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Conformance, Compliance and Quitting

Much like folks in the medical profession, who are often asked for their advice when they are outside of their normal workplace (hospital, Dr.’s office), when I am at social events and people find out I work in HR, I am often asked my ‘professional’ advice on matters as well. Typically it involves people looking for advice on things like their resume, how to get an interview for a job and what my opinion is on this “LinkedIn thing.” Every now and then though, I am asked about “deeper” matters – well, deep in my opinion!

StressedFor example, I was recently at a social event and ran into a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for a long time. After we caught up on the usually pleasantries (family, kids, etc.) talk turned to work. I asked him how he was doing at his current company, one that he had been at for some time now. (Ironically, I had given him some resume advice about 7 years ago when he applied for this job!). His response wasn’t the usual one that you hear – you know, “oh good, or the usual, etc.” What he said to me was, “well Scott, I’m not sure. I think I am doing ok, but I am not sure, how do you know when it is time to move on?”

When you really think about it, this is a critical question that I am sure many of your employees ask every day – whether to someone else or themselves. It really got me thinking and here is the thing – I believe that employees that are becoming or have become disengaged with jobs go through three stages of “evolution” during this decision-making process

The first stage is conformance. Quite often new hires join companies and they are full of energy, ideas and a desire to learn and affect positive change at their new place of employment. Over time, when the employee value proposition isn’t upheld, that is, the company leadership fails to provide a work environment that engages the employee, they start to go through the conformance stage. The employee starts to conform to the workplace leadership style and culture so as to fit in. In essence, they are giving up a piece of their own identity so as not to be branded as “high maintenance” or as a troublemaker. They want to try and “get along” but as they conform they realize that the reasons why they are doing this are due to their own disengagement with their job/company.

Over time, giving up their identity because they are always conforming leads to organizational compliance. Employees that have reached this stage have begun to lose their will to exert their own independence and mark on the organization. This is more serious than compliance because at this stage it isn’t just about getting along and fitting in. It is about following ‘orders’, not questioning things, not standing up for what you believe in so as to not rock the boat. Employees at this stage are mostly concerned about getting through the day without conflict or getting sucked into some other project that they don’t want to be a part of. This stage is a dangerous one because now if an employee is at this stage they are at the fork in the road where they choose to either:

A) Resign themselves to the fact (or their fate) that they can’t find another position elsewhere, or that their situation at work won’t change but they simply would rather stay in their comfort zone rather than move on to another company; however, while doing this, they remain miserable and disengaged at work. That isn’t to say that they outwardly show this, but they are not being true to themselves and/or feel trapped by circumstance and are unwilling to take control of their career at this stage. Or:

B) Make the decision to move on – they decide that going through the motions and being compliant and conformant are unacceptable. These folks feel they are selling themselves short by just going through the motions. They want to be true to themselves so they make the decision to move on to another position. They want to keep their professional identify intact as they have more to offer.

At the end of the day, if you are in this situation you need to decide where you are at in the stages and what you want to do about it. Do you choose the path of conformance and compliance? Or do you make the decision to take control of your career and move on if the value proposition has changed for you at your current company? Sometimes you just need to move on and a change can be good!

For the record, my friend came to the realization that he in fact was conforming and becoming compliant and didn’t want to spend the rest of his career this way. He as decided to take control of his situation and eventually move on. He already feels better now that he understands where he is at, how he got there and what he needs to do to improve things. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses

  1. Love your vision Scott, so glad to have access your insight. You have a great way at putting reality into words. Look forward to your future posts.

    • Sue – thanks very much for the kind words – I really appreciate that! Glad you enjoy the blog posts!

      PS – I may have to “brand” that statement from you…”putting reality into words” I really like how you put that!

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