sub-culture that fit in well with the overall organization culture – the freedom to try that was invaluable and again it wouldn’t have been possible if one didnt stay long enough.

Last year I decided to go back to school, and it would have been impossible for me to take the one week, every five weeks off had it not been for my long tenure… The support from my manager, the team and just about everyone has been overwhelming. Am about to complete my MBA next month and its the best tenth work anniversary gift to myself, wrapped with my firm’s support.

The point is – you can’t speed date with organizations. Take the time before joining to figure out if you like the place, are people courteous, do they value your time, are they responsive and most importantly do you enjoy the interview process. When you meet your future manager, ask all the questions you want to ensure you really would like to work with this person. Enquire about this person from his/her ex-colleagues because he/she can make or mar your experience with the organization. Once you feel you fit in culturally and have a values alignment with your immediate manager – join the firm and work to make it the best place for you. Learn everything about the organization, share your knowledge and best practices, develop people, make friends, stand up for what is right, embrace change, work with passion and integrity …. Sounds like working on your marriage ? Yep, that’s just how it is. There will be in-laws, out-laws, in-group, out-group and the fights and politics and fun and games just like in a marriage. Try and make it all work, the returns are just as phenomenal.

It’s not all rosy and there have been dark days and darker nights, but my approach has been to try and find that tiny opening that brings light – yes I have had venting sessions, have cried and been grumpy, upset and angry, disagreed and been disagreeable, but when you stay long, you realise these things happen and are needed to keep the interest alive.

I haven’t spoken of money because in the long run – your earnings and capability curves meet, some have sine curves but eventually money follows capability and if you are still worried about money, then look at your expenses not your earnings. 🙂

Now that I wrote all this down and had an attack of nostalgia – I wonder why people keep jumping jobs? There is so much time wasted in finding new jobs new firms – find the new in the organization you are in and recreate your firm, it’s so much more fulfilling. Ofcourse if you just hate the place, waste no time in finding a place you like – divorce is better than a bad marriage, but decide its a bad marriage only after honestly trying to make it work !

Stick around …. Don’t vegetate :):):)

9 thoughts on “Stick around – dont vegetate”

  1. At the risk of sounding a big time pessimist… how do you do this :

    “Take the time before joining to figure out if you like the place, are people courteous, do they value your time, are they responsive and most importantly do you enjoy the interview process. When you meet your future manager, ask all the questions you want to ensure you really would like to work with this person. Enquire about this person from his/her ex-colleagues because he/she can make or mar your experience with the organization”

    Most of these answers in a lot of organizations are only “politically correct” and do not mean a thing once you are in the grind….

    • Prashant, you cannot do this for the first ten years of your career.. When you move into a middle management role, then you have better clarity on what you want in your boss, in the company etc. You also would have made some friends and developed some network. For someone starting out, the advise is to just start anywhere and spend the first 5 to 7 years in learning. Then figure out what you like to do and structure your career etc. Learning at every stage will be only through doing different things, not by doing an MBA right out of college.

      Hope this clarifies.

      Sent from my iPad

  2. There is so much wisdom in your words. I am thrilled I had the opportunity to work with you in our company’s Catalyst development program. You are an excellent leader and visionary.

  3. I agree, some things get better with age and time…….7.5 years in Amex and then close to completing 10 at Aon…..I absolutely love these 2 companies and would not want to change even a day of my life here irrespective the high and low moments…..:-)


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