Archive for March, 2008

While a new promotion is very exhilarating, it can also be fraught with danger. All of the wonderful things you did to earn it become old news and suddenly it’s “what have you done for me lately.” A promotion that you grow into overnight will line you up for the next one. Similarly, fumble around for a few weeks trying to get your “sea legs,” and your reputation may be damaged for years.

Here is a nice piece from the WSJ with some great tips for making the most out of your new promotion.

Take it to heart!



Make the Most of a Promotion

After the excitement wears off, you need to get down to business. Here’s how:

Being promoted is almost always a cause for celebration. But it can also be a source of stress. Some 52% of U.S. corporate leaders surveyed last year by Development Dimensions International, a leadership development and executive hiring consultant, said that a clear sense of performance expectations would have been most helpful in the transition to a new role. And 20% of the respondents reported that being promoted was their number one challenge—and source of stress–in 2007, according to the report “Leaders in Transition: Stepping Up, Not Off.” To minimize the stress, Matthew Pease, vice president of Executive Solutions at DDI and co-author of the report, suggests you confirm the job expectations, goals and roles with the senior executives at the onset of the job. “Put the end in mind at the beginning and start with the business outcomes that are needed,” he says.

Your First 90 Days

Establish authority. With the culture of the organization in mind, refrain from making any immediate decisions, but make it clear that you will be in charge and accountable. Take stock, listen and make decisions carefully with the message that you value input from your team members.

Communicate constantly. “The way you communicate has to change as you move farther away from the front lines,” says Michael Watkins, author of “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.” Because you’re likely to receive filtered information, establish alternate channels of communication by engaging with customers and others. Mr. Watkins says to set the tone for open, honest discussion that allows employees to share bad news and problems.

Focus on the business. When promoted within an organization, relationships must be restructured. “Former peers-turned direct reports and disappointed peers need time to grieve,” says Mr. Watkins. Then re-enlist the good employees to work for you. “Take your personal relationships out of equation and turn your attention to the business goals and outcomes,” says Mr. Pease.

Delegate differently. You may be used to delegating only specific tasks or projects but you’ll need to think differently as you begin to delegate entire functions and business units.”When you manage, 10, 100, or 1,000 the degree you can pay attention to detail drops so you’ll need to reset your own expectations and learn more effectively through others,” Mr. Watkins.

Look for new advisors. Seek new advice to manage the stress of handling a job that is more political, more ambiguous and must rely more on others to get things done. “We tend to rely on what we’ve done in the past, but that won’t make us successful in the future,” says Mr. Pease. Mr. Watkins advises to identify people who exemplify high performance at your level and find out why they’re successful.

Get feedback from above and below. To make sure you’re on the right track, ask for comments from above and below on how you’re doing. “It doesn’t need to be formal performance appraisal but just some guidance,” says Mr. Watkins. Finally, Mr. Pease says to secure early wins to help boost morale, credibility and accountability.


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In general, there is not enough meaningful career dialog going on between workers and their management. As a manager and later as a senior executive, I had to play detective when people came into my office to understand the real question they were asking; they constantly beat around the bush, they were afraid to say what was on their mind.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very rational to be apprehensive about asking you boss a tough question, he or she might get upset or form a bad impression of you that could hurt you down the road. More likely, he or she is afraid that you’ll quote them later and it will come back to bite them. That said, if you have a burning question and you keep it bottled up, you’ll not only increase your stress level, you’re motivation will suffer and ultimately, your job performance.The trick is to ask the question that’s on your mind in a manner that the boss can answer without feeling challenged or fearing that his or her answer might one day end up in court.

Here are the top 5 real questions on almost everyone’s mind (but they’re afraid to ask because they know their boss doesn’t want to answer them), along with a diplomatic way to phrase the question to get a straightforward response:

Real Question #1: “Why was my raise or bonus so small?”

The Diplomatic Approach: “Thank you for the recent raise. I know budgets are tight and I appreciate the extra money. As you know, I constantly strive to do the best job possible. I’m curious about rationale behind my raise. How much of it was driven by the economics of the company versus my own performance?”

I once thought that I’d gotten a pretty good bonus from a boss who I thought was out to get me. I asked him this question and he said that my bonus was totally based on the performance of the company. He then went on to tell me where he was disappointed in my performance. I knew his criticisms were unfair and immediately started looking for a new job elsewhere in the company.

