- Be familiar with your company’s procedures and criteria for approving and managing capital expenditures. Your management will require a compelling return-on-investment (ROI) study (net present value, payback, breakeven, or internal rate of return estimates) vis-à-vis explicit or implicit hurdle rates.
- Establish clear links between your budget and corporate strategy. If your management can see the real benefits to the business, they’ll find the costs easier to absorb. Amazon’s customer-oriented culture requires every proposal for a new feature, product, or service to be pitched by means of a “Mock Press Release” arguing how a hypothetical Amazon customer would first learn about the feature and its utility.
- Don’t just roll your budget over from the previous year adding a certain percentage “and then some.” Many companies have adapted a cost-management tool called “Zero-Base Budgeting” that requires you to justify each line item in your budget as if it were an entirely new claim for an entirely new project.
- State your assumptions explicitly. Prepare worst-case and best-case scenarios to augment realistic forecasting of the future and help prudent decision-making. Keep your budgets ambitious but realistic.
- Allow room for contingencies. Avoid rigidities that could inhibit the quick and effective response to an unexpected event. Bring your contingency planning into the open for a careful review.
- Add some fat, but not too much. Keep this in your back pocket, but be ready to make some cuts by knowing what their impact can be. Be clear and confident when questioned about any of the numbers in your budget.
- Explain how true you were to the previous year’s budget. Make a distinction between controllable and uncontrollable budget variances. This will build your management’s confidence in your pitch for the year ahead.
- Put your budget proposal to test with your team and supportive peers. Encourage them to ask all the difficult questions they can imagine. They may not only know where the skeletons are hidden and help you with the answers you’ll need, but also become indispensable allies in getting your budget approved.
- To persuade each member of management, know what matters to him/her and link your budget to his/her objectives. Discuss your budget with the key decision-makers separately before a group discussion. (Management consulting firm McKinsey calls this technique “pre-wiring.”) By getting each participant’s buy-in, you can count on his/her support and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements.
Managing the Boss
If you’re terrified by the prospect of going over your boss’s head to pursue an idea after she’s rejected it, consider the following steps.
First, have an in-depth conversation with your boss to make sure that you’re not misreading the circumstances of getting rejected. Your boss may well have a good reason for her decision.
Ask your boss what’s lacking in your proposals.
- Is your idea solid enough, but lacking the right support products or services to go with it? Is it feasible to implement? Will it divert valuable attention away from other initiatives?
- Does your idea actually enhance the customer’s experience? Have you explained how your idea translates to the bottom line?
- Do you lack credibility? Have you previously blown an assignment? Do you need to rebuild leadership’s trust in you before pitching your idea again?
- Have you prototyped your idea? Have you tested your idea on others? Do you have data confirming your idea’s feasibility? Are you disclosing all underlying issues and potential challenges that will have to be attended?
Address the above concerns, rework your idea, strengthen your proposal, and pitch it to your boss again. Consider meeting with your peers and your managers’ peers to build some grassroots support (management consulting firm McKinsey calls this “pre-wiring”) for your idea.
If your boss rejects your idea again, handle your boss’s negative response by reiterating that you respect her judgment, but would like a go-ahead to take the idea further. Your boss may surprise you with a green light.
Think twice before stepping outside the chain of command and talking to your boss’s boss about something on your mind.
Personality assessments have featured in personality development and career counseling for almost a century. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other aptitude tests form the basis for helping people deal with conflict, understand team interplay, outline career search, sharpen decision-making skills, and cope with stress.
Personality Assessments Cannot Predict Performance
- An individual’s personality cannot be summed up by a personality assessment. Individuality is described best by continuous (not discrete), normally-distributed attributes. For example, the MBTI Step I classification of individuals into 16 categories (or 4 dichotomies from Carl Jung‘s book Psychological Types (1921)) does not encapsulate the full range of personality variance.
- An individual’s behavior cannot be limited to one side of a dichotomy. For instance, every person can be outgoing and assertive in the external world (extraversion,) while requiring time for some contemplation (introversion).
- Many academic studies question the tests’ predictive validity and poor reliability. Moreover, personality assessments have poor test-retest consistency. Test takers have been shown to change at least one dichotomy when they take the MBTI Step I survey a second time.
