top of page

A Lifelong Approach to Job Decisions and Being the Best Version of You

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

This article is for leaders, HR professionals, managers, and especially employees in a career job.

Summary: We show how to increase job satisfaction and when to change -- and when not to change -- jobs. We show how to make the performance review a helpful-to-all-involved two-way street communication — instead of a lower-value, check-the-HR-box exercise. We provide research-informed processes and tools to accelerate and make confidence-inspired job decisions. Our tools help make decision-making a high-value company-wide strength.

We consider job change and career management decisions as an ongoing, lifetime process. Whether just starting or an employee is years in the job, our tools are meant to be like a little, trusted decision concierge helping people know when to make a job change. Hint -- people are naturally biased toward either over- or under-confidence. It is essential to have the best decision process to make the best career decisions.

For those aspiring for their first career job, please see our article: Your first job - Let's Get It Started!

About the Author: Jeff Hulett is a career banker, bank consultant, data scientist, economist, and choice architect. He teaches personal finance at James Madison University and provides personal finance seminars. His new book -- Making Choice, Making Money: Your Guide to Making Confident Financial Decisions -- check out for more information.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction

    1. Decision-making as a core life skill

    2. Quiet quitting and performance reviews

  2. Change is not a failure

  3. Building a premortem

  4. The next performance review

  5. Boiling Your Own Frog!

  6. Conclusion

  7. Resources - Definitive Choice

  8. Appendix - Premortem starter criteria

1. Introduction - Decision-making as a core life skill

“I wish you the very best. As a leader in this company, I'm motivated for you to make the best job decision. Let’s work together to make sure you understand your choices.”

This was said by me and many other well-meaning leaders in many companies. Leaders desire a strong relationship with their employees. Those aspirations and activities include:

  • A healthy dialogue with their employees when it comes to job change decisions.

  • Effective pathways to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion ("DEI") with their employees.

  • Many companies take comfort in "climate surveys" or related information helping to understand their employees' sentiments.

In practice, many managers don't learn of their soon-to-be-ex-employee's job desires until the exit interview. These learnings, while helpful, are often too late. The core challenge is this:

Employees may not effectively share their job perspectives with their employer prior to making a job change. This lack of effective communication suggests employees may not have an objective and effective job-related decision process.

Appropriate job change decisions often include staying with the current company.

To be fair, some leaders have a gift for engaging their employees. They have the sort of relationship encouraging their employee to share their job perspectives. This enlightened leader is the exception, not the rule.

A different approach to job evaluation and potential change decisions is needed. This new approach is informed by progressive hiring managers, the behavioral sciences, and utilizing the best decision process.

We build upon the standard company performance review process.

We then go further.

We build perspective and provide tools to help employees make the most of their performance feedback. We help employees build competence and confidence in their decision processes to the most productive performance reviews. This approach improves employee attrition by building individual decision-making skills.

A wonderful by-product includes building high-quality decision-making as a core life skill.

Quiet quitting and performance reviews

Another way employees leave is by staying. Quiet quitting refers to opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work. Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings. [i] In a world where work is a zero-sum game, where not doing a task because it is "not my job" simply means the task will fall on someone else or potentially not get done. For many leaders, losing employees who want to leave is difficult, but having them not quit is even worse, as their unwillingness to go the extra mile often increases the burden on their colleagues to take on extra work instead. This means, having both the employee and manager have open communication about the needs of both the employee and employer is critical. Quiet quitting is avoidable. A fully engaged employee is the best outcome, a close second is an employee finding a good fit in another department or company, and the worst outcome is a disengaged quiet quitter. This is bad for both the employee and the employer.

Feedback is an amazing gift. In the work setting, performance reviews and other feedback should be powerful development tools. But work performance reviews get a bad rap. They sometimes get criticized as ineffective or biased. [ii] Most people have a tremendous opportunity to improve how they use and provide performance feedback. This article encourages a healthy two-way dialogue. We provide tools empowering the employees to clearly define their own job benefits and communicate those as an equal party to the performance review process.

The performance review process is a great time to step back, take inventory, and holistically evaluate our jobs. Sometimes, a proactive job change is warranted. When it comes to our jobs, change is challenging. Natural emotions tend to negatively impact our willingness and ability to change. The decision sciences have tools and approaches to help us make the best change decisions.

Next, we provide an objective and confidence-building approach to evaluate the current job. If necessary, this same approach helps make a job change.

2. Change is not a failure

Annie Duke is a world-champion poker player, author, and cognitive sciences researcher. She is also a self-proclaimed professional quitter. In an interview for her book "Quit," [xxxiii] she said:

“Richard Thaler is a Nobel laureate in economics and what he said to me is, ‘Generally we won’t quit until it’s no longer a decision.’ In other words, there’s no hope. You’ve butted against the certainty; your startup is out of money, and you can’t raise another round. You’re in a job with a boss that is so toxic that you have used up all your vacation and sick days and you’re still having trouble getting yourself into work.”

Thaler and Duke’s comments relate to a forced change. Sometimes change is the result of a forcing function. Running out of money or having an absurdly toxic boss is an extreme forcing function example. Changing prior to the forcing function will often avoid a “crash landing.” A crash is often more negative than if more proactive changes were made before the crash. Thus, recognizing the need and preparing for change is important.

Job evaluation and potential job changes relate to the decision-making process. Successful gamblers like Annie Duke are incredibly good decision-makers. Their good decisions are outcomes of good decision processes characterized by:

  1. Objectively evaluating the probability and risks of potential gambles, and

  2. Understanding and integrating their and other players' emotions.

Good gamblers anticipate essential game success drivers and the nuances of the environment in which the game is played. Good gamblers embrace both objective and emotional information in their decision-making. Gambling and job evaluation share a common bond. They are both subject to uncertainty. They both require decision processes integrating factual information, forecasts, and emotion.

The next graphic provides the high-level job evaluation decision framework. In the section that follows, we start by exploring the job evaluation scenario exercise called a "premortem." [iii] The rest of this article walks through integrating the premortem and performance review feedback into this job evaluation decision framework. We suggest tools to confidently make the best decisions.

Job evaluation decision framework

Please see Premortem example - developing Mr. or Ms. Right for a practical premortem example in the context of the job evaluation decision framework.

3. Building a premortem

We all go into job decisions with the best intentions. New employees are excited and anticipate a positive experience. Hiring managers feel good about their hiring decision and look forward to a positive relationship with the new employee. The honeymoon phase of a new job is great!

But we all know life is dynamic. Both employees' and employers' needs change. The key is updating. To make good job evaluations, the employee needs a process to dynamically update their job perspective. This evaluation needs to be completed in a way that makes decision-making fast, confidence-inspiring, and transparent. The evaluation needs to be both objective and appropriately include emotion.

The proactive job evaluation approach starts with a “premortem." [xxxiv] The premortem approach begins by recalling the criteria for why the job or other decisions was accepted in the first place. If new to the job market, the current state is the anticipated criteria for the new job.

In the following resource section, the link to a smartphone app is provided. This app is perfect for this exercise. For employers, this app may be provided to employees and is backed by workflow integrated into your HR processes.

First, complete an exercise of weighting the criteria and applying them to the current job.

The app also enables"inviting a friend" for discreet criteria feedback from a trusted advisor.

This is the "current state" job alternative. For the current job, 50% is the minimum benefit threshold where the current job's pros outweigh the job's cons.


A premortem building block: A 50% goal benefit is the minimum benefit threshold indicating a needed change. Once the goal benefit drops below 50%, the cons outweigh the pros. The change threshold could be higher. It is possible, for example, the current job is at 51% but an alternative position is a credibly higher 75% goal benefit. When there is a large difference between job alternative benefits, an employee should consider changing to the higher benefit job. Please see Premortem example - developing Mr. or Ms. Right for a premortem example.

In our article, Changing Our Mind, we use a bucket and rock analogy for the work criteria and weighting. As long as there are more green rocks than red rocks, it suggests the current job's pros outweigh the cons. The challenge is anticipating a job change! More on this follows.