Similarly, you may be brooding because you thought your raise too small. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your boss gave you the biggest raise he or she could in light of tight budgets? 

Real Question #2: “Why didn’t I get that promotion?”

The Diplomatic Approach: “I’m glad to see that you promoted John rather than go outside the group to bring in an outsider who might disrupt the chemistry of our team. I want you to know that I hope to be considered for the next spot that opens up. More importantly, can you help me with my personal development plan – where do I need to improve in order to make you comfortable that I’m ready to take on greater responsibility?”

There is almost no downside to this question and plenty of upside. First of all, your boss may not have known that you were chomping at the bit to take on more — now he or she knows! Second, you’ve officially told your boss that you want straight answers about where you need to improve. He or she has no choice but to tell you. And if you deliver, you’ll likely earn one of the next few promotions.

Real Question #3: “Why did you give me that lousy assignment?”

The Diplomatic Approach: “I understand that you want me to reclassify every item in the stockroom by Monday morning. You can rest assured that I’ll get it done, but was really hoping to work with the new product design team to prepare for the upcoming launch. I’m just curious, why did you select me for this assignment?”

Someone has to do the dirty work in the department and the boss is going to pick the person who he or she feels is most expendable and least likely to make a stink. If that turns out to be you, you must firmly and respectfully cry foul. Best case is it won’t happen again; the worst case is that you keep getting bum assignments and you know you better start looking for a new job.

Real Question #4: “How much longer will you be here?”

The Diplomatic Approach: “I’ve been thinking lately about my career and I wonder if I could pick your brain for a little advice. I notice that every one respects the job your doing. How did you get to the position you’re in today? Where do you see yourself going next?”

You’ve said nothing challenging, but you will get your answer. You may even learn that your boss is about to move on and you can then solicit his or her support in taking over when they leave.Real Question #5: “What do I need to do to get promoted and make more money?”

The Diplomatic Approach: “As you may know, I have a personal career plan and my family has a financial plan that depends on me for support. I really love the job I’m doing, but to meet my career and financial goals, I really need to focus on getting to the next level in the next 6 to 12 months. Could you give me your off-the-record insight into the kind of opportunities that might open up for me in that time frame?

This question puts your boss on notice that you need to move up soon without putting a gun to his or her head. If you get a clear answer – great; you’re off to the races. If you get a wishy washy answer, or worse, you know it’s time to start sniffing out a transfer to another department or perhaps a new employer.

It’s All About Opening a Dialog

If you take a close look at each of my diplomatic questions, you’ll see that they all have one thing in common – they create a safe space for the boss to speak freely. These questions send an unmistakable signal that “nothing you say will be used against you down the road.” And that’s the key to asking your boss tough questions. It’s not easy being a manager in this litigious society we live in. If you want to have an open dialog with your boss about tough questions, you need to take the first step.

If you sit and wait for him or her to speak up, you may end up watching your career go nowhere!


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Although I caution against the relentless pursuit of “the next promotion,” steadily moving up the org chart is an essential ingredient in every career building game plan. From a personal perspective, the most demanding promotions are those that result in a former peer being elevated to managing past coworkers. 

In Career Secret Sauce, I have a rule called “don’t go changing,” which warns against the tendency of the recently promoted to start acting like “they’ve arrived” at some coveted plateau. Nothing screams “I’m the new king of the universe,” like a brand new wardrobe following a promotion! 

The following article from WSJ’s Elizabeth Garone provides a good list of Do’s and Don’ts for the first 90 days. My only criticism would be with the time period. I like her advice, but I thing promoted former peers have a lot shorter fuse to determining success or failure. I think 30 days is a better measure. Regardless, the advice is sound. 


Managing Your Former Peers Takes Extra Effort

It seems like a great promotion — leading a team of people you already know well. But you’ll need to work hard to avoid the pitfalls. 


It sounds like the ideal promotion: a management position in which you get to oversee your former peers, people with whom you already have a rapport and whose work habits you already know. But, if you’re not careful, the transition can be anything but easy or smooth, according to career coach Sherri Thomas, author of the book “Career Smart: 5 Steps to a Powerful Personal Brand.”

