Three snippets from my year end conversations


As 2019 is heading to its last few weeks, I had a chance to catch up with a lot of friends, mentees and my own mentors and also take some time to reflect how things worked out for me this year . The consultant in me immediately started grouping and classifying the common themes, apply MECE , and map it all to a 2 X 2 . Don’t worry – I somehow resisted the temptation and stopped at just grouping 🙂

I thought three repeated themes were worth sharing here on my blog .

1. You need to tell some managers what they want to hear

So there is this guy who comes from a non tech background and does a good job managing a team of developers to hit milestones ahead of schedule (mostly by overworking them) . He is a flight risk, and the only way to keep him is to promote him to an executive rank . If he flees, his manager probably won’t earn his own promotion any time soon – so there is plenty of motivation to make this happen.

The only trouble is that this promotion needs the blessing of a very senior tech exec . There is no way this non tech dude is going to pass that level of tech scrutiny . That’s when the manager has a flash of brilliance in his thinking . The senior techie is somewhat of a philosopher and his current pet topic is “culture”. He coaches the up and comer to focus heavily of culture when the interview happens – which he masterfully does and gets promoted .

About half the people I caught up with had a similar story where promotions or raises were secured by telling their bosses what they wanted to hear .

2. Diversity seems to be a bit easier than inclusion

While it’s still a long ways to go, a lot of managers have been acting on improving diversity in their teams . There is a lot more awareness and training at all levels . In many cases there are top down directives like “by end of the year there needs to be X% women in your team , Y% URM in your team” etc . In a some of these cases, these are KPIs tied to the manager’s bonus too . All of these are great of course – and I hope it’s not just a one time exercise .

Then comes the question of inclusion . Are these “new” members of the team supported and set up for success ? Are their voices considered with the same importance as when your team was homogenous ? I was a bit surprised that even the people who actively champion the need for diverse teams haven’t done as much thinking on how to make inclusion happen in their day to day work.

That said – I was quite happy to hear that almost everyone I spoke to had done something good about making sure people doing similar roles are paid the same.

3. Being a newly promoted executive continues to be really hard

Before I made Partner , I had attended an exceptional internal training course in IBM called “Cornerstone”. And that’s where it was drilled into me that “what got you here won’t get you there”. Excellent advice which helped me and many others who attended that course . It is also very hard to put it into practice !

Everyone wants to make an immediate impact as an exec . Most have someone else they treat as their role model and want to be like him or her. Nothing wrong with any of it – just that what works for one exec in one context might not translate 1:1 to you in your context . Almost every single story I heard from the newly promoted folks made me say in my inner voice “oh no – I did that too” .

Here is one story I heard from someone who got promoted and took over a new team as its leader in January 2019. All six direct reports were asked to make 1 hr presentation to the new boss . The first one made a less than stellar presentation in the new manager’s opinion and the next day it was announced that this person will have a new role to be announced soon . Long story short – we are in December now and that position is still not filled , and two of the key next-in-line leaders quit because they couldn’t stand the ongoing chaos.

I asked them what were the words of wisdom they got from their leaders after their promotion and it was the usual list of “Have a bias to action”, “Lead with courage”, “Make your voice heard” etc . Those are all invaluable in their own rights – but perhaps we should add “slow down a bit now to speed up later” to the list .

Published by Vijay Vijayasankar

Son/Husband/Dad/Dog Lover/Engineer. Follow me on twitter @vijayasankarv. These blogs are all my personal views - and not in way related to my employer or past employers

One thought on “Three snippets from my year end conversations

  1. Hey Vijay, your ears may have been burning lately as I brought you up to one of your colleagues in discussion on big projects. The diversity issue is pretty interesting. I was recently recruiting to expand our board and was surprised to see one of the leading web sites ask what should probably be considered biased and perhaps even racist questions, but in this case it was in the name of diversity and corporate governance. What was telling, however, was the interview process which included quite a diverse mix–none of the candidates had been prepared well for AI systems, including those that had taken all of the director courses available. While I was already aware of the problem, this process really shined a bright light on the problem facing adoption of advanced AI systems across the enterprise. Directors are still under the impression that the risk is greater in saving comparatively minor amounts of money in the near term than failing to adopt competitive enterprise-wide AI systems. Quite apart from the interests of my own company, the potential for massive disruption and displacement in the F500 is truly concerning. The vast majority just aren’t prepared, haven’t done the heavy lifting, and therefore can’t even recognize poor advice, much less the nuances between vendor systems or the strengths and weaknesses in their own organizations. Turbulence ahead with untrained pilots — buckle up!

    Like

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