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 – 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

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

Appreciation at workplace

I was talking to someone from my last company and this came up: why is it that I don’t get appreciated when I do a good job, but no one forgets to blame me when something goes wrong?

It definitely sounded familiar to me: in every company I have worked so far, I have heard this complaint from my peers, my reports (yes, I am guilty too) and from me. And when broached this topic with people around me, I got similar comments of not getting as much appreciation as they would like and getting more blame and problems than they can handle.

Wikipedia defines appreciation (or gratitude): “A positive emotion or attitude in acknowledgment of a benefit that one has received or will receive. According to University of California-Davis researcher, Robert Davis, gratitude requires three conditions: a gracious individual must behave in a way that was 1) costly to him or her, 2) valuable to the recipient, and 3) intentionally rendered”

I looked around to see if a motivated manager can find the resources necessary to do a good job, and I could find plenty. There is a lot to be found on Internet: 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

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

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