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A step back can propel you forward

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

In today’s tough economy where organizations squeeze maximum efficiency from their workforce, you may need to reassign an employee to a less appealing or less influential role. While the individual may perceive the move as a demotion, reframe the news to make it more palatable.

Tell Diane von Furstenberg’s story.

With aspirations of becoming a fashion designer, she accepted a low-level internship in a factory in Italy. As Bill Boggs writes in his book Got What It Takes?, von Furstenberg took a job “that a lot of other people might have dismissed as too insignificant to consider.”

But by making the best of the opportunity, she was well positioned a year later to create a few samples in the factory before her husband told her they were moving to America. She took the samples with her to the U.S., and they opened doors for her to market her designs.

“[Her] tremendous career might never have taken shape if she had not accepted an innocuous job in a factory in Italy,” Boggs writes.

When your employees hear about von Furstenberg’s willingness to take a lowly job in a dingy factory—only to emerge as one of the world’s most glamorous fashion mavens years later—they may realize that setbacks can prove invaluable to their ultimate success.

Pleading with a disgruntled worker to focus on the long term and overlook a dissatisfying short-term assignment is an uphill battle. Some people lack von Furstenberg’s ability to step backward in order to leapfrog forward later.

Remind your employee that almost every senior executive’s career hits speed bumps. Just as no stock goes up every single day, no individual enjoys a steady climb to the top without some discouraging U-turns.

Also reinforce the fact that a versatile contributor who can perform a variety of tasks—even the less heralded jobs that many people seek to avoid—gains job security and stature among the head honchos. Everyone loves a team player who will do what’s best for the team even if it requires temporary sacrifice.


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