MANAGING YOUR CAREER
July 14, 2010 3 Comments
I have found that most people do very little to manage their own careers.
The majority of people seem to work their way through their jobs with varying degrees of skill and commitment, and wait for opportunities to present themselves, then pick the ones that they consider to be the best out of what is on offer. It is therefore no great surprise that many people seem to have much to complain about in their present role, whatever it is.
I believe that it is critical that you plan out your career much more proactively, by looking up in the organization at people that you admire, and at the roles that you seriously believe that you would want to have, and work a career and development plan that supports your ability to move along that trajectory. Of course it is mandatory that you have the required capabilities, or can develop them, so it helps to be personally honest in this assessment.
I have met a lot of people who could tell me that in the future they wanted to be a CEO for example, but who had little or no idea of the steps that they would need to take to get there, neither the upward movements needed nor the personal development plan to build the commensurate skills. These sort of career aspirations are just based on hope, and hope is never a strategy.
It is also critical that you find a good mentor. Most people wait (and hope) for the company to appoint one which I believe to be totally wrong. It is better to pick someone you admire and respect that is on your trajectory, and approach them directly. Very few senior executives are personally approached by younger people and asked to be their mentors. Most of them too wait for the system to appoint their mentees, and I am sure that both sides would prefer to make their own choices, rather than have someone in HR, for example, make these decisions for them.
To make this approach you must be well prepared and be able to articulate your case, your reasoning, and also, critically, why it would be important and beneficial to the mentor, as well as the benefits to the company. You should also have a plan of what you intend to do, and what you will need from the mentor. In other words you will need to sell yourself, and nothing makes a sale easier than being prepared and understanding the needs of the buyer (mentor), as well as a good understanding of the product (you).
I have also found that there are 3 Golden rules that are the starting point for at least managing the enjoyment and fulfillment of what you are doing, and therefore at least creating the potential for some success in your career. These are:
1. Never do a job you hate.
2. Never work for a boss you can’t respect.
3. Never work for a company you can’t be proud of.
I am constantly amazed by the number of people I come across who hate what they do, but do it anyway. If you do a job that you hate, there is a really good chance that you won’t do it well anyway, so it is unlikely that you will get moved out of it to something more interesting and exciting. It often boils down to money. People will tolerate a job they dislike because it pays more than what they would really like to do.
However, I believe that if you can do something that you really love, not only will it make your life more worthwhile, but if you do it really well, there is a good strong chance that the money and rewards will come anyway. I am particularly dismayed by the number of people I come across in management roles that would have preferred to have stayed in the role of an individual contributor, but moved into management to get more money, more influence, more prestige. I regularly have to spend time with companies that I work with, helping them to build dual career paths to overcome this lack of opportunity for great professionals.
I have been fortunate in my career over the last 40+ years to have worked for some outstanding managers, and I have not stuck very long in a role where my immediate supervisor was not someone that I could look up to and respect. From surveys done regularly, it appears that the vast majority of people change jobs because they haven’t been able to build a solid working relationship with their immediate boss. It is not surprising, as your immediate supervisor is the one who basically decides what you do, whom you do it with, how you are measured, how you are rewarded, how you are developed and what opportunities are presented to you. In other words they control your entire work future, so it makes no sense to stay with someone who sees that future as being very limited.
Lastly, you have to ask yourself whether you would readily try to entice people that you know, admire and respect to come and join the company that you work for, and whether you talk about your employer with enthusiasm and excitement to your friends and family. One of my personal tests was always whether I was prepared to wear my employer’s logo on my chest on one of the many T- and Polo shirts that IT companies love to hand out.
I recently noticed that Air France staff have stopped wearing name tags, and that this is now voluntary rather than mandatory. This suggests to me that many (if not most) are actually not very proud of their job nor their company. When I questioned one staff member about this, she told me that management had advised them that if people had complaints they could complain about the company and not the individuals. This appalls me as I have always believed that companies are really just the sum of their individuals. No wonder that it is such a lackluster company when it comes to customer service.
These days, if I need help from someone in Air France, I always seek out someone with a name tag.
At least I then have a reasonable chance of talking to someone who actually “does give a damn” about their job, their company and hopefully about me as a customer.