Thursday, July 29, 2010

"How do I get promoted?" Part II: How to approach your manager

Once you and your mentee have concluded that a promotion is the best way forward how do you advise them to proceed?

First allow me to reveal some "managerial dirty little secrets" (or phrased more positively, some lesser known facts):

Dirty little secret #1: In the old days a person's boss was really the be all and end all of an employee's destiny. Today most organizations work on management issues in committees especially when it comes to performance reviews and its accompanying activity promotional reviews. The good news is that nowadays a person's boss is not necessarily the sole determining factor in a person's career advancement as peers might come to the manager to suggest they have a candidate that's ready for the next level. The bad news is that an employee can no longer just "kiss up to" one or two people to move up the ladder but in fact must impress most everyone at their boss' level in addition to their own boss. Being able to work successfully and effectively across teams and divisions becomes key here. I would ask the mentee if they feel their boss' peers know who they are and how their contributions help the company's bottom line.

Dirty little secret #2: While the role nowadays of someone's manager is no longer as singularly important for advancement still every promotion needs a champion and it's best that the champion be the manager. I would ask the mentee if they feel their manager is or can easily become their champion.

Dirty little secret #3: So based on secret #1 the promotional game is kinda "who you know" because the more managers the mentee knows and interacts with then the more those managers can discuss the mentee's qualifications in those promotional review committees and support advancement. If most managers don't know the mentee and stay silent during the promotional review discussion that's almost as bad as someone saying something negative about the mentee's prospects for advancement. And it's actually more than "who you know" but more like "who you've helped". If the mentee has found a way to be a constructive part of other people's/team's success they will certainly be looked favorably upon at review and promotion time.

Dirty little secret #4: And it's also kinda "who knows you". You want to make sure the mentee is the "go to" person in their organization and to achieve that people have to:
1. know who the mentee is
2. know what the mentee's area of expertise is and
3. recognize the mentee as the local expert and feel they are approachable enough to "go to" for questions and  correct answers.

Below is the conversation I've had and would have with my own mentee outlining a set of steps to follow when approaching a manager about a promotion. But it should also be used as a checklist by the mentee to 1. ensure these things do in fact right true for them and 2. better prepare for the all important conversation.
1. At your next 1:1 meeting with your manager calmly and clearly state your desire for a promotion. While it may be obvious to you that you want and deserve a promotion you can't assume your manager can read your mind. I personally have encountered very, very few managers that could read minds and those that could sometimes would ignore the information they received.

2. Managers feel much better promoting someone who is already operating at the next level. Be prepared to define what kind of performance you feel is required at the next level. (Remember that your manager could have a different perception than you so be open to learning about what your manager feels is required!) Be prepared to demonstrate that you are already operating at that level by telling stories, bringing emails of recognition and succinctly reminding your manager of the positive impact you've already had on the team.

3. Describe clearly how promoting you to the next level will benefit the team/division/company. This is critical and most often forgotten. While the promotion feels like it's all about you, you are only going to get promoted if it truly benefits the company's bottom line. You have to make it clear that this promotion is not necessarily "good for you" but rather critical to the team/division/company's success. For example, are you the "go to" person - the person everyone comes to when they have business or technical problems they can't solve themselves?

4. Finally, be open to feedback from your manager. If your manager happily agrees with you about your readiness politely inquire what are the next steps that need to be taken by your manager or yourself to push ahead with your candidacy. If however the manager is hinting that you are not ready be sure to accept this information with an open mind and ask what you can do differently or better so that you can advance in the near future. Periodically check in with your manager to ensure you are making progress towards your goal. Once you're ready to approach your manager again start these steps over but mention the earlier conversation and bring proof of your progress.

There are a myriad of reasons why you may not get a promotion or if you are ready for one, why you may not get one immediately. These reasons range from you're just not ready to there's no budget for it to it's not the right time of the year (promotions are given within performance review cycles) to there's currently no need for someone at the next level despite your readiness, etc., etc. Even if you get this type of feedback you have still taken the critical first step towards advancement by having this crucial conversation with your manager. Your manager is now aware and you both can partner together to achieve your career goals.
I hope you find the above "sample conversation" useful as a framework for your own mentoring discussions. If I've left anything out please let me know!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"How do I get promoted?"

