Question: I don’t know what happened. I just finished managing a project that has occupied most of my days for the last 18 months. My project was on time and within budget and I expected a lot of kudos, probably a raise or even a promotion. None were forthcoming. What did I do wrong?
Answer: Recently I had lunch with a mystified MIS Director who had done exactly what her CEO wanted. She'd installed state-of-the-art systems throughout the company. When the president asked her to resign because of philosophical differences, she couldn't understand what happened. Hadn't she delivered on his executive mandate?
At a conference a couple of weeks ago, I met Bob S., a savvy marketing manager who was seeing a disturbing pattern in his career. He would start off in tune with management, accomplish great things and then eventually feel like an outsider. What was he doing wrong?
One of my clients, an ambitious consulting MBA, worked long hours his first year handling a lot of projects typically done by higher-level managers. He figured his combination of hard work, outstanding accomplishment and positive client feedback would lead to an early promotion. He was quite disappointed when his supervising partner did not grant him one because, "We simply don't move people up after only one year. Promotion requires at least two years."
These professionals were all severely disappointed in management's response to their excellent performance. Instead of reaping a just reward, they felt rejected and undervalued. Do any of scenarios sound familiar?
Like the vast majority of business professionals, these careerists were acquainted with only half of the "success equation." Their ignorance of the other key component caused their problems.
While they understand the need to do a good job, they don't realize it's equally vital to communicate effectively with the people in their company who can make or break their careers. Instead of isolating themselves, they should be talking regularly with those who can sell their ideas to key decision makers, grant raises, promotions and growth opportunities and protect them from hostile factions with differing agendas.
Let's take a second look at each of the above professionals’ scenarios and see how a little strategic communication could have saved them a lot of distress:
For you to be successful in your career, excellent work and proactive communication with your managers, peers and employers are both essential.
- While the MIS Director had a mandate from her CEO to make major system changes throughout the company, she neglected to realize the importance of including other high-level managers in promoting the process. Instead of consulting them on their needs and ideas, she chose to follow her own path, assuming that presidential backing was all she needed. When the other managers complained about her "strong-arm tactics," she ignored them, figuring their negativity was a normal response to change. Eventually her politically astute CEO realized he could either back this maverick, or stay in the good graces of his key managers. With the new systems in place, he chose the managers.
- The first time Bob S. felt like an outsider he was in the unfortunate position of being "old guard" in a new management takeover. His company was acquired by another who chose to install its own people in key executive positions. As a general rule, very few high-level professionals from an old regime survive a management change, because it's human nature for the new CEO to surround himself with people he knows and trusts. Given his lame-duck situation, Bob moved to another company that was privately owned, growing fast and desperately in need of his professional expertise.
Because its owner was wise enough to understand that his "baby" had exceeded his leadership capabilities, he selected a new team to ramp it up to the next level. Then he got cold feet. Suddenly his company was their company. The new management, assuming they had his blessing to make necessary changes, neglected to realize his need to be in the loop. Feeling like a stranger in his own firm, he replaced his management with people who were "more loyal" to him. As the last of the original team, Bob S. may still be able to save his job, if he quickly changes his modus operandi to include the owner's opinion in analyzing and developing marketing strategies.
- The consulting MBA went wrong in surmising that he and his partner were on the same page in determining criteria for a promotion. As an uninformed novice, he thought promotions were primarily a matter of performance. His partner considered seniority to be more important. If early in his first year, the consultant had initiated a discussion about the requirements for a promotion, he would have realized his expectations were inflated. Then, he could have either campaigned for an earlier promotion or lowered his sights and put more energy into balancing his life.