After the job criteria have been defined and weighted, the next step is to write the premortem. A premortem is a credible story about the future where the goal benefits drop significantly. This could be where 1) the cons outweigh the pros or 2) the pros drop so much that it causes a desire to change jobs. Focus the story on a criterion or several criteria that may cause a benefit-reducing change. What plausible set of events would cause the change? For extra credit, please write multiple premortem stories! The premortem story is anticipatory -- it has not happened. This is the preparation step in the event it does. The premortem helps proactively manage employee-employer relationships. The premortem enables employee self-advocacy. The idea is to head off a benefit-reducing situation. The idea is to avoid quiet quitting.

Also, the premortem story may come from internalized fears. A premortem enables the proper evaluation of typical fears. The behavioral sciences teach us that emotions like fear render little explanatory nuance. Fear is more of a binary signal - it generally does not evaluate the severity of the risk. Often, things are not as bad as they seemed through the fear lens. This things-are-worse-than-they-seem perception may create decision bias and inaccurate decisions.

Please note: A good premortem story is short. It could be a paragraph or two. It could be a series of dot points. The smartphone app we mention in the resource section has a notes screen to easily drop in premortem thoughts.

When using the app, the current state job alternatives should have already been created. The current step is to create a separate premortem alternative and score it using the results of the premortem narrative. This step is essential. This is the step to transform the premortem story into actionable, consistent, and comparable information. The app transforms messy emotions containing intertwined signals and noise into appropriately weighted judgments. In the appendix at the bottom of this article, provided are potential job evaluation criteria and resources. [xxxv] The criteria are only the starting point. The essential step is weighing and scoring the criteria in the current job context and premortem alternatives. This is where the decision magic happens!

Perform this current state and premortem exercise periodically. Be aware that the criteria categories are reasonably stable. However, the criteria weights are likely not as stable. Most companies, jobs, or important life situations regularly evolve.

Work evolution example questions:

  • Is the recent work change positive or negative to your criteria weight?

  • Does that new boss have a positive or negative impact on your overall criteria weight?

  • Do your anticipated projects meet your expectations?

  • Are you growing your skills and abilities as anticipated?

  • Has anything changed in your life to change criteria weights?

Often, the meaning of a work or other life change takes time to impact the overall criteria weighting. Sometimes, weighting evolves so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. Like in the case of the apologue "Boiling the frog." A change that may have seemed like a big deal at the time may prove to be insignificant to the overall criteria weighting. That is why periodic premortem updating is critical!

4. The next performance review

Use the current state and premortem alternatives as a preparation tool for the next performance review. This is a great way to prepare for a productive conversation! The employee should share their criteria and criteria weights with their company. This is tricky, at first, some employees may feel reluctant to share. Over time, most people appreciate the power of clarity when discussing their job perspective with their employers. It is essential that the employee owns how they share their decision perspective.

The app mentioned in the resource section provides preconfigured reports.

Helping superiors understand employee preferences - "what is important to them" - will help future assignment planning. Bosses generally have choices for whom to assign to particular projects. The better they understand employee benefits, the better they will be able to assign appropriate projects.

Also, if there is a particular criterion that has performed worse recently, the employee should consider sharing that as well. For an employee example, let us say that "Work life balance" and "Advancement opportunity" are the highest weighted criteria. Also, let us say they have been on a particularly grueling, long-hour project for the last couple of months. While they do not mind "taking one for the team," they are questioning whether the project will help with advancement. The employee should share this if this project materially impacts their weighted job benefit. The boss may be able to move them to a different project or make some other arrangement. If not, the employee has signaled if the work environment does not change soon, they will consider a job change. This is shared in a professional, thoughtful, evidence-based way that leads to a confident and productive discussion with the boss.

Performance reviews are a two-way street. The boss or company deserves to know what the employee thinks of them as much as the employee deserves to know what they think of the company and boss. A two-way dialogue is a sign of a healthy relationship. A consistent, repeatable decision process helps the employee earn the respect of their senior colleagues by providing a fair and honest appraisal.

The app mentioned in the resource section provides credibility and confidence to the company evaluation perspective.

