May 26, 2014 5 Comments
I recently had the privilege of speaking to a group of young business graduates in London about how to manage their careers. It was an exciting couple of hours for me, and helped to reinforce my belief that every generation is smarter, more exciting and more interesting than the one that it follows.
One of the questions that I was asked was, notwithstanding my three career rules of “never do a job you hate, never work for a boss you can’t respect and never work for a company you can’t be proud of”, which of my jobs did I love the most and why.
It was a hard question to answer, as I loved much about most of them, and learned something from them all, not always in a positive sense, but nevertheless in a way that was important for my understanding of the business world and of people, and therefore critical for my future.
It did however make me think about what for me were the criteria that differentiated a great job from the rest, so here are the elements that were important to me, and which I discussed with my young audience.
– Doing something worthwhile … While it was one of the shortest roles that I had (4 years as IT Manager at the North Canterbury Hospital Board in NZ in the early 1970s), it was one of the most satisfying in terms of making a difference. We were pioneers in the truest sense, using technology to develop systems such as ophthalmological testers, biochemical blood testing, patient record keeping, laboratory test management and automated patient admission and discharge. It was not the best paying job that I had in my career, and it was a public sector role which I have always belittled, but it made me realise that it doesn’t hurt if at some time in your career you do something that benefits others more than it benefits yourself.
– Getting valid recognition … Getting a pat on the back and a handshake, or however else you define it, when you have done your job well is incredibly important for everyone, no matter how senior one becomes. I loved the 100% Achievers and the President’s clubs (not just for sales people) that I was fortunate to attend, not only for the fact that you got to mingle with some of the highest performers in the company, but also because it enabled you to show your partner that your hard work was being valued. Even after I became the CEO/President who actually hosted the Achievers’ Clubs, I still found these 3 or 4 days of recognising excellence in others to be some of the most satisfying in any of my roles.
– Being challenged … When I joined DEC in 1977 as a salesman, my territory was the whole of the South island of New Zealand. This meant that as well as selling to commercial IT Bureaux and Corporates, I was also selling to Universities and Laboratories. The former put me in touch with some skilled business people, and the latter with some of the sharpest research minds in the country. Just to be able for me to try to understand what these people were doing, with technology that today would not have enough capability to drive a mobile phone, was a perpetual challenge, and one which made me realise that being forced out of your comfort zone is a privilege rather than an onerous task.
– Having great people to work with … When I joined SAP at the end of 1993 it was just starting out on its meteoric rise through the enterprise application market. The company at the time attracted people who wanted to change the world, but who wanted the freedom to do it in their way, something I have called “passionate, driven anarchy”. In my time at SAP I had the opportunity to work with some of the most exciting, crazy, brilliant, innovative people that I have come across in my 45 year career in IT, and many whom I still count as colleagues and close friends today. Working with great people makes it all so much sweeter and so much more worthwhile.
– Having an awesome mentor … At Sun Microsystems I was fortunate to be asked to head a project on International Account Management, under the watchful eye of Carol Bartz who went on to head Autodesk and Yahoo. She was a tough, seasoned capable executive who helped me to understand the minefields, the networking, and the way one had to approach getting something done in the “collegiate” Sun environment, as well as making me question my own gender biases at that time. Having a skilled, knowledgeable mentor can save you time, energy and effort in achieving your goals, and will drive a critical learning process in your personal development.
– Having a boss to emulate … I have long believed that the main reason that people resign from a company is because they have not been able to build a valid working relationship with their immediate manager (see “People join companies but leave managers” posted April 8, 2013), and having a boss that is a role model in management and leadership beliefs and practices is critical in learning the craft. Skilled management is a true art form (and science) and being able to learn from a master practitioner is the best apprenticeship one can have.
– Having the freedom to learn and grow … In the 1960/70s International Harvester was not only a market leader in the manufacture of trucks and farm equipment, but was also a company that was ahead of the pack in the manufacture of future managers. They had a belief in recognising and developing people whom they identified as being potential future leaders for every element of their business. In the early 1970s, and quite some time before I became Head of IT, I was put through a 3 month in-house management development programme to prepare me for a possible future role. I have seen little to rival this in the last 40 years. Finding a company that is prepared to invest in you for the future is a rare and most valuable commodity and an opportunity to learn and grow.