What do you focus on – activities or results?



Many of you would have had your performance review 1-1 recently, and most likely you are disappointed about how it went. There are many reasons why you would be disappointed right now, I talked about it in my post last year about this – Performance Review – The Day After.

If you want to understand why this disappointment happens (and maybe every year) and what you can do about it, read on. Continue reading

Why do we work – When individuals care about careers

In my last post on when organizations care about careers, I talked about various things an organization can do in order to utilize their employees effectively and in the process, help employees realize their career goals.

However, not all companies care about careers, and when they don’t, individuals suffer. It is essential for everyone to be focused on their own career goals and manage the career proactively, with or without explicit support from the organization. In a previous post last year (managing career proactively), I described a process to do this. In this post, I want to highlight a few of the areas that individuals should target.

  1. Create and manage personal performance management system – External indicators of high performance include bonus, raise, promotion, rewards, etc., all of which depend on availability of budget. Therefore, absence of such indicators (for example, no raise company-wide because economy is in bad shape) can’t be taken to be a low performance indicator. Reverse is also true: a solid raise (just because company did well and economy is going strong) doesn’t always indicate a particularly high performance. However, many individuals are unable to keep this distinction clear in their head and end up getting a false notion of career growth (or lack of it). It is important for individuals to create their own measures of their performance and use it over a period of time. Learning goals (and their attainment) are usually the best indicators of career growth, but other measures can be used too, as long as the variables are in your control. Continue reading

Why do we work – career stages and attributes

In my previous post on ‘Why do we work‘, I talked about 4 levels of employees from the perspective of career and motivational stages: Entry Level Employees, Senior employees/frontline managers, Middle Managers, and executives. They differ in terms of how they manage their career and what motivates them to give their best to the organization. I also talked about the fact that motivations flow from basic human needs (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). In this and next 2 posts, I will focus on first 3 and discuss their career perspectives and what can be done to improve the situation.

Here is a look at some key career attributes for early and late stages of career. Please note that this description applies to cases when individuals let the organizations drive their career plans. Also, there will be many more attributes than just these when you analyze your own career journey, these are the ones I found repeating across the people I talked to and have worked with in the past. Continue reading

Being Effective at workplace – Taking Initiatives

initiativeThis post is a part of the series of posts I am doing on Being Effective at workplace.

Taking initiative is about picking up organizational challenges to solve without being asked and delivering results. Taking initiative is a well-known way to achieve stardom at workplace. A FastCompany article has this to say from the book How to Be a Star at Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed:

For stars, initiative generally has four elements: It means doing something above and beyond your job description. It means helping other people. Usually it involves some element of risk-taking. And when you’re really taking initiative, it involves seeing an activity through to completion.

Here are a couple of other rules about initiative: First, before you take on anything new, make sure that you’re doing your assigned job well. Second, remember that social initiatives don’t count for much. Organizing the company picnic or a blood drive won’t get you the kind of recognition you want. They’re fine things to do – but do them because they bring you satisfaction. Third, the kind of initiatives that matter to your career are those that relate to the company’s critical path. Find out what promotes the company’s core mission, and tie your initiatives to it.

However, taking initiative is hard:

  • Since it is taking something beyond your regular work, it requires extra time investment which few people seem to have in today’s busy organizations.
  • It requires risk taking and results may not always be there, so an organization too focused on fixing problems and eradicating failure may actually penalize initiative-takers in many cases. 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

How do you evaluate your performance?

Everyone I have met at workplace wants to make sure they are being evaluated fairly and are given right indications about the result of their evaluations. Most of the time, they rely on the process of evaluation that organization has put in place: manager feedback, acceptance and respect among peers, performance evaluation process, etc. The visible outcomes of these evaluations that people expect are: salary increases or rewards, praise and appreciation from their manager or peers, excellent rating and ranking in performance evaluation process. Lack of these usually signals to them that their performance is not up to the mark.

I have been talking to many individuals recently, and when I ask them how they evaluate themselves in terms of career growth, they always mention one or more of the above. When I ask them the impact these have on them, they mention that they get very unhappy when there is no recognition from their manager or when their rating is poor even when they thought they did very well. And they get happy and feel good when managers praise or rating is excellent.

However, there are many, equally good if not better, career growth measures that can be used which do not depend so much on external factors. Continue reading

Personality Style or Weakness – you are the judge

One of the persons reporting to me mentioned he has bad memory and so he cannot quickly respond to out-of-context questions. He further inferred from this that this weakness will stop him from doing his job effectively.

After more discussion, it was clear to me (though I leave this decision to the person himself) that it is not so much a memory problem but instead a manifestation of his personal style where he is not very good at quick response when put in a spot. So my advice to him was to understand this aspect of himself more deeply and see how he can avoid being put into such situation (or use his other strengths to get out of it!), rather than treating this as a weakness and trying to acquire skills (memory enhancement, public speaking courses?) to mitigate this. 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?

Performance Review – Weaving personal goals into organizational ones

Often times, setting goals for next year’s performance review takes into account only organizational goals set by the manager for the employee. This misses an opportunity to set the goals in a way that could benefit the employee’s career growth plan in the most direct way.

As an employee, you should look at goals set by your manager as what organization wants to achieve. You then need to identify your personal goals and figure out a way (working with your manager) to write the goals and execution plans in a manner that can incorporate personal goals without compromising organization goals. This creates a win-win situation for you and your manager. Continue reading