In my experience with being on the "boss" side of the performance review, most supervisors will return specific and thoughtful candor with a frank discussion about what the company may or may not be able to do to address the premortem concerns. This information will be very valuable to help the employee evaluate the job and/or plan a potential change.

Now that the two-way performance review discussion has occurred and there is anticipatory information clarity about how the company may or may not adapt, the employee is ready to update their current job's alternative model. There are two possible outcomes:

  • I am still happy enough. My pros outweigh my cons. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits is AT LEAST above 50% benefit. As such, I will stay in "committed-to-the-current-job" mode.

  • I am not happy. My cons outweigh my pros. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits has dropped significantly or is below 50% benefit. As such, I will change to "pursue-a-new-job" mode.

Please notice: Quiet Quitting is NOT one of the outcomes!

If the anticipatory cons out weight the pros, it is time to go into job search mode. The good news is, the employee can use the same smartphone app for the job search. The criteria model is already done! Only the new job alternatives need to be added and scored. Both external and internal job opportunities should be considered. Most larger companies have open positions in many different areas. It is a best practice to network internally for alternative positions. In fact, most progressive companies encourage internal job changes. The criteria and app decision process will help identify the best job option.

5. Boil Your Own Frog!

Think of a premortem as "Boiling your own frog." That is, taking ownership of an employee's honest and accurate evaluation, so they can make changes before the water gets too hot! This premortem scenario planning exercise will prepare them to 1) identify and evaluate an evolving environment and 2) emotionally prepare themselves to change when their job benefits drop below 50% - that is when their belief bucket is more than half full of red rocks. When it comes to change, inertia is a powerful force. Tools such as the app mentioned in the resource section are very helpful to overcome inertia and make the best decisions.

This may seem a little weird. It may seem like proactive change planning is like planning for failure. It turns out, our cultural teaching that relates "change" to "failure" is a big problem. Our society teaches us change is somehow a failure. It is not! Change is a reasonable outcome when a situation changes and the benefit drops below the desired level. Change is healthy. Change is life! So a premortem is a way to prepare for something normal and healthy. In my experience, people confuse "Grit" or "Never Give Up" determination as suggesting we should be less willing to change. This simply is not true. In the "Changing Our Mind" model, grit is needed for:

  1. the active evaluation of the pursuit,

  2. the dogged spirit and desire to pursue, and

  3. making an appropriate change.

On the other hand, not making appropriate changes defy rationality. Grit is an investment, not making an appropriate change is like wasting the investment.

Is it time to make a job change? Employees do not want to make an uninformed decision. However, the behavioral sciences teach us that people are often biased toward either:

  • Hold on to the status quo for longer than they should.

- OR -

  • Make emotional changes that overweight fear.

See below for more resources to help make confident decisions about a potential job change.

6. Conclusion

There is an old saying:

"Winners never quit and quitters never win."

Many hear this saying in childhood. My optimistic belief is that this saying was intended to help children. By providing simple rules, children are encouraged to develop grit and resilience. As adults, we need to update our initial beliefs. As adults, hopefully, we have developed the necessary grit and resilience. This job evaluation model helps employees take ownership of the beliefs formed earlier in their life. This job evaluation approach helps update those earlier beliefs.

Fast-forward to today's world:

"The only constant is change."

It may turn out that the current job, while different, remains a source of benefit in their life. Sometimes, work changes may cause their job to lack the necessary benefit. In a dynamic, changing world, winners are those that know when to change and when not to change. This job evaluation approach will help achieve confidence-inspiring job decisions. This job evaluation enables employees to be fully engaged or determine when it is time for a change. This job evaluation approach avoids the negative-for-all-gray world of quiet quitting.

7. Resources - Definitive Choice

Definitive Choice is a smartphone app. It provides a straightforward user experience and is backed by time-tested decision science algorithms. It uses a proprietary "Decision 6™" approach that organizes the criteria (what is important to you?) and alternatives (what are the choices?) in a series of bite-size ranking decisions. Since it is on the smartphone, it can be used while doing research. It is like having a decision expert in your pocket. The results dashboard provides a rank-ordered list of "best choices," tailored to your preferences. Apps like this enable decision-makers to configure their own choice architecture.