- Personality assessments can initiate confirmation bias (“Barnum Effect”)—the test scores are self-fulfilling because people tend to behave in ways that are predicted for them. In other words, a person who learns that he or she is “outgoing” according to MBTI may behave that way.
- Personality tests are decidedly fakeable, especially when used to evaluate future career opportunities. All personality assessments are contingent on a degree of honesty, but MBTI test-takers are often motivated to match up to extraverted, sensing, thinking, and judging (ESTJ) proclivities in the modern organization.
- Assessments are regularly offered as universally applicable. Not only do they tend to mirror the biases of the test developers, but also they are skewed in preference of the social groups the developer studied.
Personality Assessments are Starting Points for Change, Not a Predictor of the Outcome
Academics have long acknowledged the previously mentioned criticisms of personality assessments. They’ve argued fruitfully that many of the criticisms should be directed to how HR practitioners understand personality tests and use them in the development arena.
MBTI and many other personality assessments were never intended to sort the talented from the less talented. They are designed for the individual who takes the assessment, and not for the HR practitioner. In other words, personality assessments were designed to help individuals discover their underlying preferences regarding learning styles, problem-solving styles, self-awareness, ethical inclinations, emotional intelligence, and stress management.
Intended for Increasing Self-awareness, Not Appraisal
On the contrary, HR practitioners tend to interpret test scores speciously to gauge behavior, rather than as pointers of categorical preferences. Besides, HR practitioners often fail to factor in the test-takers’ past and current environmental influences.
And then there’s the risk of people being pigeonholed or pushed into a particular course regardless of his or her preferences. HR practitioners and career counsellors who put too much emphasis on personality assessments may compartmentalize people into rigid categories. This flies in the face of a central tenet of the MBTI premise—that individuals could choose to act against their preferred type if the occasion demands it. People’s attitudes and behaviors often change over time because of emotional experiences or socialization into specific work and social cultures.
Idea for Impact: Use Personality Assessments to Facilitate Self-Awareness, Not for Categorization or as Predictors of Achievement
If you’re a manager or a HR practitioner, don’t use personality assessments to categorize people or as predictors of achievement. Encourage people to take personality tests, but help them interpret these pieces of data about themselves—only they could make sense of test results in the context of their life history, social environment, and ambitions for career and life.
Captain Bill (1839–1889) had little formal education. He certainly didn’t understand much of the science of the steel-making. Nonetheless, he was street-smart, outgoing, forthright, and ingenuous. His workers venerated his boundless energy. With their support, he not only broke many records in steel production, but also developed an array of inventions that touched many aspects of steel-making and rail-manufacturing.
Captain Bill’s boss, Charles M Schwab (1862–1939,) recalled an amusing interaction between Captain Bill and Andrew Carnegie in an essay titled “My 20,000 Partners” in the 19-Dec-1916 issue of The American Magazine:
The captain, I remember, used to characterize Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie as a wasp that came buzzing around to stir up everybody.
One hot day in early summer, Carnegie sought out Jones in the steel factory.
“Captain,” he said, “I’m awfully sorry to leave you in the midst of hot metals here, but I must go to Europe. I can’t stand the sultry summer in this country. You have no idea, Captain, when I get on the ship and get out of sight of land, what a relief it is to me.”
“No, Andy,” flashed the captain, “and you have no idea what a relief it is to me, either.”
Idea for Impact: Meddling is not managing. While “keeping your eye on the ball” (and management by walking around) is indispensable to managerial control, an overly-engaged boss can create self-induced commotion. Effective managers delegate results when they can and interfere only when they must. Learn to have faith in the ingenuity of your employees, and give much latitude in how they do things.
Employee engagement and retention of top talent is a holy grail of people management—and nearly as hard to pin down.
Employees expect managers to be fair, pay fairly, listen, value opinions, relate, develop, challenge, demonstrate care, advance, and so on. But many employees don’t know when and how to voice their concerns, or negotiate for what they want.
All managers know that engaged employees are happier and more productive. Yet, managers and HR managers cannot simply make employee engagement “happen.”
Using a copious amount of facts and figures from interviews and surveys, Branham explores seven reasons for employee disengagement. For each reason, Branham lists signs that managers need to keep their eyes open for, and shows how employers and employees could communicate and understand their mutual needs and desires.
