• Date April 11, 2019
  • Author Eric Vandersluis

Image result for left out

Remember that time in college when all the cool kids were getting together for a party and you weren’t invited? I do. It was never fun, I had a suspicion the party was happening, but I wasn’t actually sure it was taking place. It left me feeling isolated, left out, and yet ironically, I kept imagining I was the talk of the party. I was in school at the beginning of the mobile revolution. Social media wasn’t yet a thing, and FOMO- the fear of missing out- didn’t quite exist yet in our language, but the feeling of being left out was painful. Today, we know research shows that social isolation and rejection by others wounds us deeply and increases stress hormones and other physical ailments (increased blood pressure, heart rate, etc.).

As humans, we’re a social species, we rely on others to help us- personally and professionally. We are wired for social interaction and groups. And yet, despite all of the science, we still engage in practices at work that deliberately isolate individuals. It happens in organizations world-wide, and for many, it’s considered business critical. But what if we have it all wrong?

Imagine the following scenario: Tomorrow I am going to have a conversation that will determine your professional future and I’m inviting others along- so called ‘power-brokers’ (the cool kids). I assume you would want a say in what’s being discussed, being that it’s your future on the line. Perhaps you have been waiting for such a meeting and are even prepared to share insights about what you’re hoping for and ready to tell your story. Maybe you’re a little nervous- butterflies in your stomach- or maybe you’re excited about the opportunity to talk about your hopes and aspirations.

But here’s the catch…you’re not invited. And let’s take it one step further, I’m not even going to actually tell you it’s happening. But don’t worry, I’ll talk about you and if you’re lucky, I like you enough to talk positively about you, help you out, even advocate for you. Maybe I go in as your champion. Maybe I don’t. And the power brokers in the room? I may know what they think about you, I may have heard some things in passing about how you show up, what they think you’re capable of and what they think you’re interested in.

Maybe I spent some time fact finding in advance, maybe I even asked you what you wanted, but you know, I’m busy. Work is stressful. It’s the end of the quarter, we have targets to hit. The boss has been on me about our numbers. I’m dialed in. Focused on meeting that quarterly number. You…at this moment, if you’re helping me, I’m appreciative, but if you dropped the ball in the last week, your name is like lead in water…sunk. But HR keeps telling me I need to come to this meeting, I need to talk about my people. Fill everyone in on what I’m thinking, and hope they have the same opinion. I don’t need anymore conflict at this point. Let’s make this easy. Check the box move on.

Somehow this plays out in organizations all across the world. We get behind closed doors and we talk about you, your future, and your career. We do it intentionally without you there, if you’re lucky, you’re there in spirit, with good intentions. And maybe we even fight for you. Advocate for you to take on something broader, more complex. You’ve got runway, headspace even. We call that high potential. Maybe you’re ready now, or in 1-2 years, or maybe it’s 3-5 years out. There’s a chance it’s less about time and more about moves. Maybe you need another move, or maybe your good right where you are…for life. Why rock the boat?

The group consensus- they like you. But we can’t move you right now. The next job is too big, or your too important to your current team. We need to keep you engaged, so we’re going to send you to a program. That should work. At least in the interim. You may be ambitious, but your ambition has to wait. It’s not time yet. No one is willing to take a risk on you. If only your voice was in the room. If only you can talk about and agree to the risks. Maybe that bigger, broader, more complex role is just what you need to stay motivated. Maybe you are willing to take the risk and who knows, with the right support in place, maybe you’ll be successful.

But in the end, there’s only so much they are willing and able to do. So, it’s been decided- you’ll stay put. But good luck next time.

It’s time to reinvent how we treat one another in organizations. We need to think and ACT differently. If we want to create psychologically safe organizations and engaging cultures, where people thrive and bring their best selves to work, maybe we should actually consider inviting people to the party.