Why do we work – when organizations care about careers

In the last post on Career Stages, I described a few key attributes for evaluating career progression that organizations and/or individuals need to take care of if they want to effectively manage the career, esp. of their senior employees. Low engagement level, ‘through others’ contribution mode, and # of real working hours are key points an organization need to care about if they want their senior employees to contribute significantly.

The definition of ‘senior’ is vague, and will vary from company to company. However, most companies know their ‘senior’ employees, and most ‘senior’ employees know they are ‘senior’, and so we don’t need a precise definition for now! J

So what can an organization do?

  1. Upgrade recognition and project assignment systems: Most senior people (by above vague definition of ‘senior’!) are asset to the company. They have contributed a lot to the organization in the past and have gained immense domain knowledge that they are always eager to share and give back to the organization. As they meet their basic needs from the job (personal security, financial stability, health and well-being, etc.), Continue reading

Why do we work – Career vs. Needs Hierarchy

I have been talking to many working professionals over past few weeks about their need to work and what they seek from work. This post (and the next one) summarizes my observations and theory around what I hear.

From a career and motivation perspective, there are 4 levels of employees in an organization:

  • Entry Level employees (Level 1): These are employees who are still figuring out how their career will proceed. Typically these are employees with 0-5 yrs of experience. They need a secure job that can fulfill their basic needs and they are willing to be very flexible around what roles they take up to achieve this. They are mostly unclear of their career goals and rely on their manager for all career guidance. Continue reading

New Managers: moving from 1 report to 5 reports effectively

You were a management understudy and had a report (or 2) to test your management abilities. Now your manager thinks you are now ready to be a manager and you now have 5 reports. Congratulations!

Once celebrations are over, you start thinking: is this going to be any different than before? Do my strategies for managing my 1 report extend to managing these 4? And you start getting some doubts. Are there some reasons to worry?

In a previous post about industry newbie as manager, I pointed to perils of getting promoted to management position too early in the career. This is a very real problem and newbie managers should guard against this by spending enough time to master these skills and getting good at dealing with ambiguities and achieving results through others. Having 1 or 2 reports to start a management career is a good way to start practicing these.

In another post about management challenges, I discussed major aspects of management that become critical when you have too many reports (my example had 9 reports). All those are very valid for managers having any number of reports, and if you are a new manager, you will do good to review them.

However, when you move from 1 report to 4-5 reports, there is a big pitfall that you will do well to avoid. This is the art of time management. Continue reading

Effective 1-1s – Fostering trust and creating no-harm zone

Effective 1-1 is the cornerstone of a successful management career, and acquiring necessary competencies in order to have a great 1-1 with your reports is a great career enhancement technique.

I have referred to this topic many times in my posts and have couple of posts devoted to this topic (see Managing 1-1s and Effective 1-1s). Those posts talk about tips for making 1-1s effective and efficient.

One of the basic premises for a successful one on one is to be able to build the trust and openness that can let communications happen. This is what one of ex-boss called ‘no-harm zone’. This is the place and time when participants can be open, truthful, critical, candid and emotional, and still can rely on the other party to keep all this in confidence. Notice that I am not saying that only one party (your report if you are a manager) has to feel and act that way; both parties have to feel and act the same. Continue reading

Comparing management experiences in US, China, and India


I have been working in China for last 18 months or so, with one of the largest software MNC here. During this period, I have (very briefly, 3 months) been an individual contributor and rest of time I have been a people manager. Having been a people manager in India and US in the past, I now have the perspective on managing people in 3 biggest economies of the world! Given this, let me share some comparisons and contrasts across these three countries.


  1. Effective people management requires customization to individual needs – Some individuals require you to be very direct and brutal in communication and feedback, others need you to be softer in your message and be more sensitive to their emotional needs. This variation occurs in all teams in all countries and I couldn’t find any pattern of cultural or geographical preferences; an effective manager needs to be adaptable and have a set of styles to suit individuals reporting to him/her.
  2. Career growth and development is #1 concern for everyone – Most of the concerns and problems I have faced over last 8-9 years across these 3 countries can be traced to concerns and insecurities around where the career is going and whether they control their own career. Sometimes it has required effort to figure the root cause out, and some other times it has been masked by the skills requirements and weaknesses of individuals, but a focus on career topics have helped a large number of 1-1 I have had over this time. Continue reading

High-performance teams – Do they need leaders?