“Some Quit and Leave … Others Quit and Stay”
According to Branham, employee disengagement—and eventual resignation—is not an event; rather, it is a plodding process of bitterness, discontent, and eventual withdrawal that can take weeks, months, or even years until the definite choice to resign happens. He lists the ten most common stimuli that trigger employee disengagement:
- Poor management
- Lack of career growth and advancement opportunity
- Poor communications
- Issues with pay and remuneration
- Lack of recognition
- Poor senior leadership
- Lack of training
- Excessive workload
- Lack of tools and resources
- Lack of teamwork
Branham claims to have synthesized some 20,700 employee-exit surveys and has identified four fundamental human needs (compare to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) that must be met by employers:
- Employees need to feel proficient. They want to be matched to a job that aligns with their talents and their desire for a challenge.
- Employees need to feel a sense of worth. They want to feel confident that their commitment and their efforts translate into meaningful contributions to their company’s mission. They desire to be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
- Employees need to be trusted. They expect their employers to pay attention, and be honest and open in their communications.
- Employees need to have hope. They want to be treated fairly, and given opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers.
Why Employees Start Feeling Disconnected from Their Work
The core of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave is a “how to” guide to address each of the seven reasons to enable a company to pursue the path to become an “employer of choice.”
Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected. Many new hires join their companies with a wide range of misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Some stay and adapt, others disengage and stay, and some others disengage and ultimately leave. Branham advocates creating realistic job descriptions, and open communications between managers and employees on achieving their mutual goals and expectations.
Reason #2: The Mismatch between Job and Person. Companies with strong reputations for selecting the right talent and keeping employees well matched with their jobs have a strong commitment to the continuous upgrading of talent. Managers can assign tasks so that employees can be more engaged through the use of their “motivated abilities.” Managers must keep an eye open opportunities to augment employees’ jobs by delegating tasks they might not have considered before.
Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback. Branham affirms that most managers do coaching and feedback merely as annual or biannual HR-required discussions that bind ambiguous targets to performance-ranking and pay scale. Managers must lead frequent, informal, on-the-job feedback conversations with employees. Branham identifies four principal themes that managers must address to make their performance management practice seem less controlling and more of a partnership:
- “Where are we going as a company?”
- “How are we going to get there?”
- “How does the manager expect the employee to contribute?”
- “How is the employee doing? What is going well? What are the key suggestions for improvement?”
Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities. Branham observes that most talented employees cannot pinpoint and articulate, and often underuse their greatest strengths. He encourages companies to provide self-assessment tools and career management training for all employees, enabling them to be the best they possibly can be. Most “employers of choice” have a strong mentoring culture. They communicate that employees must take the initiative in their own career development.
Reason #5: Feeling Devalued and Unrecognized. To Branham, many companies do not have a formal and informal culture of recognition because their managers are themselves too busy with their nominal responsibilities to pay adequate attention to employees’ performance. Or, they can’t discern between average and superior performance. He lists recommendations for competitive base- and variable-pay linked to achieving business goals. He reminds managers that employees are hungry to be listened to, and want their ideas sought and implemented.
Reason #6: Stress from Overwork and Work-life Imbalance. Branham observes that the relationships employees form with other employees is a glue that binds people to their workplaces. He encourages fostering social connectedness by assigning cross-functional team projects and organizing group outings.
Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders. When senior leaders don’t back up pronouncements such as “people are our most important asset” with their actions, even mid-level managers begin to question the decisions and the actions of senior leaders. The result is a manifest lack of enthusiasm in the workplace, and in the rising complaints and questions about policies and practices. Leaders must set the tone for workplace culture and must back up their words with actions to discourage employee cynicism and disengagement.
Becoming an Engaged Leader is the Embodiment of What Leadership Means
Recommendation: Fast read Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. This book makes a great reading for managers and leaders who will need to scratch beneath the surface to recognize unhappy employees before it’s too late, and then engage their employees better and retain their top talent.
While many of the book’s themes may appear familiar, The 7 Hidden Reasons discuses many ideas and “engagement practices” in great specificity to help managers and leaders keep their antennae up for signs of bitterness and discontent, and correct before they lose their best and brightest people. This practical tome can also help employees discuss and resolve their needs and desires.