[UPDATE: To see a companion video to this blog post click here!] 

A mentee of mine once asked me "How do I get promoted?"

Whenever I get a question like this my first thoughts always are around "what's behind the question?". Independent of whether I agree this person is ready for the next level (and it's likely not my decision as a person's mentor is usually not their manager) it's important to understand the individual's motivation for the question. By the way, as a manager I'm also very interested in this exercise!

For many folks the word "promotion" is shorthand for something else. It can be anything from "more money" to "more responsibility" to "better work" to "getting recognized" to "getting an office" to "getting a secretary", etc. etc. More likely they'll say it's a combination of those but there's usually one reason that stands out for someone over the others.

My first step in answering their question is to understand this all important reason and then ensure that they understand it themselves. Even when we're not in one of the most difficult economic downturns in a century promotions are usually few and far between. Mind you, I have worked in organizations where promotions were given out like they were going out of style but in those cases either the company simply did not know what it was doing organizationally (which is very bad) or was playing catch up with well-deserving folks (a better reason than the first but still not great). The path to promotion, certainly in a mature organization, is usually a long one and one that does begin with their initial question "how do I get promoted?".

Once we have the answer - say for Person A "getting promoted" equals "getting recognized" it's time to then delve into the next level and ask them what that (i.e. "getting recognized") means to them. At this level too you'll receive a myriad of answers and it's extremely important as a mentor to once again ferret out a crisp definition of what the person wants. For Person A "getting recognized" might mean having the head of the division or the CEO mention them at an all hands. Perhaps "getting recognized" means getting taken out to dinner or attending business conferences or working more directly with customers. "Working more directly with customers" straddles "more responsibility" as well but that's fine.

The next step is to find out whether they believe the only way to get what they want is through a promotion. In Person A's case surely there are many ways to "get recognized". As their mentor you could encourage them to first speak with their manager and ask if there's anything more they could be doing to be deserving of that kind of "special" recognition from time to time. I would ask Person A if they've ever requested to attend a business conference. You'd be surprised how many people want their managers to simply guess at their desires. While the really great managers do ask the individuals on their team questions about what makes them tick there are plenty of managers who skip over that kind of important conversation and never find out what people want or need. But had they the information they would go out of their way to satisfy those desires for their team members. I know many good managers who would do anything for their team - they just never ask the initial question to find out what it is they should be on the lookout for! (This will be a topic of a future posting).

Another thing I'd suggest to Person A is to find a peer who did get what they want for themselves and ask them how they did it to model that behavior. I'd also ask Person A to act in a way as if they're already getting what they want. Usually reframing a situation for a person will invite a new behavior which itself invites the kinds of things they want to attract into their lives.

Parallel to the above steps I would ask a mentee interested in getting a promotion if they think they're actually ready and why. I talk through with them what their work life would probably be like after getting a promotion and remind them of things like: "you'll be traveling a lot more and be away from home", "you'll be less technical and coding a lot less", "you'll have to write and give people performance reviews twice a year", etc. etc. I've had cases where someone I'm mentoring didn't really consider everything that a promotion means and it gave them pause - which is great! You want to make sure the person is confident in themselves and in what they want through and through before moving forward on the promotional path.

Finally if we do determine together that a promotion is the optimal way forward and is well deserving then there are steps to take for that....but that's another day's posting!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mentoring = Networking

There's a saying "it's not what you know but who you know". Most people once they're in the working world for about 10 minutes realize that there's a lot of truth in there. The focus on "who you know", i.e. relationships, is not necessarily a bad thing though! There's another saying that fits in here too which is "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts". Well, that "whole" is achieved through teams and relationships.

Companies look for people who are "team players". This is especially pertinent in a global economy and a "greening" economy (where folks work from home in order to save gas and reduce pollution among other things). Your co-workers are less and less likely to be sitting physically around you and instead are much more geographically dispersed. Interpersonal skills that allow one to establish strong relationships quickly and through "restricted" means such as a telephone or video conference are significantly rising in value.

So what do you do with a mentee that is, to put it mildly, hesitant to reach out and network? You can't make an introvert into an extrovert surely but here are some things I've tried in the past that's met with success:

1. Suggest to that person to attend a public speaking class (if you are their actual manager then do more than suggest, send them!). This can be anything from a serious, multi-day formal training class where you practice giving speeches, get videotaped, receive feedback and try again to something like Toastmasters. (I love Toastmaster's tag line: "Because communication is not optional")

2. Along the lines of #1 someone can take acting or improvisational classes. The point of these classes is to give someone a safe place to practice communicating in uncomfortable situations. The better they get and the more confident they get at these key skills the more open they'll be to building relationships and the better they'll be at it too! I've really seen this work.

3. Linkedin - you are reading this blog so chances are high you already know about linkedin. It's the professional's facebook if you will. It allows one to get a great start at networking while avoiding the initial discomfort of reaching out. It also helps you target who to network/build relationships with given a certain purpose (like wanting to work for a particular company).

4. For someone that is uncomfortable networking because it feels like they are "selling themselves" I suggest to them to reframe the interaction as their own "mentoring" opportunity. I say to them: "Don't look at it like you are networking to help yourself instead reach out and look for ways you can help that other person." Sure helping others is a good way to build relationships but it's also just good karma. Pay it forward, so to speak.

5. Lastly I remind people that networking is not necessarily a one-to-many activity. For example, there are people who go to a party and stand there in a large group telling stories and making friends. But it doesn't have to be like that to be a positive experience. One can also go to a party and just interact with a few good folks one on one and one at a time. This makes this issue of networking feel a bit more scoped down, personal and achievable to those shier among us.

Hopefully you've found some useful suggestions in this posting to encourage your mentees to get out there and start building relationships/networking! If you have other thoughts or suggestions please send them along.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Motivation Part I: "move away" or "move towards"?

The topic of "motivation" has filled tomes and tomes in self-help and psychology sections of online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. The aspect of motivation I want to talk about today is one thing among many to notice about a person when your goal is to motivate them. Actually, there's tons to talk about even within this one aspect so I'll just focus on one part today and talk about other parts over the coming weeks.

Are you a "move away" or a "move towards"?

You've heard of optimists and pessimists. A slightly more complex way to look at a similar trait is that people tend to fall into one of two categories - that of "move away" and "move towards". A "move away" person is someone that is motivated by moving away from something they do not like or fear. A "move towards" person is someone that is motivated to move towards a particular goal - something they want. It is neither good nor bad to be one or the other. It just 'is' - and it takes all kinds to make up a world. The key here is to first figure out what your mentee/employee is and to frame assignments, milestones, objectives, etc. in a way that motivates them depending on which category they fall into.

A simple way to find out which way someone leans is to ask them what they did over the past weekend. If you get a narrative along the lines of Person A: "I finally cleaned up my house this weekend. I can't stand clutter. Also got to take the dog to the vet and got him his shots so he doesn't get sick" then you have a 'move away' person. This person is charged up by focusing on things they want to change and they act on that.

If the person's narrative sounded more like Person B: "Got my house all nice and clean - gotta be ready to have people over. Took my dog to the vet to keep him healthy and safe" then you've got a different twist on essentially the same activities. However this person likes a clean house to be ready for guests (move towards) as opposed to hating clutter (move away). Person A doesn't want their dog to get sick (move away) so they take them to the vet whereas Person B wants their dog healthy (move towards) so they do the same thing but describe the motivation differently.

Now that you have this assessment in hand let's see how to apply it. Say I had an assignment to build out a company website. I would assign this same project differently to a move towards person than a move away person. To a move away person I'd say something like "we need a new website built. All our competition has snazzy websites and I'm concerned if we don't have one ourselves we'll be in big trouble. The company might lose out to the competition and close down." On the other hand to a move towards person I'd say instead "We need a new website. A presence on the web is a very important and this is a very visible project for yourself and the company." For the move away person I give them consequences they'll avoid by succeeding on the project. For the move towards person I give them benefits of the project - something to shoot for.

Once you start noticing what makes different people tick and start to phrase your communication in a way that targets their motivational engine you might be amazed at what a constructive force you have at hand.

So what are you? Move away or move towards? Once you've figured that out then go and figure out what your partner/parents/siblings/friends/boss/employees etc. are. Good luck!