Lingering Identities: Your past to your future

Pic courtesy: Link here

As I flipped up and down the emails on my phone, an email from one of my team members caught my attention. It was about resignation from one of the employees. My team member was seeking my audience to discuss possibility of retention for the associate.

Usually resignation emails in the sector of my work do not draw much attention. We get like 4-5 of them every month for the operation of our size. That’s become the nature of the business. Too many companies reaching out with all their might to attract talent from the market. Things seem to ease off temporarily, just to come back to their normal harsh self for decision makers.

However, this particular email had something odd in it. The associate cited a strange reason for for his decision to pursue opportunities outside.

‘Unwillingness to become a full stack engineer and would like to continue with his current expertise.’

This was a very strange reason and it took me by surprise.

We are in an era where people are moving jobs quite often and so while they think they are a specialist, the question really is, are they really a specialist? Also, what do we define as a specialist?

Are you a specialist if you are good at one technical skills but miss the important nuances the context in which software works?

Are you a specialist if you can solve a part of the problem but rely on others for help for areas that are needed to come to the whole solution?

Are you a specialist if you are super deep in one concept but cursory on others?

In the current ways of working and how intertwined we are in our day to day activities, a clear specialist to me is someone who can respond to a particular set of similar situation, repeatedly, with reasonable success. But is that what we require more or less or evenly?

The email got me thinking about my own journey so far. More so, the associate who wrote this is around the same experience level as mine in terms of number of years. So, I assume a certain level of firmness in thinking and knowledge of the market comes by now, if not before.

Over the last couple of decades, I have moved from role to role, industry to industry, company to company. I started with programming, then moved to pre sales for sometime, then to leading key programs for a large manufacturer, followed by a stint as entrepreneur and now with multiple flavours of a general management profile where I pretty much everything from oversee large product deliveries to cleanliness in the hallway.

I pondered more about how I have been able to move around with relative ease, but the separating associate is not ready to. Is it something to do with the comfort zones? That could explain some of those behaviours but is that really the reason.

On digging deeper, I found that the answer could be in the lingering identities that one possesses.

A lingering identity is a self identity that summarises what your core skills are and how are you viewed by the job markets (perhaps) and also internally. As per HBR, it comprises of your values, meanings and enactments.

Value is derived from your self-esteem about a role.

Meanings are associations and connotations of an identity.

Enactments combine how, what, and with whoms of work.

In the context of the separating associate, it was clear to me that he derived value not from where he worked but from what he wants to work on.

It was also clear that from meanings he felt that he was valued by his colleagues and superiors for a particular technical skill and not necessarily on how it’s applied to our context.

And as far as enactments go, the new hybrid model has thrown the doors open about revamped enactments for associates. I wonder if the separating associate really thought through about it.

Knowing the lingering identity may purposefully help the associate in finding the right fit for him irrespective of his choice for place to work. This maybe a never ending quest. The more you move, the more is the tail of the identity that lingers along.

I see it with some other associates as well who are bringing the market level offers to hard bargain for their positions in the company. Some alumni are also reaching out. This indicates that clearly from an enactment and meanings, the value derived in our context is better than the outside.

But is that a right assessment? We may never know.

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