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Push Pull Glue: A Framework for Navigating Transitions - Dr. Stephen R. Graves
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May 25, 2020

Push Pull Glue: A Framework for Navigating Transitions

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I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked the question, “So, do you think I should take it?” At least once a week, I have a conversation with someone who is considering a transition. I love these conversations because they’re real and they have long-lasting impact on an individual’s life. They get at what a person values, and I love that kind of stuff.

I looked at a recent week on my calendar and saw conversations with: 1) someone who had a good job but had been invited by some friends to join an exciting new venture; 2) someone who was sensing shifting winds in his company and thought he might be overlooked in the next season of growth; 3) someone who was trying to figure out the timing of retirement.

This sounds like one of those classic HBR case stories. And yes, there’s one of those on job transitions.

More and more, when I get these questions, I respond using a phrase I’ve picked up from my good friend Brad. It’s a framework for making big career decisions, and like all good frameworks, it’s simple to use but strong enough to hold the weight of some heavy thinking.

Three words: Push. Pull. Glue.

So grab an iPad, a laptop, or a yellow legal pad, create three categories, and let’s start filling them up.

Push—What’s pushing you out the door?

List all the factors that are pushing you to leave your current situation. You’re fatigued in your current job, the culture is toxic, there’s a glass ceiling for you, you’re kept out of conversations that you want to be part of, you’re not making enough money, etc.

A couple of years ago, one guy came to me and essentially said, “The day to day of this job is wearing me out. I need a job that allows me to grow my influence without every decision being tied back to me.” Maybe that’s you. Maybe a season of working from home and/or a sharp economic downturn has you rethinking your current job. Regardless, write down the things that are pushing you out the door.

Pull—What’s pulling you to this specific opportunity?

What makes the greener grass so green? Is it the raise? The benefits? The potential to learn some new skills or further develop in ways that prepare you for a dream role down the road? Maybe it’s the possibility of working under a specific person or the opportunity to hire your own team?

You’re never going to know everything about a specific opportunity, but you want to dig into the possibility. That’s generally rule number one of considering a transition—ask lots of questions. This investigation helps ensure that you’re not just running from something but you’re running to something. After all, as the title of an old Erma Bombeck book read, “The grass is always greener over the septic tank.”

Glue—What would keep you where you are?

Sometimes, this list is quite small, but for many people I talk with, there’s a lot that keeps them where they are. There’s a security that comes in what is known. There may be financial security for your family, or work culture security of knowing and enjoying the people you work with. You may not want to move and deal with the disruptions. You may have a sense of loyalty and calling to your current role. You may have financial incentive to stay—what if staying three more years gets you fully vested?

A little over a year ago, a good friend of mine came to me as he was processing a job change. In considering the “glue” of his current role, he talked about the sense of having been there from the beginning. “It would be tough to give up what I’ve worked so hard to build over the past years.” In the end, he ended up making the jump, but he did it with eyes wide open because he’d taken the time to consider what he was giving up.

Using Push/Pull/Glue

There is something about writing things down that brings things to the surface. The push/pull/glue exercise makes you dig into your gut a bit and name what’s in the back of your mind. It helps to peel back the layers of any motivations that might have been hidden from yourself. In that sense, push/pull/glue is subjective and personal. But so are job transitions after all, which is why you hear stories like this one.

A push/pull/glue exercise is also objective, though. It’s a form of due diligence, and something of a free way to hire a consultant to look at your decision. The categories are pre-set, and you are pushed away from the immediate emotions that matter (“I’m so bored. That new start-up sounds crazy exciting!” or “I could never leave my team. We’ve been through so much together!”) but that should be considered along with other factors and real data.

Speaking of objective, it’s a good idea to let your spouse and good friends to speak into this process. Those who know you well can often look and see what is particularly appealing about a new role and also remind you about what is good about your current role. Or the opposite. That outside perspective is immeasurably valuable.

Create a one-pager for yourself and your potential decision. Write down items in each category. Not all factors are equal, so don’t be sidetracked if you have more bullet points under “push” than under “glue,” for example. Just get it all out, and chances are, you’ll have a good idea of whether or not to make the jump.

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