Developing a deep understanding of what causes employees to lose motivation, disengage, and leave cannot be ignored or overlooked. Managers and leaders who can resolve the divergence that employees feel between their personal values and the best interests of their businesses will gain immeasurably by having a highly engaged and productive workforce.
Dissatisfied with your job? Considering jumping ship? There’s no guarantee your next job will be any better. Many people who jump ship in frustration run into the same problems that were an obstacle with previous employers.
Consider working on a solution before trying to jump ship. Try to discuss your future with your boss.
- Examine your motivations. Insist on realism. Do you have clear goals and priorities? Step back and assess what’s happening in your career journey. Don’t have unrealistic assumptions.
- Start with a plan. What specifically are you seeking to make your job better? How can you get it? If you feel your career has become stagnant, realize that people who stay in one function or one industry may move up quickly in the beginning of their careers but often reach a ceiling later when they become too specialized.
- Be brutally candid with yourself. Make sure you’re capable of handling the roles and responsibilities you’re seeking. Determine if they’re available.
- Meet formally with your boss to discuss your plan. Take the initiative to lead the discussion; unlike at a performance review, here you drive the discussion.
- During the meeting, ask your boss to evaluate your skills and your potential. Hear him out. Use active listening—repeat what he said to make sure you understand each other.
- Give the boss your perspectives after hearing his. Don’t be confrontational. Try to cooperate. Think before you respond: reacting too quickly will set your boss on the defensive and guarantee an argument.
- Once you’ve agreed upon a solution, do everything to progress it. Example: One woman wanted to be reassigned to her company’s trade sales unit. At her own initiative, she attended her industry’s trade shows, developed contacts, and learned what was necessary to succeed in sales and marketing.
- Don’t expect quick action: changes take a little time. Perhaps you may be happier with a lateral move: many people think that careers should follow an upward trajectory. In fact, most jobs transitions don’t entail a promotion. Most successful careers involve a mix of lateral and upward movement.
Idea for Impact: Try to ask for honest feedback about what’s holding you back from a promotion. You’ll find it easier to tackle career frustrations in a familiar environment at your current employer rather than at a new company where you’ll be under pressure to learn the ropes and produce results quickly.
Lessons on Career Advancement from 43 Year-old Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein
As a freshman at Yale, Epstein was assertive enough to flaunt his role as a sports editor for the Yale student newspaper. After cold-contacting many professional sports teams to express interest in working for them, he grabbed the attention of a Yale alumnus at the Baltimore Orioles. This stroke of luck led to three consecutive summer-internships at the Orioles with increasing responsibilities.
After graduating from Yale with a degree in liberal arts, Epstein joined the Orioles full-time as a public relations assistant. His ingenuity caught the eye of Orioles President-CEO Larry Lucchino, who took Epstein under his wings. When Lucchino became team president of the San Diego Padres, he took Epstein and made him director of player development.
At Lucchino’s suggestion, Epstein also attended law school full-time whilst working 70 hour-weeks at the Padres. At that time, nobody on the small Padres’ management team had a law degree. By going to law school and getting a Juris Doctor degree, Epstein could help review players’ contracts. “Getting that seat at the table gave me the opportunity to be involved, and then my responsibilities grew from there,” he once recalled.
At age 28, Epstein moved again with Lucchino and joined the Boston Red Sox as general manager. In doing so, he became the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. Ten years later, in 2011, Epstein became president the Chicago Cubs.
At both the Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, Epstein intelligently used complex statistical analytics to oversee the teams’ curse-breaking championships. In 2004, Epstein supervised the Red Sox’s sixth World Series Championship and ended their 86-year drought. And in 2016, when, under Epstein’s presidency, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series Championship 108 years after the previous time they did, their triumph ended the longest drought in professional sports.
Theo Epstein’s 20 Percent Rule: Undertake Your Boss’s Less Glamorous Responsibilities
In a recent interview (22:31-minute mark in this “The Axe Files” podcast) with the University of Chicago’s David Axelrod, Epstein revealed a career advancement technique that helped fast-track his career at the Orioles, the Padres and the Red Sox:
Whoever your boss is, or your bosses are, they have 20 percent of their job that they just don’t like … So if you can ask them or figure out what that 20 percent is, and figure out a way to do it for them, you’ll both make them really happy, and improve their quality of life and their work experience. And also gain invaluable experience for yourself. If you do a good job with it, they’ll start to give you more and more responsibility.
