Transitioning to Self-Employment?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about starting something new: I don’t want to work in a traditional setting or for a boss or in an office dealing with people and politics and pettiness.

You guys were so helpful years back, with stellar advice, I thought I’d circle back for more help. I’ve had excellent, good, so-so and nightmare jobs. In all cases, my bosses said I was a hard worker. My performance reviews were always excellent. I make friends at my workplaces and joke a little in meetings, though I get down to work during the core hours and rarely engage in idle chitchat. I know about people’s personal lives and their frustrations, and I try to be a help and encourager. I don’t gossip, because I know that’s hurtful and others quickly lose respect for a gossiper, though they might not say it. I try to anticipate what my boss wants and then I go above and beyond to perfect the project and make it creative and fun.

For the most part, I really enjoy my work. I can even take grunt work and find something I like about it (I might tell myself that I’m sparing someone else from having to do it, turning the work into something more noble to psych myself into doing it well). But deep down I don’t want to work in a traditional setting or for a boss or in an office dealing with people and politics and pettiness. Sounds like I’m hitting the doldrums, or am in a rut? I think it has more to do with my age. I’m impatient to stretch my wings and accomplish things far beyond what my employers’ envision. I’m happy to share my ideas, labor on them, even give away credit or turn over the reins, but I find myself in a group of people who just are not motivated to try anything new.

I’m willing to put in all the work, to help with any ideas they might have, happy to, uncompensated, I don’t care, but all this creative energy is un-reciprocated. Deep down I feel like I could accomplish so much more on my own, and maybe someday I can gather a team of people, who share common interests and passions, with folks interested in giving it their all.I curb my creative frustrations by working on side projects in my personal time. But I’m still frustrated at work, though I try not to let on.

And I’m starting to harbor a real resentment toward coworkers who want to goof off and take 2-3 hour lunches and let work languish for days and even weeks. Really, it’s none of my business, but I can’t help but feel, especially in this economy, that there are so many people who would do much more if they were in their positions. People would be over the moon to have those jobs with those opportunities.

What’s more is my lazy coworkers will try to lessen their workloads by dodging problems and curtailing projects that they know they should be doing. And though no one in the world would ever find out, it really steams me that they’re shirking the hard parts of their jobs. I love to solve problems, and when I (carefully) suggest ways to solve them, I still can’t get buy-in and they throw up barriers to making a so-so product great or excellent. And I’m left even more resentful.

Considering I have no debt and am in a good financial position, and I’ve been working on plans for shaking up my career for sometime, would it be utterly stupid in this economy for me to step out and away from this job? It’s hard to transition from being dependent on someone else for a paycheck to making it happen for myself. I think my biggest “fear” is the guilt I’ll feel over “throwing away” a sure bet job for the unknown (though I don’t feel like it’s an unknown). Maybe I’m just struggling with perceptions. Thoughts? Insight? Do I just have a bad attitude?

Signed, Stay Put or Risk Something Unknown

Dear Stay Put or Risk Something Unknown:

You are frustrated with trying to get beyond mediocrity, and that’s good. I’m sure your frustration isn’t a sign of a bad attitude. Asking if you should you throw away a sure bet for the unknown indicates to me that you are far from ready to quit your job in spite of having to work with those who won’t buy in to ideas about how to improve product quality. So if you don’t want to go to Las Vegas to risk the unknown, (neither do I), what might you do to spark your career?

I’m presenting several possibilities in hopes that they might get your creative juices flowing:

1. Think lean. One of the most value-added approaches that has taken hold the past few years is an organization-wide effort for lean management. I don’t mean downsizing. Rather lean management engages natural work groups and their managers in finding ways to cut wasted supplies, energy, time, and money. When I investigated Union Carbide several years ago, it was interesting to see counter-intuitively that waste carbon is its core product. Moreover, its quality improvement strategy was cutting waste in every way possible. Has your current employer made lean management its theme? Our Akron Children’s Hospital has an eight member Operations Excellence Center that works with the various operations of its 4,000 employees under the lean management banner. They find ways around the constraints that prevent improving quality. Although the name of such an effort might vary, a number of companies are so engaged. If your workplace is not informed about what can happened with such a theme, you might research it, possibly by on-site interviews of companies that are excited about this approach. Then, take what you have learned with a proposal to the appropriate level rather than suffer another failure to get buy-in and thrown up barriers by coworkers. I predict if you present such a proposal to the shapers of your organization, they will find ways to pilot it.

2. Hammer out a business proposal of your own. Before leaving a sure job, wouldn’t it make sense to do the hard work required to transform a dream of self-employment into specifics of product/service, plant and location, capital, overhead, etc.? Also consider what kind of job you might develop on the side while in your sure-bet job. Possibly do exploratory visits of others in your community who have started their own businesses.

3. Write your retirement speech. In that say what contribution you have made to your little circle of the world. At present that would be fiction, but it might start you reading about the many ways concerned and adventurous individuals have made their “mark” for good.

Hopefully these three thoughts will shift from playing and replaying negative rumblings that prompted your query to the positive. Hopefully they will motivate you to find ways to work together with hands, head, and heart doing what it takes to make big WEGOS in wherever and whenever possible.

Follow Up: Your advice was precisely what I needed. Perfect! I’ll research lean management, learn all I can, and draft a proposal. Very intriguing. Your other suggestions are excellent as well. I need a real business plan … I’ve got copious notes, but no hard numbers. That part overwhelms me a little and I’m not sure where to start (I just have a BA, not an MBA, so I feel a little out of my depth). So I’ve got plenty to research and work on, which is exciting! Thanks again. How did you guys get to be so smart? ­čÖé

William Gorden