Book offers advice to all in seek of change


Nearly half the people reading this sentence don’t want to be doing the job they get out of bed for on a Monday morning.

They don’t like their work environment, their boss, their working hours, the commute — the list is a long one. But the answer is relatively simple.

According to Marti Smye, all any of us need to do is run away and join the circus.

“There was a survey about three years ago that said 49 percent of people are actually dreaming about doing something different with their lives,” said Smye, president of the coaching and development services division of recruitment experts Korn/Ferry International, in a recent interview in Tokyo with The Japan Times. “That means if you’ve got 10,000 people working for you, 4,900 of them are thinking about being somewhere else.”

So if a corporation considers its personnel, and their leadership skills, to be critical to what it does, then that corporation cannot afford not to pay attention to making sure the staff are happy in their jobs, said Smye, whose book “Is it too late to run away and join the circus” has been updated and recently re-released.

If a company can harness the skills, energy and abilities of its staff, and then develop those assets further, the personnel are far more likely to stay put — saving a small fortune in intellectual capital that does not have to be replaced, she pointed out — and making the staff more focused and excited about what they’re doing.

That can only be good news for the corporation. The book, however, focuses more on helping individuals discover what they really want to do with their lives. And the events of Sept. 11 last year made a lot of people re-evaluate their lives, said Smye.

“I think we’re in a talent crisis situation at the moment,” she said. “It may not seem that way, but when things change in reverse, we’re going to have a hard time not leaking our most important talent. And I think an event like Sept. 11 makes us reassess, it makes us ask ‘All I do is work — is that enough?’

“People start re-evaluating and some of our values are changing,” she said.

The book, which took about a year to write, was in direct response to CEOs approaching Smye after the publication of her first book, which focused on change management.

“A lot of business leaders were coming to me and saying how they wanted to get out,” she said. “They want to different kind of culture and they want an environment that encourages them to be successful.”

That sort of satisfaction might be achieved by simply moving from, say, the marketing department of a major corporation to the finance department, although some of Smye’s examples are more radical — like the biology professor from Canada who set up a rafting company on the Amazon.

“You have to do what you love,” she emphasizes. “The conclusion to the book is that finding the right place for you changes over time, so what I’m doing this year isn’t necessarily what I want to be doing in five years.

“And you always have to have a ‘Plan B,’ looking at what you’re doing and how you want to be developing,” she said.

What stops a person from leaving a company and taking a chance by striking out on their own in an unexpected career direction, she said, is often fear.

“A lot of people don’t make the move because they’re afraid. They’re afraid they won’t be successful and they keep doing what they’re doing because it’s familiar,” she said. “Then they get tired and they’re just waiting for retirement.

“Sometimes the change can be something as simple as a shift in the way you use your skills. We used to assume in the old days that people just wanted to go up in the hierarchy as that was what a career was about,” she said.

Different types of career paths appeal to different people, she said, taking as an example transitory people, who are easily bored and need the challenge of taking their skills and employing them in a completely different environment.

A lot of the lessons in “Circus” are applicable in other ways as well, she said. Many could be useful to corporations that could then build on their foundations from a talent point of view, while other conclusions are valuable in terms of personal growth and ensuring that our decisions regarding family and friends are the correct ones.

And it is not just the West that is facing a crisis in its workforce, she pointed out. Many Japanese people want to leave their old jobs behind and do something completely different. The difference is that there is a great deal of social pressure here to follow the “traditional” career path, from university to retirement.

However, people who are forced to re-evaluate their situation as a result of Japan’s ongoing economic crisis are in a position to drive that change in the mind-set, she said. In a recent survey, some 70 percent of new hires at Japanese companies said they did not expect to spend their entire working lives at the same firm.

So what do I need to do if I recognize that my working life is in a rut and I need a new challenge?

“I’d say get five people who know you very well, and five people that you’ve worked with and ask them when they think of you, what do they think of your best talent and where would they see you if you weren’t in your present position,” Smye said.

“People can’t believe the responses they get and it helps them to understand their skills better, it helps them to think outside the box of themselves,” she said.

“A lot of this book is about hope,” she added. “Having a ‘Plan B’ and looking at alternatives, even if they are within the same company. Any move helps you to be more successful as it gives you the skills for change.

“We have to prepare people for the changes they are going to make in their lives.”