Recently I attended a training which highlighted some of the differences between team and workgroups. The discussion started with the team definition. The definition used was the one from ‘Wisdom of Teams‘ book:

A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable

This immediately (and rightly so in my opinion) shows that discipline-based teams (like dev team, test team or PM team) is not really a team but a workgroup since it doesn’t have complementary skills and mostly they are individually-accountable. A real team in such discipline-based organizations (which is most of the organizations in this world) will be feature/product teams which are formed to create solution for a specific problem.

However, this got me thinking again on the topic of leadership: how important is the role of a leader in a team? In a workgroup, a leader is obviously needed because someone is needed to hold people individuals accountable to their assignments.

Most of the examples in Wisdom of Teams have designated leaders in the team (and the special role a designated leader plays in the team) but the definition itself doesn’t include the need for a leader. This may be because in a high-performance team, individuals step up to lead as needed and hence designated leader may not be needed on day-to-day basis.

However, in most real-life teams I have seen, the designated/natural leader is the one who takes the additional responsibility (call it individual accountability) to keep the spirit of team alive by continuing to strive for common purpose and mutual accountability when things go wrong or get stuck.

When we discuss the forming-storming-norming-performing model for team, storming is the phase where most teams get stuck for a long time, and again it is the designated leader who has to get the team moving on to the norming and performing phases by being creative in storming phase (without short-circuiting the process of storming of course).

In my opinion, self-managed team is a rarity and while it is an ideal goal to have, we cannot plan for such an ideal outcome and try to work without a leader. As a manager, if you get a chance to form a team, it is your responsibility to designate a leader for the team (with clear roles and responsibilities, which are different than when you are a manager for example), and you would have tremendously increased the chances of success for the team.

What do you think about this? Is a leader essential to a team, or do you think he/she will hinder the performance of the team in most of the cases?

What do leaders/managers give to organizations?

This is performance review time, and naturally I am thinking about what I have done over the past year as a leader/manager to warrant any reward. It is always hard to figure this out, because all the work is done by an Individual Contributor, and so it is hard to be objective when evaluating the performance of a lead/manager.

Here are some values I believe a lead/manager provides to the organization and should be used for performance measurements:

  1. Judgment – Take difficult decisions even with incomplete information
  2. Mentoring and Coaching – develop better Individual Contributors, new leaders and managers
  3. Vision –Provide roadmap (new or interpretation of existing one) to employees, both for personal growth as well as for organizational growth (employees need both), do long term thinking
  4. Change Agent – Change is very hard, leaders/managers need to be the change agent by figuring out when a change is needed, as well as ways of successfully implementing change while continuing to show results
  5. Role model – Leaders are what employees want to be, and hence their behavior is closely watched and often emulated by others. As such they need to reflect right organization culture and values at all times. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Managing Expectations

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

In this post, we are going to try answering the question: How does a manager as important as him (and holding as many resources) manage expectations from other senior managers and executives without over-committing his team or himself?

If you try to look for writings on the topic of managing stakeholders, you will find very tactical things (“Managing Stakeholders“, “Project Management Success“), some useful tips (“6 steps to success“) and some philosophy (“Managing Key Stakeholders“). In any organization, there are a lot of internal stakeholders (“a person or group that has an investment, share, or interest in something” – matrix organization‘), there will be much more communication-related expectations, organizational cultures that are very results focused may want you to keep improving your efficiency and keep delivering more, managers (or organizations or culture) who focus on long-term growth and vision may pose stringent requirements for people growth, and so on. Dictionary.com) for any given work. For example, in a typical software product development company, a manager in R&D group typically has these stakeholders: his/her manager, managers in peer disciplines (dev, test, operations, etc), product manager(s), heads of engineering, marketing and support organizations. Typically, stakeholders exert enough influence directly or indirectly on your work to make a significant difference to the outcome (positively as well as negatively) and hence it is important to manage their expectations.

There are three aspects of expectations from these stakeholders that Ravi needs to keep in mind: