Career success depends on support network portability

For more than 10 years, Alex had worked his way up to be a supervisor at a Walmart distribution center. He managed the evening shift of several hundred employees, worked directly with buyers, district managers, store leaders and trucking companies, plus many more key players. The relationships he had built meant that at a moment’s notice, he could call on them to address any situation that could hinder productivity and effectiveness of his distribution center.

Alex then was approached by Home Depot and offered a position as distribution center director of one of its busiest centers. Alex made the move to Home Depot, a position of more responsibility and higher pay.

A year later at Alex’s annual review, he was given low performance marks. Since taking over, his new team’s efficiency and effectiveness had declined. Management wondered why Alex had been unable to bring to Home Depot the same success he had experienced at Walmart.

The book “Chasing Stars: They Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance” explores situations like Alex’s. They studied analysts working in large financial firms on Wall Street whose role is to learn about a company’s operation and judge whether it would be good to buy their stock, predicting that the company performance would increase and cause the stock price to rise. Some all-star financial analysts, who were consistently correct in buying stocks that increased in value, switched companies and continued their successful stock picking ways. Others could not replicate the stock-picking success they had at the previous company. Why?

Research finds employees generally switch jobs for higher pay, better work environment or more interesting challenges at the new company. Their success in their new job is not solely based on the set of skills they possess. Replication of success, referred to as portability of performance, is more often impacted by the support resources, mentorship, and personal/professional support networks available to the employee at the new position.

Alex was a successful at Walmart because he had developed this vast support network. He also knew the Walmart system of operation, company culture, and social norms within the organization, which included a supportive mentor and supervisor. In his move to Home Depot, there was no integration into their new system, he had to learn it on the fly. Extra responsibilities and time demands did not allow him to develop his support network. All these are factors that determine an individuals portability of performance.

When looking for another job you need to consider factors that with help increase your portability of performance. Does the company culture match your value system? Does the company have an on-boarding process they helps you learn their operating structure? Does the company provide opportunities for you to build the relationships you need to in and outside the company? What skills and resources that you possess will be helpful to replicate your success? Which won’t?

Just assuming you will be able to be successful in your next career opportunity just because you have been successful in the past is an incorrect assumption. Had Alex assessed the factors impacting his portability of performance in the move to Home Depot, his odds of success would have increased or he might not have made the move at all. It takes more than money to set you up for your next success.

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services at Michigan Technological University.