“I’d like to set up a time to meet with you, Taia. I am not sure that you are aware of what experience I bring from what I did before I joined Hewlett Packard and I’d also like to share with you where I would like to take my career. ”
With words to this effect, Kumar, set up a meeting that made me a better manager to many many other people.
Kumar worked for a manager who worked for me. He had joined HP about two years before and I understood from his direct manager that he was doing well. I must admit that I was more aware of the accomplishments of the group he was a part of than I was of Kumar’s specific performance. I was a relatively new middle manager and nobody a couple of levels down from me had requested a meeting like this one, but I was glad to have the discussion. Oh let’s be honest, I was a young middle manager; I was probably just planning on getting through it and on to something about me.
My intent aside, I remember being very positively surprised by the impact of that brief meeting:
- He was right: When he went through his background with me I learned that I had had no idea who he really was: He had a rich set of previous jobs and skills well beyond those he was immediately using. Result: I effectively had “more resources” in my group and in the company: He was still one person, but I now knew what flexibility he possessed if we needed it.
- With respect to the future, I learned that he had high ambitions and his interests. Result: I had an understood candidate for when new development or future job openings. Obviously, I was much more likely to think of him as those opportunities came up.
- Just by virtue of the conversation…I felt a sense of personal responsibility for his development. Result: Per the HP model, he was still the main owner of his career, but he had created an interested and equipped ally in that process.
OK, so those were good one-time outcomes for the company and for him. But the “gift” in this story is this: What I learned from that experience made me a better manager in each job since then. It taught me that having that kind of conversation with my employees could make a huge difference in how fully the company used their talents and also in how well we could meet their career needs.
Two Ways to Use This Insight
1. Increasingly I have made it a point to provoke this discussion with employees. Depending on the size of your group, you may not be able to do this with every person. Where should you start?
- First Priority Targets: Your best performing/high potential people are clearly where you want to focus your people-management time since they will produce the highest results and will also be the toughest to replace if you lose them.
- Next Target Cohort: Strong employees who are quiet or shy. This population is often underutilized in companies. They may not readily self-promote and may need encouragement to seek or take on new opportunities. Some people are shy by nature. Other people may be quiet, career-conservative, or avoid self-promotion as a result of certain cultural norms, personal values or socialization. In the U.S., Asian, Hispanic, Indian and female employees, among others, sometimes fit this description. I’m not stereotyping. We have all known highly ambitious and self-promoting people in each of those groups. But being sensitive to some common socialization patterns brings benefits. You can get a huge return from making a special effort to give strong, but quiet employees comfortable and encouraging opportunities to:
- Make their capabilities and aspirations known.
- Consider development or job opportunities that will stretch them.
2. As a manager or mentor, I often advise employees to do exactly what Kumar did:
- Seek out someone who can be influential in your career (i.e., people who may someday control or know of jobs /opportunities you might like) and make sure that they know what skills and experience you bring to the party.
- Let them know where you are headed with your career
- Ask for nothing more their time to understand that and any advice that they may have immediately or in the future.
I don’t think I ran into Kumar after I left that job. Poor guy. If his ears really did itch every time I talked about his meeting request and the resulting insights, I caused him a lot of annoyance. He is one of many employees who taught me critical management lessons. It feels good to have a forum in which to thank him.
Is there and employee or co-worker who taught you something valuable who you want to thank? Write in and tell us – and them –about it. I’ll be glad to start a “Thanks A Million” section for posting these.
Source of Bicyclist Photo: