The Opportunity Cliche

I don’t know when the word “opportunity” was first used as a reframe for a difficulty, but it’s easy to see it’s overused and has become even cliché.

Like all wisdom trickled down into mass usage, this overuse dilutes the real meaning. It’s like what happens to your love of a hit song that’s so overplayed you never want to hear it again, until one day a cake mix company buys it for cheap and remixes it into a TV ad decades later.

Before I was a coach—and just before the dot-bomb of 2000—I was a recruiter. (The dot-bomb ended many recruiter careers and I’m glad it ended mine). I said the word opportunity so many times in a day I forgot what it meant. You’d think we recruiters earned royalties on the word.

But it’s more than just a more appealing synonym for “job.” It stimulates imagination and dreams. It invokes possibilities—all key components of making a sale, of course.

Nowadays, “opportunity” is the center square on many business cliché bingo boards, right along with “team player” and “results-focused.” Like all these stock language phrases, the more we use them the easier it is to forget what they mean. And then we wonder why communication breaks down.

What makes a job an opportunity?

Here’s a hint: more than just calling it that.

I remember a Dilbert cartoon where our hero tells the pointy-haired boss he’s grossly unpaid. “People don’t work here for the money,” the boss cajoles, “They work here for the challenge!”

Dilbert retorts, “If challenges are more valuable than money, why don’t you give me your money and I’ll give you my challenges?”

As usual, the genius of Scott Adams in three frames captures a complex and epidemic business dysfunction. I could write a whole book on what makes a job worth engaging in. In fact, I plan to. But here are three simple questions to identify whether a job challenge is truly an opportunity or just being spun as one.

  1. Is the employee clear about their personal dreams, goals, and visions and how they’re using their job to attain them?
  2. Does the manager know the above and regularly talk with the employee about how they can reframe difficulties as personally benefiting them in ways specific to achieving their personal goals?
  3. Does the employee experience that their manager cares about the experience they’re having and that their career, not just their job, is supported by the manager?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This isn’t the case in most businesses, and it’s the reason Gallup finds about 70% of workers disengaged over the last fifteen years. Not in your business? Maybe. It’s also possible when people say opportunity, they’re not quite feeling it, isn’t it?

Have you ever pretended to like your work more than you do around your boss? Have your employees ever done this?

To close, I would like to present you with one final opportunity to join my new course, How to Manage and Be Managed.

This program trains you and your team in the basics of the Clear and Open model for management, which includes increasing engagement and productivity and eliminating supervision and wasted resources. This model is a counter-intuitive approach I’ve been training leaders in one-on-one for over fifteen years, offered now for the first time as an affordable online course. While the course is about training management skill, it’s also great for non-managers because it gives employees what they need to understand what a manager is doing with them and why it’s in their best interest to help.

How to Manage and Be Managed starts January 11th! Don’t delay! Click here to sign up.

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