I recently surveyed senior executives in the energy industry in Canada and the United States and uncovered a surprising trend. Succession and career planning are not typically identified as strategic imperatives, in spite of our knowledge of the contrary. Most executives I spoke with claimed that there was a clear lack of career development planning among high-potential managers.
In fact, one of my former bosses from many years ago confided that he never had the chance to get bored in any job because he was rapidly and repeatedly promoted. Although this should be cause for celebration, he felt as though he didn’t have time to achieve because of the dynamics of his work. He had a blind spot and became the go-to guy for the higher ups because (1) they could trust him implicitly; (2) he was honest but direct, and (3) he produced results.
Another executive confided that he was repeatedly tapped on the shoulder to fight fires in his organization and not once did he have a career conversation with a senior-level manager. Basically, he fell into the trend. He claimed that the reason for his rapid growth in the organization was because he had the confidence, social graces or political savvy to win the confidence of decision-makers (see the article here).
Here is a snapshot of some of the lessons learned from this survey:
Advancement is based on results.
The best predictor of future success is past results, and there is no finer way to advance than to win the trust and confidence of decision-makers. This is a critical principle and this is where many aspiring senior managers fall short as they navigate the corporate culture. Garnering trust and demonstrating honesty and transparency is a critical motivator. Strategic and resource allocation decisions need to support the organizational goal. Demonstrating your commitment is critical to gaining the trust of decision-makers. Being able to simply get things done and produce results is the silver bullet to advancement, but many managers over-complicate the process.
This may seem overly simplistic, because what senior manager doesn’t understand the cause/effect relationship? However, what is often overlooked is that the decision-makers in the organization were never informed about the results. It is imperative that you communicate your results to higher ups and communicate them often. Be visible. Be vocal. If you are an introvert, communicate it in writing. Whatever you do, you need to ensure that people are crystal clear about your abilities and results.
Advancement plans can be negotiated.
Employee engagement is suffering in today’s corporations and managers are tapped. There is little time to create development plans for junior managers, especially when the boss doesn’t know the values, plans, and motivators of his staff. Do you know what you want? Do you know what you don’t want? You will be head and shoulders above everyone else if you know the answers to those questions.
Savvy managers and executives can make it easy for senior decision-makers by making it known what he/she is looking for in terms of projects and career advancement. Do not make the mistake of assuming that management knows what you want from your career. Be crystal clear by setting forth a plan that communicates and showcases your goals.
Be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to both your organization and to your boss.
Reward your company’s commitment to your career plan by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. Taking on unpopular projects can transform your career by demonstrating your commitment to your company and, more importantly, to your boss, organizational champion or another influencer in your organization. Make your boss look good and you will earn his or her trust.
If you are you interested in learning more about the rest of the results of this survey, stay tuned for my whitepaper, People, Power and Politics: How Smart Executives Retain Top Talent and Keep the Lights On to be published later this fall.