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 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

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

Being effective – Prioritization and Judgment

This post is the last of the series of posts I am doing on Being Effective at workplace.

Prioritization is about working on things that are most important (and not merely most urgent) for the organization and for self. Judgment is about making decisions at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons. Making good judgment and being able to prioritize the work correctly greatly aid the effectiveness of people. Prioritization allows one to focus on a few important things and deliver results, rather than spreading the energy too thin on too many things. Judgment allows one to make right decisions at the right time, even with incomplete data, and complete the work in time.


For effective people, prioritization is all about alignment. Here are some of the tenets of effective prioritization I have seen practiced:

  • Understanding goals and objectives of the organization/team: Priorities of work must be aligned with organizational goals and objectives. Depending on the work and scope of influence someone has, this may mean team level, department level, or organization level. To achieve this alignment, these goals and objectives must be understood well. This is not as easy as it sounds. Organizational goals are usually stated more generic manner (‘increase revenue by 30%’) than what is usable. Effective people constantly try to interpret them and also use behaviors of senior management to understand these objectives better (‘actions speak louder than words’). Continue reading

Being Effective at Workplace – Collaboration

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

Collaboration is the act of working with others, usually without having formal authority over them, to produce a result. Collaborating is an act of free will, which means people cannot be forced to collaborate. This also means that producing results out of a collaboration can be very hard and very dependent on how the collaborators choose to act.

As I discussed in ‘Taking Initiatives‘ post, for effective people, success depends a lot on how they work with others without having formal authority over them. Hence collaboration is an important activity and being effective at collaboration is an essential goal for them. There are 3 aspects of effective collaboration that I want to talk about in this post.

Influencing and Persuasion Skills

Since leader of the collaborating team doesn’t have formal authority, it is obvious they need to show influencing and persuasion skills in order to get results. These are well-researched topic (see couple of these: The Art of Woo and Exerting Influence Without Authority). To summarize, these are some of the key points to keep in mind when you employ these skills in a collaboration setting: 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

Being Effective at workplace – Active learning

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

Active Learning is the most important attribute of an effective person. Learning in workplace could be a tricky thing though. Learning while working requires reflecting on the work, the results and the process, but we tend to be so focused on the tasks and outcomes that learning takes a backseat most of the time. However, effective learners find time to step back from even the most crunch time and attempt to synthesize their work into bytes of learning that they can absorb and apply.

Most organizations have processes like retrospectives (reviewing lessons learned and areas of improvement in an agile development model), postmortem, RCA, etc. in order to learn from their experiences, but they tend to become about process and less about learning. Effective learners create their own process for learning from their work and environment and continuously apply it to the next set of work they do.

Here are a few ways of active learning that I have observed and found useful:

  • Set learning goals before starting the work. This allows you to focus on exactly what you want to learn rather than getting influenced by the pressures of the work. You need to know what to learn, what not to learn, and what to un-learn. “What to learn” Continue reading