Career Talk: You might want to consider going small

In today’s super-sized, “grande latte” world, it’s important to remember that just because something is bigger, doesn’t mean that it’s the right fit for you. And that might just be the case when it comes to looking for the next stop in your career path as well, according to a number of executives in smaller federal organizations, in a recent conversation with APEX.

France Labine, APEX Ambassador from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada recently reached out to APEX with a question: “How can I leverage the advantages of my smaller organization that we can offer to talented executives looking for a change?”

That’s an interesting question, particularly when you consider that 70% of new executives were appointed through an internal process in their home department (APEX 2019 survey of new executives) and 68% of executives who responded to the 2019 PSES are considering a change of career in the next couple of years. With people looking to change jobs, but staying within their home departments, are smaller organizations being overlooked despite some of their advantages? And what are those advantages?

Culture is key

One crucial difference might be culture.

As the Public Service adjusts to the realities of home/work fusion and virtual work, there is a growing buzz from people who are taking new factors into account when thinking about career mobility.  In turn, this means they end up thinking differently in terms of their own actions and in terms of the opportunities they might explore – because, let us face it, many of us are considering options from a new vantage point. And then there is the work that we do and the how we do it: inclusion, empathy, and a healthy, respectful workplace. A healthy workplace culture is more likely to lead to job satisfaction.

The satisfaction is evident in the PSES numbers: PSES 2019 indicated that executives who are looking for a change within the next two years are split between staying within their organization (36%) and leaving for another (37%).

However, if the option is a lateral move, 74% would prefer to stay within their own organization. This number jumps to 86% in micro-organizations. Those who felt they had a positive work-life balance in smaller federal institutions ranges from the federal average of 75% to a whopping 95% in Western Economic Diversification Canada. The positive picture continues in measures of job satisfaction, meaningful recognition, clarity of work objectives and feeling valued at work.

Personalized support and development

So, what are smaller organizations doing to attract and retain executive leaders? The short answer is plenty. Then after that, it gets complicated as mandates and operational realities vary but there is a common desire to be more flexible and agile, better able to respond to the emerging needs of organization and executives.

Most organizations, even the smallest, have development programs and/or approaches for the newest executive and often it includes pairing with executives who are considering the last five years of their career.

While formal training is entrenched into performance management processes, representatives from the smaller organizations were quick, and excited, to highlight the more direct, personalized supports. Most organizations use self- and 360° assessments to start the development conversations. Across the board there is a growing interest in a closer look at executive onboarding. Onboarding is seen as a key opportunity for executives and organizations alike to engage on the topic of development for the benefit of all parties.

Danielle Dubé, APEX Ambassador from Finance Canada, spoke to the benefits of combining formal and informal networking activities even recognizing participants’ time is limited through a recent review they just completed.

Representatives also focused on the transition of experienced executives, which they admitted could be particularly challenging in smaller organizations with fewer executive positions. EX-02 positions, for example, are particularly rare.

William (Bill) Bedford of the Officer of the Comptroller General referred to EX-02 positions as “unicorn positions” – essentially mythical. Bill shared his personal experiences of lateral moves as an opportunity to develop different skills and become a catalyst for change within the community.

Take charge of your own career

As much as organizations may control the positions, there is much power in the hands of the individual. Executives are encouraged to take a closer look at the tools at their disposal and consider what would have the biggest impact on their job satisfaction. CBSA APEX member France Guèvremont has shared a tool designed for executives to capture the list of activities within an individual’s control.

APEX will launch its new Executive Work and Health Survey this May, which will shed more light on the current environment for executives on issues like work hours and culture. Executives may also be interested in a recent Harvard Business Journal (October 2020) report, indicating that executives are working 20% more hours and collaboration is up 40%. Executives are looking for opportunities where they can focus on productivity and get out from unhealthy working environments where they may be micromanaged. A search for autonomy and increasing breadth of knowledge are other top factors for consideration. Organizations and individuals alike seek leaders who are or can learn to be skilled at leading from a distance.

In any case, when you are considering your options, do not hesitate to ask questions about development opportunities and the ability to connect through buddy arrangements with seasoned leaders. You should also check out some of the resources that APEX has online, like tips for taking control of your own talent management, fact sheets to help you consider your options on key options such as Interchanges, and the best practice tip sheet shared by CBSA.

If you are reflecting on making a change, consider the insights of François Ducharme, Managing Partner, Cognita Talent Inc., who spoke to APEX on Thriving Organizations and Self-disruptive Leaders. He encourages executives to consider an agile “just-in-time” coaching approach. Access in real time to wisdom can help change behaviours and guide personalized development that is more about the value of breadth and width of experience. As part of your self-reflection, examine your style of leadership with the reality of distance teams.

And finally, if you’re one of the 68% considering a career change, don’t overlook the smaller organizations in planning your next career stop. You might find that a smaller size is actually the best fit.