Your First 90 Days

Beware the two extremes. New managers often fall into one of two categories: overbearing and power-happy or unable to step up to the plate and manage even the simplest projects. “Some managers jump into their new role using a more forceful and bullying style to show that they have more ‘power’ within the department and the company. They tend to dominate meetings, make key decisions without asking team members for input, and even micromanage the smallest projects,” explains Ms. Thomas. “While they are eager to accomplish goals and impress senior managers, they usually create feelings of resentment, withdrawal, and even hostility among key team members.” This results in an unproductive team whose members are more likely to leave the department, or in the worst case, try to sabotage the manager in his or her new position. Your former friends can easily turn on you if you adopt either persona.

Don’t undermine your new position.On the other end are the new managers who spend all of their time worried about losing the friendship of the former peers they now manage. “Some new managers implement a softer, more collaborative management style because they want to preserve friendships.,” says Ms. Thomas. Do that and you could end up having a hard time making decisions, resolving conflicts, and leading through difficult situations,” she says. You also won’t be able to gain the respect you need to lead the team if you fall into this trap. Instead, make sure you quell problems quickly rather than let them languish. Take a softer approach when appropriate, but if you need to take charge, do so.

Strengthen your credibility. As a new manager, you need to fully understand senior management’s expectations of you — and your team as a whole. “You need to be able to clearly articulate and role model the company’s vision as well as the team’s role and goals,” says Ms. Thomas. Go to your supervisor first and come up with an outline for what’s expected of you. Call a meeting with your staff to give an overview so there’s less chance they’ll feel left in the dark.

Align your expectations with those of your team. It is also imperative to understand your team members’ needs and to help them realize their unique contributions to the team. Take the time to meet one-on-one with them and discuss their roles and responsibilities, align on expectations, and address any issues. “Specifically, you should share how you plan to manage the program and team, including your own personal management style, how decisions will be made, and how conflicts will be resolved,” says Ms. Thomas. “It’s critical that the manager asks if the employee has any concerns and really listens to the answer.” And it’s even more important in a situation where you’re managing people you sat shoulder-to-shoulder with just days before.

Establish a support network. One area new managers often overlook is establishing a strong network of mentors and coaches who can provide strategies, support, and inspiration needed to succeed. “Network with those who have been successful managers, and those who you admire as a leader,” Ms. Thomas says. Those managers can also point out mistakes they made when they were in the same shoes.

Realize that mistakes are okay. Everyone makes mistakes, especially in those first few months. But, that’s okay. “It takes time and experience to become a good manager. Every successful manager has had to overcome difficult challenges,” says Ms. Thomas. “But having a network in place to help coach you through these situations can help you ramp up quickly into your new role, and set yourself up for success.” 

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The US economy is very likely to be in or near a recession by June of 2008. This means companies will be cutting non-essential spending and even laying off employees. This is probably the first time we’ve seen these conditions since 2002 and for many spring graduates, the first time in their adult lives.

Most companies hate to lay off employees and will cut virtually anything else before they do. This means new hires, particularly recent college grads are particularly vulnerable.

I would also predict that economic uncertainly will continue in the private sector through the election. From my experience, new jobs in the private sector are fueled by venture capital investment and VC money may dry up if congress fails to renew the Bush tax policy when it expires in 2010. In addition, the democrats are talking about increasing corporate taxes and McCain is talking about lowering them to spur expansion. Until this picture clears up, companies will be reeling in their spending. None of this bodes well for someone entering the private sector job market for the first time in 2008.

If you’ve interned in the last few years — congratulations! Your chances of landing a job are much better than those of your classmates who have not. Don’t wait until graduation to shake the job offer tree. Contact the companies you interned for and start soliciting job offers NOW, before other 2008 graduates enter the pipeline.

If you are graduating this spring and you have never interned, it may not be too late to make up for lost time. Start making cold calls to companies you’d like to work for. Tune up your pitch and make sure you can clearly articulate WHY you want to work for your target employer. Understand that you may need to intern through graduation since you’re starting so late. Also, you may have to work without pay in exchange for the opportunity to get your foot in the door.

Finally, if you’re not graduating until 2009 or 2010, you should prepare yourself for a tougher internship market. Most internship programs cost money and it’s a very easy budget to slash. You may need to create your own internship by directly cold calling companies and offering to work without pay.

The worst thing you can do is to ignore this economic sea change and stick your head in the sand. Although it may get a lot tougher to find your dream job, companies will still be doing some hiring. If a company knows you and you cost less than a long time employees who are underperforming, they may actually lay someone off and hire you to save money.

Just keep in mind that the tighter the job market becomes, the more competitive it becomes. As an intern or a job candidate, you will need to work even harder to stand out in the crowd.


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