Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Episode 12 is a bonus episode based on a question we received after our last few episodes We encourage everyone to leave comments and questions so we can continue to provide content that is helpful.
Here is the question: I appreciate the advice from a consultant's point of view. How do I apply these ideas if I am not in consulting?
Great question. We strive to make these examples relevant outside of consulting, but it isn't always clear. We've thought a lot about this and Amanda and I are going to break it down into three times in your career or job.
Remember, we're talking about prioritizing the right things, clarifying unclear problems, and underpromising and overdelivering. If you've noticed, we've switching to the positive view of these problems. To understand the negative sides, listen to Episode 8.
1.In the hiring process.
Have you ever asked about training programs or the promotion path for a new job? How many of you feel bad for asking or feel... maybe greedy or needy? Stop. Pause. Reflect.
Are you planning your career from job to job or is it part of a plan?
When you're joining a company, what are they asking you to do? Specifically? What are the top 3 problems that you are expected to sink your teeth into when you start?
Are the problems clear or vague? A clear goal is to increase same store sales by 10% next month. An unclear goal is to increase sales. What are the measures for success or failure? How long do you have to address these problems? How long is the learning curve and how will you learn? Are you joining a team or a group of individual operators? Is there any formal training or do you have to fake it til you make it?
Often, new hires are expected to be the saviors or miracle workers at their new employer. Approval to hire is often challenging and difficult, outside of a few industries or positions with high turnover. What have they tried to date or are you the next in a line of people attempting the same thing? If conditions change, how will your priorities, goals, and incentives be reset? Or will it just be declared by fiat?
Let's say that you're interviewing for a job in sales. What are the top targets? Where do you need to get in to be successful in the eyes of your lead? Have they tried and failed or is this an entirely new territory or target? Are their playbooks or training sessions to help you get familiar with the product, the culture, and clients? Have previous sales representatives failed to crack this market or client? Why?
Maybe you are going to work in a restaurant. What does the restaurant value the most? Who are their customers? Will you be running their social media account in addition to bartending or serving? Will you be tending the bar, seating people, and washing dishes? Are you filling a position that is short staffed or are you possibly the only person? It's great to have the hours, but if you're the only dishwasher in the place, that's going to get tiring quickly.
Ideally, there is a formal job description that outlines your role, responsibilities, and key success factors. It doesn't have to be a book, but there should be at least a skeleton to help shape your expectations and those of your potential employer. If you don't have a job description available, take a minute to write one down and shape one with your potential boss, if they're open to it. Frame it with the view that you're not looking for a short term gig, you want a career. If they resist, walk away.
2. If you're already in a role.
What if things change? Correction. When things change, how do you handle it? How do you handle or work with a manager who isn't used to talking about your career? Because let's be honest, horrible bosses are far more common than exceptional bosses.
Roles and jobs evolve, no question, but If you don't get clear direction or clear goals, how are you going to be successful?
You're setting yourself up for disappointment if you accept a vague answer. Jobs are fine. You have to eat. But those roles are probably not going to be career builders.
When I was at American Express, I had a colleague who worked on the user experience team. She is a brilliant product manager and designer, but she worked in a remote office. Leadership at Amex is based in New York with technology leadership based in Arizona. We reorganized the team 18 times in 24 months when I was with Amex. Every few months, people would change leaders, goals, and teams.
My colleague had a new manager. He seemed completely disinterested in working with her. It was pretty clear that he had inherited her and wasn't interested in growing her career. She was disappointed and frustrated.
She used the following questions to help shape a conversation, putting these solutions to common mistakes into practice:
What are your expectations for me in my role? What do I need to work on to be promoted to Director? How do I get your full throated support for a 1 or a 2 (Amex rated employees on a 1 - 5 system with 1 at the top)? Can we set aside some time each week for you to give me feedback until we're comfortable that I'm hitting the mark?
As we talked through these questions and planned the conversation, she raised a concern. "What if I don't like the answer to these questions or what if he doesn't have an answer?"
"Well, at least you'll have clarity and you won't be wasting your time. Would you rather know or not know if this is a good long term fit?"
Ultimately, my colleague had the hard conversation. She was disappointed with the answers, but she had clarity that this person was not going to help her grow or champion her career. The good news is that she was and is well liked and appreciated by other leaders. She saw her new leader clearly and she made a plan to build relationships with others who would help her grow. With the next org change, she was sought after and snapped up by a leader who helped her grow.
Organization changes or new hires present a great opportunity to shift your own role. If you have a leader who isn't helping you grow, identify the good leaders in the organization and build relationships with them. You don't have to have a direct reporting line to grow. You can even look outside the organization, but know that your direct supervisor usually has control over your salary growth and bonus potential.
3.If you've been passed over.
A friend of mine works at a Fortune 100 bank. She's been passed over for a Vice President opening for the last two years in a row. Seems crazy, right? You can't swing a dead cat and not hit a VP of something in most banks.
Outside of consulting, most organizations do not have a clear career path. The rules for promotion are vague. Typically, someone leaves or retires in order to have an opportunity to move up. If you're watching Succession on HBO, it's a fairly realistic portrayal of what happens when the positions at the top move around. Not very nice people making decisions out of fear and uncertainty.
Most of us are significantly downhill from these power brokers and deciders in chief. That doesn't mean that you have to sit back and take it. My friend and I have talked about his plan. She is meeting with her leader this week to talk through the following questions:
"What do I need to do to exceed your expectations?" She is starting with a list of key initiatives that she knows about as part of her role on the budget planning committee. Don't start in a vacuum, especially if you're in a situation where you've been striving to make the next level. Will you have the chance to manage a few people or clients directly? What is the size of the budget that you will manage? Demonstrating that you can manage people and a budget are key differentiators in your career. The team sizes should go up, along with the financial responsibility.
"How do I get your full throated support for promotion?" In consulting, we would call these people table pounders. These were the Partners or leaders that you could count on to fight for your promotion until the bitter end. "Meh" was not good enough for promotion at Accenture, Deloitte, or KPMG. You needed vocal support from a chorus of leaders, especially your direct manager. My friend is working to determine if her leader is a true supporter, or if they just happen to quiet down during the worst possible moments. We suspect that it is the latter, but she's clarifying this unclear problem, even if she's pretty sure that she won't like the answer.
"Where can I have the most impact?" Most organizations simply hand out the same rating and same salary increases to everyone. It's the path of least resistance and only a few get the lion's share of the rewards. This is an opportunity to align your responsibilities and effort to the top activities or value creators in the eyes of your leader. My friend's bank is finishing their annual budgeting process. All of the top strategic initiatives have an approximate budget that is being reviewed for FY2020 approval. In the past, she took on assignments without an eye toward their ranking, budget, and strategic importance. She trusted that doing her work well would be rewarded. This year, she's looking to shine on the right stage.
Remember that most managers are not actually leaders. There is not a lot of reward for clear conversations, especially if you're worried that someone might quit or leave if they're disappointed with the conversation. Most managers want to be leaders, but they are also struggling with these concepts of career development and driving themselves. If it were easy, it wouldn't be so damn hard to find a leader.
We hope that these solutions to common mistakes in consulting careers are helpful, even outside of consulting. Set the right priorities, clarify the problem and eliminate assumptions, and underpromise and overdeliver. We hope to hear from you as you experiment with these ideas.