November 29, 2012

Job Lifespan Theory

Everyone knows that human beings are born, grow up, age and pass away.  It’s a natural cycle.  Some cycles are longer, some are shorter, but in the end they’re all the same.  No one gets out alive.

Jobs are the same way.

When a person gets a new job everything is new.  Like a baby, he’s learning and growing every day.  After some time he masters the job.  Eventually he learns everything.  It’s no longer a challenge.  He feels tired, becomes bored, then quits.

It’s a natural cycle.  Some cycles are longer, some are shorter, but in the end they’re all the same.  No one works at a company forever.

I call this the “Job Lifespan Theory (JLT).”  Good leaders understand the JLT and make it work for them.

Every job has a natural “lifespan.”  The lifespan is the amount of time it takes for an ambitious person to learn the job, do the job and then become bored with the job.  For entry-level jobs like a receptionist it can be just six months to a year.  For complex jobs like a director of marketing it will be several years at least.

When new people join I tell them how long I think their job title lifespan is.  For example, I’d tell a new Sales Executive at my old company that the lifespan for her job was between one and a half to two years.  We’ll train her like crazy, and by the end of two years she’ll have learned everything she can and become very good at the job.

At that point I’d expect her to move up to the next job title at the company, Sales Associate, with more responsibility and higher targets.  If we don’t have any open Sales Associate positions when she reached the end of the job lifespan I’d help her next step up at another company.

Ambitious people LOVE this message!

What lifespan stage are each of your people in right now?

The only people who don’t like this message are the unambitious ones.  They are more interested in being comfortable than in learning and growing. I call them “comfort-seekers.”  Comfort-seekers are like dead plants choking off growth in a garden.  Not only do they limit the team’s performance, but they block your junior stars from growing into higher positions.

You have NO room for comfort-seekers if you want your organization to do great things.  (You do want to be great, don’t you?)  It’s a lot easier to manage out comfort-seekers who stay past their lifespan’s end when they know they’re living on borrowed time.

Lifespans can change.  You can stretch the job lifespan by changing and/or adding job responsibilities.  A longer lifespan will help you to hang on to the ambitious go-getters in your team.

What are the lifespans of different jobs in your organization?  What lifespan stage are each of your people in right now?

Leave your questions in the comment section below!  I’ll answer each one.

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PS – Here’s an animated gif I found searching for pics for this post.  It’s pretty awesome.

  • Nampeung

    Good topic and well written, Chris!

  • Always like your style. It’s like listening to a senior friend sharing his stories. Thanks Chris.

  • I am wondering that there are some jobs people maybe reach the highest level.

    For instance, we are building Magento themes. The final step of making one is CSS. The one who is in charge of it is very skillful and has nothing to learn more. Could you please give me 1 tip to challenge her, Christ?

    Anyway, a very good topic. I think it is also a good way to answer 1 of the most popular interview question: Why did you quit your last job?

    • HI Nang,

      She may have no more to learn about Magento or CSS but there must be more you need done that she can help with.

      Think about how you can make her job bigger or give her more responsibility. Ambitious people always need to move forward.