Managing Careers

Here is the background on this series, and here is the previous post on this series (Managing Expectations).

This is the final post in the series, and this tackles perhaps the most important question of all: Ravi needs to help people in his team build and grow their career as they work under his guidance. However, this takes time, patience, and some skills. How does Ravi manage this along with all the other responsibilities he has, given the fact he doesn’t have enough time on his hands given so many reports?

Career Management is the theme for this blog and I have written extensively on this topic, both from the perspective of a person managing his/own career, as well as a manager doing it for his/her reports (see Career Development and Perf Management categories for example). If you survey other resources on the net, you will find everything from survival tips to research papers, see How Not to get Laid Off, 25 Hot Tips For Managing Your Career, Managing Careers in Large Organizations, etc. However, this doesn’t make the job of a manager with 9 reports any easier, given the fact that there is no silver bullet to be used when managing your reports’ careers is concerned. Career Management takes time, and time is something a busy manager like Ravi doesn’t have.

This post builds on previous posts, and offers some quick tips (based on my previous writings on the subject) which busy and burdened managers may find useful. Based on my experience and those of others around me, I can vouch for their effectiveness, but then every organization is different and there are lots of things which can make life complex and hence no guarantees!

Assuming that Ravi finds the previous posts useful, he should have planned to do the following:

  1. Set up clear goals and measures of success for his reports.
  2. Figure out effective ways of doing 1-1s.
  3. Set up clear delegation and/or empowerment strategies to be more efficient in daily working
  4. Set up right communication channels with stakeholders and managers to keep his team focused

For his reports, this means they know what their goals are (and how it fits within organization’s goals), how their performance will be measured, they know they have a forum to give and take feedback about their work and career (1-1s), they understand the boundary of decision-making with their boss and hence can work freely, and they know their boss takes care of them by helping them focus on their work and deliver on those performance goals rather than getting them randomized with stakeholder requirements.

This is a huge achievement on its own, and Ravi should celebrate it J! Employees should celebrate too, having such clarity and focus gives all the ingredients to build a great and satisfying career in the company.

So what else is needed before Ravi can claim he is managing careers of his reports too?

The piece which is missing from this otherwise perfect picture is alignment of these (organizational) goals with personal career goals that individual employees may/should have. Otherwise, successful completion of projects and great performance appraisals will translate into growth for the company, but may not necessarily mean growth for the individual. Therefore, Ravi needs to spend time on this alignment. So how does he do that?

Here are the steps I recommend to managers (and which I follow):

  1. Identify the career goals that the individual has. Most people haven’t spent enough time to understand/identify their own career goals, and hence this will prove to be a difficult exercise, but very important to do. Starting with “Assume this is 2014, and describe where you are from a career perspective, what you have accomplished, what you are doing right now, etc” and/or “Assume you are on the cover of The Time, what do you want the cover story to talk about you?” works well with most people in my experience. Important thing is to force people to think about the big picture and deep into future. Once big picture thinking is done, try to get to 1 yr, 2 yr, 3 yr type goals which are likely to be actionable.
  2. Identify strengths, weaknesses, skills and interests of the individual. This takes time and working closely with individuals obviously help.
  3. Identify projects that are likely to play to strengths or interests of the individual AND which align with the career goals identified in #1 above.
  4. As much as possible, project/work assignments should be done with organization-career goal alignment in mind rather than ‘first one available’, manager should never hesitate in switching projects and people if it makes more sense for careers.

For more details on each of these steps, you can review my previous posts (drop me a note if you want specific recommendations).

I define Career Portfolio as a rich profile of strengths, weaknesses, interests, skills, and career goals for an employee. It is manager’s responsibility to keep this portfolio in mind all the time, and it is employees responsibility to help the manager keep this portfolio updated.

#4 is worth reiterating: most organizations/managers do not pay enough attention to this way of assigning projects, and one of the most common reasons is that they are not aware of the ‘career portfolio’ of their reports to begin with. This is the most fundamental problem to be solved when managers need to manage careers. Managers with large number of reports actually have an advantage here because they will have a large variety of career portfolio that can satisfy most organization goals the manager needs to sign up for, without asking their reports to work on projects that do not align with their career portfolio (it sounds almost like the matching game in Kindergarten). This keeps his reports happy, motivated and hence highly productive.

However, as this Harvard Business Review blog (How Great Managers Manage People) suggests, great managers “define the outcomes they seek and let each person use her individual talent to achieve them”, “emphasize the development of their subordinates’ unique strengths so as to help further their talent, while finding strategies to support their weaknesses” and “rate the performance and develop the person—they realize that every person is different and should be treated as such”; career management needs to be tailored for individuals in the team and hence it is likely to take significant time investment”

This marks the end of the series on managing large teams. While we discussed about various things Ravi and other managers in that role can/should do, I am sure you see that managing in general is hard, and managing large team is very hard. However, it is also the challenge which motivated managers like to take up and do well against. If this challenge doesn’t excite you, maybe you are not cut out to be a manager, and you need to re-think your career strategy.

I am very interested in reading about your experiences in similar situations, so do post your comments or drop me a note.

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