Career & success have been of interest to management research and professionals for long
Every position in a business organization exists for a purpose. When the purpose is consistently met or exceeded by incumbent, individual is rewarded by way of growth. As organizations are continuity, growing best among available talent is an important imperative for every organization to meet its future requirements. Hence learning & growth is a symbiotic process that meets requirements of individuals and organizations.
Commercial organizations are value-centric and yearn for value in every endeavor including into people management processes. When an individual is found to be (capable of) creating value of higher-order, through a structured process (or otherwise) space & mechanism are created to harness latent potential. Career success model for individual managers can be simplified as enhanced value creation (or delivery) in pursuit of organization’s objectives.
Career success models are not (and can’t be) agnostic to context, time, or type of organization. For young managers, who have aspirations to contribute and grow in career & in life, ingredients of success can be simplified into 3 important constituents.
Focus on managing outcomes linked to the position is primary pre-requisite for immediate and long-term success. When consistent results are achieved, it gets recognized. It also enhances confidence in managers’ own ability. Managing results is the core purpose for existence of every position in a hierarchy. Managers focused on achieving all aspects of results and outcomes, invariably grow at an accelerated pace. While end objective of achieving results is important, means are expected to be within acceptable norms of organization. Managers adopting shortcuts in difficult situations get derailed even if they are able to achieve success & growth in short term. There are 3 important constituents of managing results which need to be understood and mastered for long term & continued achievements.
- Know-How of work in all details is must for achieving superior results. Across breadth of roles in hierarchy, gap in know-how acts as a severe limitation. Hence, with purity of purpose, individual is expected to acquire all required knowledge related to completing tasks at different stages of career. Know-how has two complementary dimensions viz. conceptual aspect and execution aspect. Strong conceptual ability helps connect relevant dots and execution ability helps to get the job done. Mere execution strength without conceptual clarity relegates person to status of being a transactional resource. Knowledge of concepts without execution ability significantly reduces usefulness of a resource for a commercial organization. Hence proficiency & deft on both sides are equally important.
- Application of knowledge is an essential element to succeed in any role. Ability to apply accumulated knowledge into work context grows as much as it is practiced. Deeper thinking of problems and orientation to find novel and smarter solutions put individuals on cutting edge. Instead of following known solutions all the time, applying one’s know-how in every possible opportunity is a recipe for success. Application inability leads to individuals remaining a dependent resource in every set up.
- Attitude & leadership is collective term to assimilate softer aspects of success which includes the ability to collaborate with diverse teams, obsessive desire to make decisions related to one’s job (and own outcomes), learning agility, extending & seeking help as per requirement, sharing information with others etc. These softer aspects are honed over a long period and become an integral part of managerial style. Mere achievement of results without these strengths, come up as a career-limiting gap and play out in one’s career at a later stage.
Second layer over results is managing people who are part of team & extended teams (and other important stakeholders). This aspect takes primacy during subsequent stages of career when organization leans towards leaders who have ability to galvanize workforce towards its objectives. Managers who are better at nurturing & growing people in their endeavor of achieving results are preferred as compared to those who are not. For organisms who aspire to continue in perpetuity, it makes immense intuitive sense. One of the important aspects of managing people is to build capabilities at individual, team & organization levels. Managers & leaders understand it well and grow capabilities ahead of requirements. Important elements of nurturing team for individual managers relate to focus, engagement & targeted investment.
- Focus: instead of missing this aspect in priority matrix, acting on a well-designed plan to nurture people & their capabilities helps in differentiated contribution. Irrespective of size, composition or texture of team, informal design, manager is expected to keep continuous focus on all aspects of people who are part of his/her team. Due to variety of reasons, (especially high-performance) managers miss out on this aspect and take their teams for granted. Others consider the team as a resource pool to achieve their career goals and move on, leaving team members in their place. Deeper belief & sense of responsibility towards adding value to each member of team helps manager practice and master nuances of managing people.
- Engage: beyond tasks and results, engaging with individuals, knowing them well, understanding their aspirations and help them navigate into their journey, earns respect and impact beyond contractual obligations. When a manager does it well, ecosystem acknowledges and rewards the manager by way of growth on career ladder. Sometimes, to evade difficult conversations, managers avoid engaging with team members and restrict their access to preferred few. This portrays them as being partial towards a few and not being fair to all. Apart from other impediments, it severely restricts power of collective potential. Not engaging effectively in early-stage, leads to a serious flaw in the future leaders, impact at later stage being massive. Needless to mention that it restricts individual career growth and scope.
- Invest: most important aspect of nurturing team is investing time and resources as required at the n=1 level. Every individual is unique with a different context, history, set of aspirations, interests & abilities. Purpose-oriented investments in terms of assignments, timely help, effective feedback, networks, etc. help members achieve more and progressively grow on career ladder. Proximity of manager and close oversight on work provides an opportunity to know the person at a deeper level, understand potential and harness possibilities. Managers who get the best out of every team member grow faster incorporate careers as compared to those who focus on a few at the cost of others.
Achieving results and nurturing team are important operational requirements. Managers and leaders collectively determine the culture of organization. For individual employees, irrespective of their place in hierarchy, manager is most important person, as frequency & intensity of experience are highest with manager. Well-designed & well-meaning people management policies and procedures are experienced vastly differently in different teams, depending upon orientation of manager. Ensuring team culture aligned with overall organizational culture is incumbent upon every manager as they are face of organization for their employees. Superachievers, solely focused on managing tasks & results but not conscious of managing institutional requirements of culture building, get identified at later stages and find it difficult to rightfully earn leadership positions.
- Values & Ethics: This is a non-negotiable aspect, not limited to financial integrity. Impeccable work ethics, personal conduct, ways of interactions, means & methods to resolve conflicts are some of the important aspects. Since early stages of career, managers who are conscious of learning and practicing these aspects, stand differentiated. Checkered past may act as de-railer at any stage and hence it remains one of the holy cows of career journey for every aspiring manager.
- Communicate: Active advocacy on various aspects of culture within and outside the team forms an important element of participation for managers. Culture in organizations is not a static concept. It changes based on what leadership & workforce collectively does or does not do. Communication plays an important role in influencing collective understanding and orientation in sync with the defined or desired culture. Participation in such efforts also acts as a practicing ground for young managers in understanding nuances of managing such important intangible aspects of an organization and also adds to their leadership abilities.
- Walk the talk: Proverb actions speak louder than words’ has profound meaning in culture-related efforts. Say-do gap plays a spoilsport and hence whatever is stated as norms or culture is essential to be seen in practice. Onus remains with every participant including with individual manager.
These three primary building blocks together, constitute a successful & sustainable career model. Excessive focus on managing results, while ignoring people & culture may provide initial thrust leading to the end of the runway soon. Absence of effectively & efficiently managing results may not provide an even shorter trajectory. Superior achievements of business results & people management together fall short for leadership roles, if contributions in shaping organizational culture are not visible and evidenced. Clarity of understanding and actions to master all three parts help talented managers navigate their career journey with ease & joy.