The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is, on the contrary, born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else–we are the busiest people in the world. —Eric Hoffer, philosopher and author (1902–1983)
In my coaching practice I often encounter clients who are so busy with their work that they forget to manage their careers, as they do not have time to focus on that important aspect of what their work is really all about. This preoccupation with their work is also borne out of the misapprehension that if they do good work and deliver what is expected of them, their career will take care on its own.
I recently came across a client, who was so focused on coming up with a novel business idea for her company and then bootstrapping it, that she did not focus on what it would mean to her career. So, if she succeeded, she could have had a major opportunity for steering her career in the right direction at this pivotal point.
About a year ago she thought of a new way of engaging the company’s vast customer base through a new platform, which could be used to further engage these customers and to expand the existing database through the company’s additional offerings. Both, the idea and the way she wanted to implement it were novel and risky, so she did not get much management support. She bootstrapped the entire project and within just six months not only demonstrated her idea, but soon afterwards put it into production. Once her boss, who originally had said no, realized the power of what she was up to as the project was nearing completion, decided to take credit for this innovation, sidelining her.
When her boss took her out to lunch and asked how he could reward her for the efforts, she did not come up with any specifics and suggested that the lunch itself be the reward for her efforts! Soon afterwards she got her review and was surprised to learn that she got the same salary raise as everyone else and some write-up in her file about her recent work; no big deal!
After the glow of success had subsided and the reality of her review and salary change hit home, she called me to have a meeting about this experience. She was very surprised that despite her stellar work that she got a mediocre raise and no special write-up. When I asked her what she was expecting, she told me that she was expecting not just a promotion to the next level, but also a commensurate raise, a bonus, and some stock options for her work. Instead, what had happened was that her unsupportive boss took credit for her work, gave her a modicum raise, and let things go at that. And, Oh, yes, he took her out to lunch!
So, as we were discussing what she should have done to disabuse this course of action, which resulted in the company getting a huge advantage in how it created a new offering, her boss getting credit for it, and her getting shafted in the process, it was clear that she was so busy that she simply forgot to take care of her career.
It was clear that there were a few critical junctures at which my client did not do the right things: First, when she was convinced of the merit of her idea and when she was willing to bootstrap her project through her own blood, sweat, and tears that she should have set some parameters around how the outcome of the project would translate into some meaningful reward for her. With so much internal resistance and perfidy, being seen as a high-risk project she was in a perfect position to “extort” any reward from the successful outcome of that bootstrapped effort. She was in a unique position to get what she would have wanted because her boss did not believe that it would succeed!
The second juncture was when her boss took her out to lunch—most likely out of guilt for first not recognizing the merit of her project and not supporting it from the outset, and, later, hijacking the credit for it. When the boss asked her what she wanted out of it she should have been very specific. Instead, when her boss asked her that key question she did not respond in a forthright manner. She was too busy thinking of what might be!
When I asked her in frustration why she missed out on such a golden opportunity to set straight her demands, she coyly told me that she was too busy and preoccupied with her tasks to respond to the boss’ question in any meaningful way. Not hearing any specifics from her, the boss thought she was not interested in any consideration for her outstanding work. By acquiescing to this course of action, she further cemented her boss’ perceived role in completing the project in the eyes of the company executives.
So, now that we have come this far in this sorry tale, what is the connection between the quote at the head of the blog and this episode? Plenty! Here is how I would summarize it:
1. It is not just OK to come up with innovative ideas to improve your company’s products and services; it is a requirement in any job. Do not just sit there taking orders and delivering what is mediocre.
2. When you have a breakthrough idea make sure that it is well supported by demos and analyses. Find out who will support this idea and use that support to rally your case.
3. If you do not get approval for moving forward and decide to bootstrap it through subterfuge and skullduggery then the risk for such a project is high. This also means that you must negotiate a commensurate (translation: BIG) reward up-front if it succeeds. Those who do not believe in its merit will more readily agree to what you ask, than they would otherwise.
4. You must document this discussion in an email so that if the boss has “convenience amnesia,” when things come to fruition you can invoke these early emails as a reminder. If you think that you are too busy to do this read that quote at the top of the blog AGAIN!
5. When you succeed you must make a demand of your fair share of the success. You must not only get recognition for your work and the risk you took to make it a success, but also a monetary consideration that is equitable, fair, and prompt. It is best to have these parameters agreed upon before you get too far on your project. Here, too, if you are too busy to do this critical step read that quote.
6. As it happened in the case of this client, when the hiring manager took her out to lunch and asked for her what she wanted, she should have explicitly stated her demands, and not equivocated. When I pressed her to tell me why did she not demand what she wanted from her boss, her excuse to me was that she was too busy to focus on the discussion during the lunch and she really did not have the time. There were too many things happening on her project to focus on that lunch, so she was distracted; a bad reason and a bad choice of priorities. Her moment to strike was during this discussion. Once that opportunity was missed it was her fault for mismanaging that meeting.
7. During the review in the aftermath of the success one must hold their boss accountable. One must be specific and forthright about their contributions, value added to the team, and how that should be both recognized and compensated. Once you miss this opportunity, following your contributions you have exhausted all avenues to re-claim what is owed to you!
8. You must always do good—no, great—work, but keep how you manage your career separate from that priority. You must always step back and see how your résumé is evolving and manage it by taking on the right assignments to keep it looking great! Being too busy or feeling hurried is no excuse for compromising your résumé! If you doubt me, read that quote again!
9. Keep focused on your work and how it gets recognized and rewarded, and less on how others get treated. But, if you think that your boss is being unfair about how you are rewarded, make sure that you are not too busy to bring it up for correction.
10. There is no excuse for being so busy that you compromise your own career to keep the integrity of your work and do it for the benefit of your boss and your company. If you do that then you are seriously compromising your own career! As I have written many times before, you do not get what you deserve; you get what you agreed to beforehand!