For an employee, having an effective and open career planning discussion with the manager is must for career growth and job satisfaction. Today, I had a great discussion with my manager on my career plan and what I must do to enhance my career growth. In this blog post, I am sharing most of the non-confidential things that we discussed during our career planning meeting (I can’t share confidential details such as my salary, organization and promotions for obvious reasons). There are two reasons why I am sharing this.
1. Often we have this type of meeting behind closed doors and then we forget. By putting it in open, I have to set goals for myself. This is how I was in 2011. In future, I can always look back and say, where I was and in which direction I chose to take.
2. This might also be useful for other employees and managers who are looking for information on how to have career planning discussion.
To begin with, let’s first understand the ground rules for effective career discussion between employee and manager. From the employee point of view, these are the ground rules
(1) You must be open with your manager about your professional ambitions
(2) You must be self-critical about your weakness and limitations
(3) You must give a deep thought to the feedback given by your manager
(4) You must respect the opinion of your manager, even if you disagree
(5) You must draft a career plan, immediately post your discussion
From the manager’s point of view, these are the ground rules
(1) You must carefully listen and understand the ambitions of your employee
(2) You must provide realistic and true assessment of your employee’s abilities
(3) You must provide fair feedback on areas where the employee needs to improve
(4) You must put sincere effort in helping the employee grow in his/her career
(5) You must be open enough to tell to your employee on areas where you can’t help
If anywhere the ground rules are violated then the discussion won’t produce useful results. Also, both the employee and the manager must realize that, career planning discussion is not just about ‘career-growth of the employee’ but also about ‘how the employee can contribute to the organization in the most effective way’. This is often ignored in career discussions. Another reality of career discussion is that, employees must always keep in mind that their ‘manager is a human being with limited abilities’ i.e. ‘they cannot expect the manager to solve all their problems’. You have to be realistic.
Now, the next most important thing for an effective career discussions is ‘pre-planning of what you are going to discuss’. In my case, I used a template of nine questions for self-assessment. These nine questions were prepared by the managing director of my organization. By the way, I didn’t use these nine questions template because these questions are prepared by some high level guy in my organization but because they are fairly good for self-assessment. I spent about 45 minutes answering these questions.
1. Where do you want to be in next 3-5 years?
Answer: In next 3-5 years, from the technical point of view, I would like to be in a position to design and review large-scale enterprise applications. At the same time, I would like to be a fine orator in fields of science, technology and politics. By 2014, I would like to be author of at least four books.
2. Do you have a mentor? How often are you meeting with them?
Answer: Nope. I would love to have one.
3. What do you think are your strengths?
Answer: Over the period of time, I have realized my strengths are
(i) Being fearless towards taking on technical and non-technical challenges in life. One of my childhood dreams was to be a warrior, someone on the lines of Achilles and Alexander. While as I grew up I realized, I am not born in an era of warriors, however, I have found that the qualities of warrior still apply. Whenever a new challenge arrives in life, I would prefer to face it like a warrior than make a compromising decision.
(ii) I have huge interest in ‘writing’. This has reflected in my ability to write technical research papers, blogs, articles, etc. I would like to put more effort in further developing this skill and turn myself into an influential author.
4. What do you think are your weaknesses?
Answer: I believe following are my weakness.
(i) After spending three years in software industry, I somehow haven’t fallen in love with it. Because of this, whenever a new software technology comes up, it doesn’t create an excitement within me. Lack of excitement means, I won’t be learning a technology until there is a necessity.
(ii) In general sense, I am not the kind of person who would spend excess amount of time on a particular activity. This has reflected in my varied interests and hobbies. Long story short, I can’t be subject matter expert in one particular technology. Instead over a period of time, I would prefer to gain insights in every technology I come across.
5. What do you think are your areas for improvement?
Answer: Couple of areas that I feel there is an immediate need for development
(i) I would like to get a strong grip over .NET 4.0 and Windows Azure programming skills.
(ii) I would like to improve my inter-personal communication skills, especially interacting with the people who have skewed opinions (technical and political). Current challenge is to figure out a way of changing the mindset of people in minimum amount of time.
6. A year from now what do you want to be different in your skill set?
Answer: I would like to gain core development skills in .NET 4.0. I am also interested in developing skills in web UX design.
