Sunday 3 November 2013

Is your career stagnating because you are not doing enough for it or because your boss or organisation is not doing enough for it?

Last week I met an individual contributor who wanted guidance on growing his career. He wanted to become a people manager and “own” a team. I asked him a simple question “What skills do you possess or are developing that will convince managers above you that you are ready to become a people manager?” He hesitated for a few seconds and then replied with 'martyrdom' in his eyes:

“Here we go again. Always the same story! Rather than looking at my potential or my past work and being rewarded for it, I have to keep proving myself. I have paid my ‘school fees’ and now the organisation owes me a promotion.”

There is no organisation that serves careers on a plate! Despite the stories that one may have heard of an individual’s meteoric rise due to some benefactor or sponsor, there are not ENOUGH benefactors or sponsors in the corporate world to ensure this becomes systemic! Employees have to ‘own’ their ‘own’ development! Sorry to state the obvious but please forget what you were told when you were recruited or what you read in recruitment brochures as a vast majority of employees will be disappointed! [a minority will of course do everything right but still something will go wrong from either the boss or organisational point of view!]. 

Stop making career plans beyond the next few years. The era of life-long employment is dead! Constant change means that you have to keep revisiting your skills on a consistent basis! I have stopped asking the ridiculous question – “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” with employees when discussing their careers as I am unable to map my own response to this 'pompous' question, as in hindsight I see that my career trajectory had a mind of its own! 

How does one guarantee growth for the future when we know that there are others also competing for roles? Each step up the ladder is more difficult than the last one! I am constantly surprised by the number of individuals who are unable to articulate a response to a simple query – “What skills do you leverage and what skills do you think you must still develop to get to your next role?”

When most employees attempt to answer the same they end up reflecting a mismatch as most employees tend to rate themselves higher than their true abilities as they forget that their ability or the value of this ability is in the eye of the beholder i.e. the manager. Confidence in one’s own ability is critical in how your career pans out but ensure that you do not confuse confidence with competence! The amount of time people spend in building bravado or improving their body language to show confidence has to be over-shadowed by ‘true’ efforts to build ‘true’ competence. Remember that “you can fool most of your peers and some of your managers but not all of your managers all of the time!” Confused? Read the line again. 

You do not work in a democracy. The votes that count are that of your managers (i.e. people above you). Do not confuse being popular among the 'masses' as being a relevant criteria. As Orson Welles chides -- 
Popularity should be no scale for the election of politicians. If it would depend on popularity, Donald Duck and The Muppets would take seats in senate.” 

The real question is whether you are aware of what your manager thinks of you? Have you taken direct guidance and advice from your manager? Did you take the platitudes but shied away from absorbing or listening to the developmental guidance on how you can move forward or become a better employee? A good manager can help on both counts! If possible, I suggest that you also seek out a Mentor to get professional and personal input into your style of functioning. They are role models who can help you open both mind and heart!

I always aim to promote people for two key attributes. First, their reliability (dependability) and secondly, their emotional agility (needed as one rises in the hierarchy). I firmly believe that all people who are given more responsibility get it because they are reliable and dependable and do not spend time blaming others when something goes wrong. A person is reliable when they can be trusted to do what is expected of them. This label identifies a problem solver; someone who can see the bigger picture; and is adept at eliminating surprises. As one moves up the hierarchy they need to display emotional agility. For me this is about having mental strength or resilience. Resilience in simple terms is “the capacity of individuals, communities and systems to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.” I felt that resilience may have its genesis in the psyche or building blocks of an individual but there are tactics that had been adopted by the executives who I consider to be ‘mentally strong’ or resilient.

So the question is whether you are ready to shake things up and move out of your comfort zone in your attempt to move forward? I find tremendous truth in the following from Michele Martin –
“We reach a place where we are ‘comfortable’--in our habits, our skills, our relationships, and the work we do on a daily basis--and rocking that boat becomes too much effort. Comfort can be good. We don't want to live our lives in a constant state of anxiety or chronic hardship. But comfort can also be the enemy. Comfort breeds complacency. It makes us believe that change will not come to us. It encourages habits of preservation and constriction that can, in turn, lead to lives that are small and in many ways, less alive.” 

Something that I would want you to write down and stick on your cubicle at work comes from Gandhi –
“Be the Change You Wish to See in the World”. 

There are many ways to try to decipher this simple advise from a great man but I wanted to share this interpretation from Niurka rather than create new wisdom on this matter -
“You have the power within you to create the life you want to live. You have the power to shape the world around you just by who you are being, and how you are communicating. The law of attraction, one of the fundamental aspects to living a life by design, explains that everything that is created in the outside world is the result of what takes place internally. Being the change you wish to see in the world starts with taking full responsibility for everything that is happening in your life.”

An extension of moving out of your comfort zone is to also maintain a healthy dose of paranoia at work. For me paranoia (within reason of course!) can be a smart on-going survival mechanism in the work-place and a critical element in maintaining your relevance. Rather than be worried by this label I became enamoured by it! Andrew Grove (ex-CEO of Intel) in his 1997 book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ outlined that "Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive." The book had been an eye-opener for me very early in my career and contributed to a certain mannerism in me that ensured dynamism and an on-going healthy belief that I can do better.

The final piece of advice for you is courtesy of Dharmesh Shah (Influencer on LinkedIn) -- “The best way to earn a promotion is to do more than is expected. The best way to earn a raise is to first deliver greater value. Every successful person I know feels that hard work comes before the payoff – not after. The surest way to get a raise in the future is to do things now that are above your current salary.”

What do you think? Have I missed something?


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1 comment:

  1. You said it all. Corporate world has all the ingredients of a spicy movie, action, comedy, songs. But it will remain the same and not going to change. SMART people can take advantage of it.