Also, Definitive Choice comes pre-loaded with many templates. These templates can be customized, but the preloaded templates provide a nice starting point. For the current state or premortem alternatives, Definitive Choice will help determine, track, and weigh job criteria. It will also help apply the criteria to different job alternatives. This will help negotiate the best outcome. It provides confidence and accuracy when it is time for a change.

Other job evaluation resources:

Hulett, Negotiating success and building your BATNA, The Curiosity Vine, 2021

8. Appendix - Premortem starter criteria

Criteria benefit categories

For the smartphone app, next is the “starter” criteria categories to consider. Criteria may be added or subtracted. It is important to clearly define these categories in advance of the pairwise weighting evaluation. When going through the pairwise evaluation process, remember to isolate the comparison of only two categories at a time. In each pairwise comparison, all one needs to do is answer the question by moving the slider: “How much more or less is criterion A important to me than criterion B.” Do not overthink it! The ability to compare two criteria has been proven to be very accurate.

  1. Company history – this relates more to risk. Does the company have staying power?

  2. Company values – this is a measure of employee-employer alignment. Does the employee feel the company’s core values align with theirs? We explore the importance of values alignment in our article: They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life!

  3. Job Location – This has changed with “Work From Anywhere” expectations generated during the pandemic. Is the work location flexibility aligned with the employees needs? We explore "Work From Anywhere" questions in our article: Our pandemic-impacted work environment and the surprising effect of the default work setting

  4. Working hours – This is code for “Work-life balance.” Does the employee have a need for time outside of work?

  5. Opportunities for growth – Does the employee expect to learn and expand their skill and abilities toolbox? Is there a promotion upside?

  6. Colleagues – Does the employee like those with whom they will be working? They will be spending significant time with them, so this is important.

*Employees will sometimes cite their boss as the primary reason for leaving a company. For the criteria, boss-related challenges are generally found in either:

  • "Opportunity for growth" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of development.

  • "Company values" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of concern or sensitivity to other employees' needs.


In the smartphone app, pay is an independent variable. Think of compensation as an opportunity cost. Total compensation value should be added, both salary and benefits:

  • Salary – this is regular take-home pay plus expected bonuses

  • Benefits – Health insurance, retirement, PTO, education reimbursement, etc. Benefits can be tricky to value. This is the best estimate.

For additional criteria suggestions, please see:


[i] Klotz, Bolino, When Quiet Quitting Is Worse Than the Real Thing, Harvard Business Review, 2020

In my former large company experience, I had a front-row seat to the administration of the performance review process. The biases I saw resulted from:

  • Lack of clarity on the rating scale. For example, on a 1-5 scale (with 5 being performing significantly above expectations) the scale definition was not clear. A "5" for one manager may not be the same as another manager.

  • Use of performance ranking for comp and firing decisions. This added to the bias as the managers doing the rating knew the "game" was to assign the rating in a way that played into a potentially severe outcome.

  • Over-reliance on "hard" measures. Certain data, like client utilization, were easy to obtain and compare. Whereas "soft" measures like leadership ability were difficult to compare and were situational. The easy-to-compare measures were overweighted biased BECAUSE they were easier to obtain and to provide HR action evidence.

  • Reward and punishment asymmetry. Most companies reward compensation on a percentage of the base salary. So, let's say someone makes $200k and the best-rated people get a 10% bonus. This is $20k in this example. However, a poorly rated person may get fired. This is a loss of a $200k salary and likely creates emotional turmoil. Thus, with the downside being far greater than the upside for overachieving, it creates an incentive to do "good enough" to avoid being fired, but not much more incentive to overachieve. Some people absolutely are wired to overachieve... I am only suggesting the incentives are not geared toward overachieving.

To be fair, these biases were known and enlightened leaders would attempt to counteract them. But in any organizational game, incentives and biases are relentless. While leaders attempt to overcome this, they still created risk and uncertainty as to the accuracy of the ratings.

[iii] We discuss what gambling and confidence games teach us about cognitive biases, risk management, and forecasting in the following article:

Additional citations may be found in the following article:

Hulett, Changing Our Mind, The Curiosity Vine, 2021


bottom of page