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

News Review: Engagement and Retention challenges

It has been a while since I posted here. I have been extremely busy with lots of interesting things happening with me, and I am enjoying my unemployment thoroughly. I have met lots of interesting people over last few months, including a large number of working professionals who are trying to make changes to their career to zoom ahead. I will post some of my insights from them in a later post, but today I wanted to comment on various news articles I read in Indian business newspapers within few days of each other (Jul 11-13, 2012).

Engagement and retention are issues that organizations are increasingly grappling with. Half of the employees leaving within 5 years may not sound very scary, but organizations which rely on their stars to save the day and carry the mediocres along can’t afford to lose 50% of those stars even in a period as long as 5 years. The churn of workforce in India is at all levels (35% have less than 2 years tenure and a 3rd executives planning to change office within 2 years) and one-third think they are not allowed to perform to their potential because of organizational issues. Overall, this doesn’t paint a good picture about Indian Industries and their future. As I have maintained all along, one of the key drivers for engagement is the perception about organization’s willingness and efforts to address career development needs for the employees. Indian companies tend to pay only lip service to this (canned training, manager’s trainings) rather than offer customized and targeted career solutions, at least to their star employees. Continue reading

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 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

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

Personal Excellence

Why do some individuals always try to do their best in a situation, while others don’t? At work, why do some people bemoan their work, and still do an outstanding job, while others seem happy with their work, and still produce mediocre results? In my experience, this can be traced to one of the important traits of an individual: desire to seek excellence in whatever they do.

Everyone wants to be best at what they do, but it is not always easy to do so. Those with a healthy dose of this trait will continue to pursue excellence even when given a boring assignment or challenging environment, while others will give up and settle for mediocrity. So why do some people pursue excellence? Vince Lombardi (great football coach) suggests, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”. For Indian movie fans, Amir Khan character in 3 Idiots says, “seek excellence, success will follow” (more on 3 Idiots). 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

Career Paths for engineers – Being a Phase 2 IC

When I received my first performance review in as an individual contributor last month, after having been a manager for 7 years before that, it was revealing, to say the least. This prompted me to talk to a few other individual contributors I knew in the company, these discussions were very insightful.

I also reviewed my post last year on Management Track vs. Individual Contributor Track where I had written the following:

“… skills needed to succeed and measures of success for each track are very different and sometimes unclear. To succeed in management track, one needs to be good at dealing with ambiguities, taking decisions based on partial data, and be able to deal to managing regular management challenges; measure of success most of the time is very indirect (mostly through the success of the team members) and hence can be very subjective and debatable. To succeed in IC track, one needs to have deep technical and domain expertise, should be good at solving complex technical problems, and be able to provide technical and thought leadership; measure of success is very direct and objective and mostly based on visible results of the individual…”

and had received some interesting comments:

“..does salary play a role in why people opt for management as against continuing in IC role? If they want a better salary, is moving into management their only option?..”

“..there is no good appreciation for IC’s to stay longer in their position. Its kind of peer pressure and moment of embarrassment when someone in family or friend ask “Are you still a software engineer?”..”

“..Management shows that it as a carrier growth for the individual. Irrespective of the individual interest they force to get into management..”

“..It may be different in multi-nationals but I think in most Indian companies the situation [people being forced into thinking management is the only career growth path] is what you have described..”

My second inning as an IC seems to have given me a different perspective on this topic, a perspective that makes the picture more complete. I realize that my first post was about a specific phase in the career of an IC, and not complete. This post is an attempt to make it more complete and generate more discussions on this topic.

Two Phases of an Individual Contributor Role
Continue reading

Is your manager killing your career aspiration?

I have been talking to a friend who has impeccable credentials as far as resume of an Indian engineer goes: IIT + IIM, about 15 years of work experience working in various big and small software companies in US. Such a resume attracts amazing amount of offers at incredible salary points. However, my conversations with him repeatedly bring up a point: he thinks he is no good, his experience is not useful to any company, he doesn’t do anything that deserves a grand salary, etc. etc. This is an insane view of the world, and when I prod him, I realize what is happening: his current company and his managers have been conspiring against him and using every performance review to tell and show him that he needs to improve in his current work, that he is just an average contributor who is found dime a dozen in this world.

Such an atrocious lie! Such a waste of talent! Such an underutilization of human resource! Continue reading