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The Unappreciated Expert

We’ve all been passed over for a promotion at one time or another in our careers.

It’s frustrating, and it hurts.

So when we see it happen to someone else, it’s easy to empathise with.

But what happens when that person is still in our project team? How do we re-energise a skeptical individual? And what do we do if we can’t?

Hope & Energy – A Perspective on Morale

I’ve found that you can get a good bearing on individual and team morale by gut-feel gauging their level of Hope (read: optimism) and Energy (read: enthusiasm). Those with high Hope and Energy are those that are highly motivated. Those with low Hope and Energy are those that are stuck in the depths of despair – wanting to leave but are stuck there (at least in the short term).

This gives us the picture below:

Notice that Hope increases before Energy does.

That’s because when it comes to building morale and momentum, Hope is your limiting force.

You can only run as fast as the level of ‘give a damn’ that your people have.

So, where does the begrudged SME sit?

Well, workplace optimism is fundamentally built on two key pillars:

  1. An optimism in the meaningfulness of their work, and
  2. An optimism in their ability to meaningfully contribute their skills to that work.

If you’ve been passed over for promotion, many times it places cynicism and resentment in the way of that optimism. It’s easy to stop caring about your work if you feel that your contributions aren’t appreciated.

So that puts a temporary hard limit on this begrudging SME’s level of Hope, and correspondingly their morale and momentum level. This puts them somewhere around here:

They’re either examining their options and looking to move on (i.e. despair), or they’re frustrated and fearful of contributing more work and effort only to get little to no appreciation again.

So What Can You Do?

Well, you’re a leader. So it’s time to make an clear decision. Do you want to keep this person, or do you only need access to their subject matter expertise?

If you want to keep them (the harder thing), then your focus needs to be on helping them create new hope in their future as part of your project and/or team. This often means making a hard change – repositioning them into a new advisory or expertise role can often be fruitful here.

They need an excuse to feel hopeful and appreciated again.

If you’re happy to lose them (the easier thing), and you only need their subject matter expertise, then your focus shifts to knowledge transfer and new opportunity discovery. Help them move on fruitfully, perhaps to an internal secondment. And while you’re doing so – have them document and record their pertinent information for your team and project’s future use.

Whichever your decision, it pays to be proactive here. Letting this fester will result in you losing both them and their knowledge – often putting your project at risk while you scrambles to fill the gaps.

Send Me Your Change Leadership Questions!

I’m starting up a new series where I address your questions & challenges through video mini-masterclasses. I’ve received some great ones so far, please keep them coming!

Brendon Baker

Brendon is a leading expert in strategic framing and inside-out change. He has led and guided over $11 Billion in transformative projects and programs, from transformations to teddy bears. He is the author of the best-seller Valuable Change, and niche top seller Creating High Value PMOs. Brendon now spends his time helping leaders cut through the noise to focus on what matters; working with them to create new realities.

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