Nishant Saxena / 10 Career Tips for Young Managers
"Companies pay for performance but promote for potential. Doing well in a current role does not automatically mean readiness for the next level, which will likely require an incremental set of skills. [You are still very valued at the current level]. Have a transparent skip level discussion to know where you stand and design your path"
Every time I have a tête-à-tête with young managers, the themes and questions are similar: Career, Salary, Bosses, Skills, Life... “Not sure my career is moving right”, “I don’t get along with my boss”, “Shouldn’t I be paid more”, “When will I get promoted”... Not surprisingly, these were the same questions I had asked my managers years ago!
Usually, these were handled in informal corridor conversations with leaders. However, with Covid and work-from-home, we needed to recreate this experience. So, we started a monthly online Candid Coffee Conversations with my 200 Young Managers (typically country managers and leadership team members of mid-sized businesses with 5-10 years of experience, from 15 different countries). The tagline says it all: Hard Questions over Strong Coffee! They can ask anything confidentially and as the head of the business, my leadership team and I are supposed to answer straight... no diplomacy, no beating around the bush.
The response was excellent, so sharing the first 10 Tips hoping they appeal to a larger audience of Young Managers. In this first part, we will cover Career, Company and Compensation. The views are completely mine, what I would genuinely tell my own self if I could go back a decade in time.
1. “Why am I not getting Promoted?”: Companies pay for performance but promote for potential. Doing well in a current role does not automatically mean readiness for the next level, which will likely require an incremental set of skills. [You are still very valued at the current level]. Have a transparent skip level discussion to know where you stand and design your path. Promising careers have been destroyed by being promoted impetuously before they were ready.
2. “My career is just not going right”: Careers, especially after the first 10-15 years, rarely follow a straight line. I personally went from a US MNC to Entrepreneurship to Indian Pharma. Each role enriched me but it often meant I had to start from scratch and again prove myself. Failures teach us even more. Also, for a General Management path, you may need to make some horizontal moves.
3. “I have a good offer, why shouldn’t I leave?”: Companies a notch below will keep giving 20-30% hike and a higher designation to attract good people. You can exercise this ‘chip’ anytime, so judiciously decide the right time. Leave when you stop growing in the current firm. And you get a really breakthrough next level offer which also shows future growth.
4. “Should I join a startup with lucrative stock options”: As a former entrepreneur myself, there are many good reasons to join a startup. Fast pace, early responsibility, step changes, learning... But if money is the prime attraction of entrepreneurship, know that less than 10% startups make money, and on an average, successful corporate careers earn more than entrepreneurship. In fact, startup success may be overrated since ideas are often brilliant but not scalable. At least in my own case of starting a company, it was a dissatisfaction with the bureaucracy and slow speed of a large corporate. In hindsight, ennui with the current is the wrong reason to leave.
"The concept of perfection itself is fuzzy. People have strengths because of which they succeed, and blind spots in spite of which they are successful. Yin and Yang. Learn from their strengths and move on. Bad managers still teach us a lot, even if what not to do when we get into their shoes, as we eventually will"
5. “I am frustrated by XYZ process of our company”: Scientifically speaking, there is no company, just a collection of individuals. You and I are part of the tribe. So, raise your hand not just to point out a litany of problems but to actually fix them. At my level, I have realised there is no one left to blame. If it is to be, it is up to me. The bien pensant must be questioned indeed but use energy not to fight the old, rather to create the new.
6. “Matrix structure is so slow”: Touché! Regulated sectors like Pharma, with very serious consequences of quality or regulatory failure, often follow a matrix organisation. This increases internal interdependencies and therefore, slows decision-making, and has been my bugbear too, given my own strong belief in unbossing. Yet, the conundrum is that it also keeps the company safe since many people have to sign off. Now we can crib all day or focus on our circle of influence. The key is in forcing a clear Decision Authority.
7. “My manager is a pain”: In all my leadership roles, I have implemented 360-degree feedback where managers are taken to task if they are not coaching and developing talent. That said, most careers entail 20-30 bosses, not all of who are perfect. The concept of perfection itself is fuzzy. People have strengths because of which they succeed, and blind spots in spite of which they are successful. Yin and Yang. Learn from their strengths and move on. Bad managers still teach us a lot, even if what not to do when we get into their shoes, as we eventually will.
8. “I am not paid enough”: Most good companies choose to pay in the 50th or 70th percentile of a peer group. Ceteris paribus, someone at 25th percentile gets higher increments, while someone already at 75th percentile gets lower. Similarly, top performers get higher increments. This is reviewed by two levels plus HR. So, unless you are really Mr Unlucky or Mr Loathed, chances are what you believe as your self-worth is much higher than market reality. [That said, anomalies may exist... highlight with data to manager+one-up+HR. In my career, less than 3% of cases fell in this bracket and in every single proven case we made a correction].
9. “XYZ is earning more than me”: Stop comparing mate! To get peace in your own life. Comparisons bring either hubris or misery, often both. Yes, some will earn more than you, and rise faster than you, at least at some point in time. Just as you will be far better off than 90%+ of people around. If you are broadly in the top quartile, it is okay. Be the “best” you! Remember also what Adam Smith taught us about the invisible hand of capitalism. We first create value for the company (not just hard work but real, measurable, visible value) and only then are rewarded.
10. “How much money is enough?”: It would be hypocritical to say money is not important. Of course, it is. A great slave but a terrible master. It will never be enough. When I graduated, my friends and I sat together and felt a crore rupee was a great retirement savings target. Now, most senior leaders earn multiples of it every year and yet are not ready to retire. I guess over time, the definition of success also becomes more multi-dimensional. The impact one creates, the legacy one leaves...
I have tried to be pragmatic, not utopian. Highlighting how the world actually behaves, and not a fairy tale notion of how it should behave. Like all provocative discussions, you may agree or disagree with several of these. Absorb what appeals to you and relegate the remaining to the dustbin. After all, we must each find our own path.