December 04, 2009

Who’s In Charge?

Walking home from work you look around and every job looks more appealing than yours. You are in a dead-end role. You don’t like what you are doing. You are bored.

Now this can go one of two ways. One way is to start thinking of the reasons as to why you are in the state you are in – any reason that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with anyone or anything else. The other way is to start thinking of what YOU can do to get yourself out of this rut. You start thinking of a game plan.

Which road do you take?

I have witnessed path #1 when I was a manager of someone who firmly believed they were entitled to the big title and the big salary without being able to show why he was deserving of both. He was fresh out of MBA school, with very little of work experience (six months at the most). However, he had his eye on the prize of a manager title, without looking at what he needed to accomplish to get there. This caused project tasks to be overlooked, details to not be considered, and overall negligence of his responsibilities. During this time, I continuously provided feedback so that he had the opportunity to improve. No such thing happened. At his six-month review, we both rated his performance, and we came up with very different views as to what had occurred over the past six months. As I gave him his feedback, he was incredulous as to what he was hearing, despite my previous feedback. As I cited various examples, he came back why that was not his fault. When we started to discuss his future, he stated his goals of where he wanted to be within the year at our company (and they were quite lofty). He believed that these goals were reasonable “given his MBA”. WHAT?!?! How about what you would like to accomplish? How about what steps you believe you need to take to get there? As you might suspect, he left the company within the year.

I have also experienced #2 as a manager but also personally. I will explain the latter one. I was offered a position within a high-profile project. It was everything I dreamed of – initiating concept development, managing the design and implementation, and providing status and key decision points to executive management. It had incredible responsibility, extensive visibility and success/fail criteria that I would monitor. What more could I ask for? Well, nine months into the project, the company decided to go in another direction, and the project I was on was not a part of the new direction. In all too familiar big company fashion, no communication of the new direction was provided, as well as no course of alternate direction, so the project fizzled with resources having very little to do. It would have been easy to kick up my feet and have the attitude that it wasn’t my fault that this project didn’t work out and that it is up to them to place me on another project given my experience. I have to admit, I did have that attitude for about a week. But I then realized the goals I set forth for myself and how it didn’t need to be this project that would accomplish these goals, it could be another position, another project. I also realized that I could have paved the alternate direction and leverage what was already done to contribute to the new company path. I started talk to my colleagues about my desire for another position, as some people were unaware of the state of the project, as well as what was accomplished over the past nine months. I was then offered to work in other areas that were contributing to the company’s profitability. I was also able to provide the research and designs to the corporate strategy area as the ideas we brought forth were not completely dead in the water. I was able to get my goals back on track, as well as feel good about providing value once again.

The main point of this blog is that “Not my fault” and the “I’m entitled” individuals are pervading our society, much less the business world. You need to clean up your own attitude (if you are guilty of the above), and mentor others to clean up their attitude filled with “Not my fault” and “I’m entitled” ideas and thoughts.

It is time to take charge! You have the most influence of where your career can go, not your boss, not your colleagues, and not your company. (Don’t get me wrong; they do have influence, just not as much as you do.) You can’t blame anyone else for where you are if you haven’t taken the appropriate steps. Get in the driver’s seat of your career:

Have you put together a plan for yourself outlining your roles, goals, and tactics?
The easiest and most clear-cut way to determine what you want to accomplish and how to accomplish it is to create a roles, goals, and tactics plan. The format is as follows:

  1. State the role you currently occupy.
  2. Create the goals you have for yourself within that role.
  3. Provide the tactical steps you will take to accomplish those goals. To make it as tactical as possible, provide a deadline or a milestone.
  4. Repeat for each role you currently have. It does not have to be a stated position to be a role. Being a mentor is a role. Being a member of a committee or steering group is a role. Being an employee and a manager are two different roles.

Have you worked towards those goals utilizing the tactics that you have laid out?
The above document is only as good as what you do with it. It is easy to create the above and then forget about it for six months (trust me, I know). But, having it as your “working creed” can help you become more focused.

Have you talked to the appropriate people (boss, mentor, etc.) about what you want to do?
Don’t expect your boss to be a mind reader – he or she isn’t. Share the above with them and get their feedback as to how you can better accomplish the goals you set forth. They may be able to add more tactics for your plan, as well as provide feedback along the way, as you try to execute.

Are you willing to accept candid feedback?
Accepting complements is fun. Accepting criticism sucks. However, establishing your desire to hear feedback (no matter how bad) from your boss, colleagues, clients, etc. will form a better relationship with those individuals and ultimately help you move forward.

Are you willing to work on the candid feedback that is given to you?
Similar to the document comment above, the feedback is only as good as what you do with it.

Once these five steps have been executed, congratulations! You are now in charge of your career. So, begin the New Year with a new attitude and a new career plan.

How Can We Help?