After the end of each day of class at Developing History Leaders @ SHA and after we had returned from dinner many of us gathered with cold beers in hand for an informal round table discussion (inevitably this gathering became known as Beer Circle). While the day time training with highly regarded professionals was immeasurably valuable, the evening round table discussion with peers had its own incalculable importance.
One evening we entered into a heated debate that soon had all of our wheels turning.
The discussion centered on these burning questions:
- How long is too long at one job?
- If you stay in one place for too long are you stunting your potential career growth?
- Do people look at you as some sort of failure, with an inability to move and progress, if you stay with the same organization or office for too long? (and what is too long?)
That discussion and those questions continue to intrigue me. I’m not sure that there are right answers. However, as a person who is still facing down 20-30 years of work and who wants to be as personally successful as I can be while also making significant improvements at any organization for which I work, you can bet that these questions continue to bubble somewhere close to the surface of my mind.
A recent article on LinkedIn questioned whether Mary Barra, who has been at GM for 33 years, could truly make innovative and daring leadership moves given her longevity with the corporation. The article argued that after 33 years, Barra certainly has become enamored to aspects of the corporation that she likely may not consider altering—and, that inability or unwillingness to make those changes is damaging to GM.
Unlike the questions we raised around Beer Circle which mostly swirled around the health of our careers, the questions regarding Mary Barra and GM swirl around the health of the organization. And, regardless of the perceived success of an employee, they leave me wondering:
- Do organizations hamper their organizational effectiveness by encouraging employees to stick around too long? (again, what is too long?)
- Should organizations continue to give longevity awards? (effectively encouraging the idea that staying around as long as possible is the best case scenario for employee and organization)
- Should leaders encourage good employees to leave their organizations in an effort to maintain fresh thinking within the organization?
- Is the institutional knowledge of the old timers a good thing? Or a bad thing?
- Is a change in position or office within the same organization enough?
While working diligently for our organizations, are we simultaneously doing those organizations a disservice by sticking around too long? What is the value of longevity and company loyalty?
To read the LinkedIn article, click here and share your thoughts in the comments below.
Mark Sundlov (SHA ’11), Ohio History Connection