7. What kind of work appeals to your heart? What are the kinds of things you LOVE to do?
Answer: From last two years, I have enjoyed meeting external customers of Microsoft and helping them resolve problems. In these two years, I have realized,
(i) I enjoy the work when I am given the authority and responsibility to handle things
(ii) I enjoy the work when I am not being micro-managed.
(iii) I have thoroughly enjoyed delivering trainings to customers
8. What kind of tree captures your growth aspirations? What are the ways in which you want to grow – horizontal vs. vertical vs. below the surface growth?
Answer: At this stage of my career, I would prefer to ‘below the surface growth’. I haven’t set any precise goals for what I want to be in 10 years from now. And to make that decision, first I must know what truly I want. Horizontal or vertical growth would be unnecessary distraction before I make that decision.
9. What kind of Star recognition do you like? How do you like to be rewarded? In public or in private? And what are the kind of rewards that motivate you?
Answer: I would prefer being awarded in private for my work. As for as ‘what kind of rewards that motivate me’, well, that would depend on what kind of rewards that are on offer!
Once I had the answers ready for the nine-questions, we decided for a one-hour career discussion meeting. Make sure that, before the meeting, your mood is good. Just to avoid any unforeseen situations, I cancelled all meetings three hours prior to the career planning discussion. Being in right state of mind and good mood is absolute must. And I must confess I spend couple of hours watching videos on YouTube just to relax myself.
We didn’t decide on a strict agenda for the meeting, but at the end this is how the time got distributed around the three tasks.
Self-Assessment – Going through 9 questions and the employee’s answers
Discussion of employee abilities/skills
As the meeting started, for few minutes my manager and I had a candid conversation about some non-sense. And yes, I told him that I am going to blog this career discussion, for which he replied ‘if that’s going to help you impress few girls, then go ahead!’ Once the serious discussion started, we went through each of the nine-questions and the answers I have written down. Basically, based on my answers, my manager was assessing ‘where do I stand now’ and ‘which directions would be suitable for my career growth’. For each of the questions, my manager asked me ‘examples’ on why I have written a particular thing. Once we were done with the questions, we used a table to measure my core abilities. These abilities are defined below.
Leadership: Ability to influence and persuade.
Communication: Able to communicate via emails, presentations, writing, etc.
Shipping: Ability to track things and get work done on time.
Technical: In-depth knowledge regarding features/specs, development, testing, operations, build/release, etc.
Business: Domain knowledge and insights about our products and competitive products, customers and ability to provide breakthrough insights on paradigm shifts in software technologies.
After a brief discussion, my manager provided his feedback on where I stand, what I must do to improve and what opportunities I must pursue. Here’s the feedback given by my manager. As far the skill ratings is concerned, I think he has rated me slightly above than I am.
Also, based on my work, this is the feedback given by my manager on the areas that I need to improve upon
(i) Task management: Develop an organized way of managing and following up on tasks. Sometimes, I commit to some tasks but due to other high priority works, I missed out delivering low-priority tasks. Also, sometimes, I don’t follow-up on the low-priority tasks.
(ii) Business Skills: I don’t have much knowledge about the competitive technologies offered outside of Microsoft. Having extensive knowledge of both Microsoft and non-Microsoft technologies would help me in developing business acumen.
(iii) Technical Skills: I need to improve on core programming skills especially on .NET 4.0 and Windows Azure. Also, I need to get some expertize on using Team Foundation Server (TFS). Also, push further on technical knowledge with regard to application architecture review from performance standpoint. Recommended to attend online trainings in free time.
(iv) Influencing Abilities: Identify effective techniques for persuading stubborn customers to do the right things. Recommend reading the book ‘Great dialogues by Plato’.
(v) Mentor: Identify a good mentor within Microsoft on career and technical guidance.
After the end of the discussion, I documented every point we discussed. Overall, I think this was a positive discussion. We discussed several things, which I hadn’t thought about earlier. For example, discussion about the competitive technologies in the market stumped me. Post discussion I realized that my business acumen is severely lacking. Also, the discussion about simple things such as ‘task management’ was very fruitful. Many times, I think I am doing well in my day-to-day job but little things like forgetting a low-priority task might create a negative impression. The good thing about my manager is that, he is very solution oriented than merely highlighting the problem. That helps in a big way.
With that, I want to conclude this long post. I don’t know whether it would be useful for anyone for having a meaningful career planning conversation, but this will definitely serve as document that will remind me what I was in February 2011.