(This is Part 8 of Leadership Principles)
Risk. Does the word get you excited or make you nervous? What if I said “career risk” – would that change your answer? For most folks, it does. Many of us tend to be risk averse with respect to things that could affect our careers. It’s quite a natural feeling. The comfort and security that come with a career are nontrivial and any threat to that regular paycheck can send anyone’s heart aflutter.
Now what if I say “career growth opportunity?” Feels good, doesn’t it? We all want to grow and advance in some way, shape or form. We’re constantly looking for the next next. It’s no secret that the era of 20 year careers with a pension is dead. Long live the job hopper! All the better if we can find these career growth opportunities in our current organization.
But here’s the rub – your desire for career growth opportunities is usually in direct conflict with your manager’s appetite for career risk. The same dynamic holds true for your peoples’ career growth desires and your appetite for career risk.
You want your boss to take a chance on you. To give you that big juicy project to run. To carve off that exciting and undefined new role for you. All those scenarios create huge learning opportunities for you and provide a platform for you to catapult your career to the next level. Heck, they might even lead to a promotion and, heaven forbid, a nice fat raise. Of course your boss should take the chance on you! They owe you cool new opportunities – because that’s what they promised you when you took the job. Because let’s be clear – if your current organization won’t create opportunities for you, someone else in this tight labor market will.Now let’s look at it from your boss’ perspective. You haven’t yet managed a project quite as large as the one you’re interested in. You might mess it up. You might cause a technology disaster if you don’t manage it properly. And that disaster would be on your boss’ watch which would obviously impact their career path (and probably their bonus too). Is it any wonder why your boss is hesitant to hand you that project?
Let’s first deal with you and your boss. The only way you’ll land that project is to convince them and demonstrate to them that you present minimal risk with significant upside. You have to give them comfort that you’re ready for the challenge and that you’re going to do everything you can to minimize the risk of failure (which might mean succumbing to a tendency by your boss to want frequent updates on the project or even a desire on their part to micromanage until they’re comfortable you aren’t going to blow it). Once you show you’re competent in the new role, they’ll back off (hopefully) and let you run with it. After you complete the project, be sure to review your goals and objectives and ensure you get credit for all your hard work.
By no means am I being flip about negotiating with your boss to get more responsibility and opportunities. It’s a delicate dance but if you’re good, competent and persistent, good things will likely come your way.
Now let’s deal with something more in your control – creating growth opportunities for your people. They’re starved for the same growth you are. It’s up to you whether or not you give them those chances. Many people wont give someone a new task or responsibility unless they’ve “been there, done that” before. Clearly this creates a chicken-egg scenario. More directly – “so you won’t let me manage the big IT project until you’ve seen proof that I’ve managed a big IT project… ummmm… okay….” At some point, someone has to take a chance and that someone is you.
I had a great person on my team (let’s call him Andy). He was a star analyst. He had always been an individual contributor. As our organization grew and changed, I had a need for someone to build a team in his area of responsibility. I had two choices – either hire a proven team builder from outside our organization or take a chance on Andy knowing he had never managed people. I told my boss I was going to do the latter.
“But he’s never done that job. He’s never managed people or vendors.”
“I know. He has to learn at some point. I’ll be there to hold his hand. I’ve managed people and will coach him. I’ve managed vendors. I’ll show him how. Really when you think about it, the only risk here is I have to spend some extra time coaching him – the business will be fine.”
“Okay I guess. It’s your team.”
Was I taking a chance? Sure. The thing is, Andy already knew the business and knew my expectations and preferences. I wasn’t breaking in another “new guy” (which is usually a significant time sink). Andy was also a known quantity to me so my mis-hiring risk was zero (and anyone who’s ever made a “bad hire” knows how damaging that kind of risk can be).
My rule of thumb is if the person can already do 60-80% of what’s required in the new role and I can cover 10-20% of the gap myself (either through coaching or surrounding the person with other good people) then I take the chance. Over time, they grow into that 20-40% of risk I had and they’re a much more valuable (and happier) team member. For people to grow, you have to take the chance they’ll fail along the way.
Andy worked his behind off. He learned a lot (much of it the hard way – via mistakes) and over time he ran a great team and did a wonderful job of managing our vendors. I promoted him about six months after he took the job.
There were plenty of benefits resulting from this move. Andy was happy and loyal to the organization. The team made a lot more profit for the company. And word got around that I was willing to take chances on people and help them grow via neat “stretch” opportunities which made recruiting for open roles very easy for me.
Do you have an Andy in your organization? Can you afford to take a chance on him? Can you afford not to?
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC