It Is Personal, Even When It Shouldn’t Be

It’s all about appearances. If you work hard and focus on your tasks and your tasks only in the hopes your superior will recognize the achievements and helps you to the next level you are mistaken. At least most of the time. There certainly are great managers and leaders who recognize the potential in their subordinates and provide the opportunities where the employee can prove they can do the job but most of the time you need to be a bit more pro-active if you want to get to the next level. And when you have a remote manager who doesn’t see what you are doing every single day then this applies even more. So what do you do to make sure your boss recognizes your contributions and helps you to the next level?

Image matters

Doing a great job is important but it is not enough. You may be the best software developer or tester in the world but if no one knows about your work then no one can recognize your achievements and appreciate of what you are doing. A bit of self-promotion never hurts if done carefully. In fact, in some cultures it might be even expected. And if you feel like you don’t want to promote yourself you may ask your team mates or informal leaders to help you out here. Some managers even have the habit to finish their team meetings by giving kudos to team members who achieved something significant and also asking anyone from the team to speak up if they want to recognize some of their colleagues.

Being honest with yourself

Are you sure that the way you see yourself is also the way how others see you? Are you sure that the work you did is really that significant and worth recognition and promotion? Are you sure that you understand what shortcomings are holding you back? Most of us tend to overestimate our own achievements and contributions and marginalize the achievements of others. And as I wrote in Human Brain, The Biggest Liar Of All Times our memory doesn’t really help here. So before you start complaining that you were once again skipped for promotion be honest with yourself and look deep down into your inner self whether the problem is outside of you or whether it is something internal you should work on.

Getting feedback

The best way to learn how others see you is to get feedback. How to do that? There are tons of different ways starting with anonymous surveys and ending with actually talking to people and asking them for their honest opinion. The important aspect is to pick the right people you ask. It should be people that have at least one of these qualities: you respect their opinion; they have been in your shoes; they genuinely want to help you; they know you; they know your work; they are very different from you; they are your bosses, peers, subordinates and saw you in action; they have nothing to lose by being honest with you. And if you still don’t know how to do it you can always ask for help either your HR department or some close friend who will be able to gather the feedback for you and then will be brutally honest with you.

Having a mentor

When you know what your strengths and weaknesses are then get a mentor. Find someone who you respect for the particular skill you want to build and ask him for help. Most of us are happy helping others and sharing our experiences and wisdom. You may ask your HR department to help out, you may ask your boss or you may just actively seek someone by yourself. And depending on what skill you want to build you may look even outside of your company. When you ask HR department then ask for several options. The worst thing that could happen is that you get an official mentor that you don’t respect or where there is no chemistry or enthusiasm. Such a mentoring would be waste of time of both of you. If you find a mentor within your company and ideally also somewhere up the ladder it may help you tremendously as he or she may not only teach you a trick or two but may become your advocate and share your accomplishments with the rest of the management team. And that usually means higher visibility and more opportunities.

Building alliances

Don’t leave all the work to others. Regardless your position in the company you should always do all your best to help others. Make it a point of knowing people not just from your department but also from other groups, make it a point of greeting everyone in the company, be positive and willing to help out others even when there is no immediate reward. Give credit to others and do your best to promote the good job done by others. Why? This is the way to build alliances. This is the way to truly understand the business, to expand your horizons, to get your name out there. Next time there is a discussion about who should lead a cross departmental project, guess who will be on top of everyone’s mind.

Getting back on your feet

And what if for whatever reasons your reputation took a hit? We all make mistakes, and do or say things we would rather take back. Just don’t get too much attached to your mistakes. Get up, dust yourself off and forget that it ever happened. Others will forget in time too. And what if even after a long period of time and numerous successes there is still a shadow of that past mistake lingering above you? You have two options. First, confront whoever still holds the grudge with the new reality and ask what more you can do to show that you have learned from your mistake. Second, consider whether it is really worth your effort to try to prove that you changed to someone who doesn’t want to see it and possibly leave for a team or organization that is more open minded.

Twitter type summary: “You might be the best of the best at your job, but if no one knows then no one will recognize your achievements.”

What are your thoughts on hard work and recognition? How do you ensure that you understand who the best people on your team are even when they work remotely?

You’ve got the right guy… in the wrong job

It happens all the time. You hire the best and the brightest, you provide them the means to do a great job, to learn and to grow. Then the day comes you feel like your best individual contributor deserves a promotion. He has done such a great job in his current role, he is smart, dedicated and you feel he has a great potential so you promote him to a manager. That is when things go wrong, somehow he struggles in his new role, people in the team still respect him for his technical skills and ability to get things done, but they don’t respect him as a leader, they don’t follow him. He still feels like he needs to keep doing the work of individual contributor, creates a rift in the team, the motivation in the team is deteriorating and you struggle with retention. What went wrong?

It happens all the time. You take a great individual contributor, rip him out of his ideal job where he really contributes and put him to a role that is not suitable for him, that doesn’t bring him joy and that makes him fail… I used to work for a big global organization with half a million people worldwide. We had a very good training program for new managers, we had a detail development plans and everyone had a clear career path to follow. People were promoted based on the merit, on their contributions and sometimes on their tenure with the company. There was this joke going around that we promote people as long as they are able to handle the job. When they get to a position that is above their abilities their promotions stop. Unfortunately this eventually leads to organization where all the roles are filled by people who cannot handle them.

So what is the alternative? You don’t promote people based on how they are doing in their current job, but rather based on their abilities to handle the job that needs filling. So instead of promoting the best developer to development manager role you promote the one whose contributions in developer role were not particularly noteworthy but who has a great ability to communicate and is able to organize others for a common goal. As I wrote in The Broken Ladder there are different ways to look at career and you can have a very fulfilling professional life without moving up the ladder. You essentially want to find a sweet spot for everyone in your team and then make him work miracles.

What are the advantages of the sweet spot concept? What are the advantages for the organization, you as a leader and individual employees?

Everyone does what they are good at

You let everyone excel in what they are good at. You maximize their potential by focusing on their strengths and that brings maximal value for the company. If someone is a stellar developer, accountant or sales person why to make him a mediocre manager? You organization then suffers big loss on the individual contributor side that is difficult to fill and what you get back is a manager that will have a negative impact on the rest of the team thus lowering the productivity of everyone else.

Everyone does what makes them happy

It is all about passion. If you do job or tasks you are passionate about you feel great deal of personal satisfaction and you are happy. Having people in the right roles, where they bring the best of themselves allows them to be super successful and that brings a great deal of satisfaction with their jobs and happiness to their lives. If you love having things under control, you want to understand everything in the smallest detail and you love getting things done with your own hands and that is what makes you happy then being in a managerial position where you are required to work through other people will make your life pretty miserable. Why would you want that?

People can still grow

The danger of having everyone in their sweet spot is that they get really comfortable and will not strive for more. That mindset would be very dangerous for the organization as it would stifle future growth. So even when you give everyone a chance to be in their sweet spot you still need to challenge them, step by step increase the scope of their work so they learn more, expand their skill set and essentially expand their sweet spot to bigger and bigger role.

Twitter type summary: “Going for the sweet spot is the best strategy for building a high-performing organization where people do what they are passionate about.”

How do you promote people in your organization? What are the criteria you use to get people into management roles?