Idea for Impact: Those Who Raise Their Hands Climb the Ladder Faster
Human nature is such that everyone likes to do what he/she likes and not what should be done. If you can determine those aspects of your boss’ job that she hates and volunteer to help her with those responsibilities, you can expand your job’s horizons.
When you can seize such opportunities to raise your hand and sign up for tasks and responsibilities that aren’t particularly attractive, you not only learn by way of broader experiences and gain confidence, but also become more visible to management and situate yourself for a promotion. As I’ve written previously, before you can be seen as eligible for promotion, you should have demonstrated competence in doing a part of the new job you aspire to.
Seek out projects, prove that you’re eager and able to go the extra mile, and gain valuable face time with top executives.
Andy Grove’s Meeting Style at Intel
Intel’s former Chairman and CEO Andy Grove (1936–2016) was known for his brash management style. He habitually resorted to fear as a management technique. In an effort to aggressively pursue the right answers, he devoted his focus to facts and data, as I wrote in my article on lessons from the Intel Pentium integer bug disaster.
In meetings, Grove expected his employees to be self-willed, clear-sighted, and obstinate. Grove wrote in his autobiography / management primer Only the Paranoid Survive (1996,) “Don’t sit on the sidelines waiting for senior people to make a decision so that you can later criticize them over a beer.”
With an “in-your-face” interpersonal style, Grove bellicosely challenged his interlocutors and called his meetings “constructive confrontations.” In contrast, his executives recalled them as “Hungarian inquisitions” in reference to his childhood in Hungary under Nazi and Communist regimes.
Recalling Grove’s technique for meetings, one executive said, “If you went into a meeting, you’d better have your data; you’d better have your opinion; and if you can’t defend your opinion, you have no right to be there.” In pursuit of accuracy and rationality, Grove would rip his employees’ ideas to shreds even while they were still on the first page of their carefully prepared presentations.
Steve Ballmer’s Meeting Style at Microsoft
Another case in point is how Steve Ballmer conducted meetings. For most of his career as Microsoft’s CEO, Ballmer expected his employees to deliver a presentation he hadn’t seen before, take the “long and winding road” of discovery and exploration, and then arrive at the conclusion. This allowed Microsoft employees to expose Ballmer analytically to all their contemplations and postulations before steering him to their conclusions.
Years later, Ballmer reflected that this meeting style wasn’t efficient because, as a high-energy person, he couldn’t bear longwinded narratives and grew impatient for the conclusions. Ballmer changed his expectations of meetings and required employees to send him the presentation materials in advance. He would read them and directly venture into questions, asking for data and supporting evidence only if needed. This gave him greater focus in meetings.
Idea for Impact: Attune to Your Boss’s Communication Style
As I’ve discussed in previous articles, your ability to work well with others can mean the difference in whether your career progresses or stalls. To advance professionally, it’s particularly important that you have a good working relationship with your immediate supervisor.
Bosses, like all people, differ greatly in their capacities and communication styles. You and your boss may be reasonably compatible or you may have entirely different communication preferences, temperaments, and styles. Regardless, you need to achieve a beneficial and cordial way of working with your boss.
Invest time and energy in understanding how your boss works, her ambitions and goals, her priorities, her strengths and weaknesses, the specificity she expects from your projects and decisions, her hot buttons, and her flash points.
Accommodate your boss’s work style. Discuss communication preferences and seek feedback. Be flexible. Ask questions to clarify what you don’t understand.
Top management is continually besieged with information and requests from across the organization. This makes it difficult to get their attention, especially when you need their intervention on a project.
To be effective in providing project updates to top management and seeking their help, it’s important to cut to the chase, simplify your message, and be brief.
- Tell them where you are now in relation to the goals of your project. Don’t expect the big bosses to ferret up-to-date information about your project. Anticipate their questions and be ready with supporting data.
- Tell them where you’re headed. Present your plans and tell them where you stand in relation to those plans.
- Tell them how you’ll know when you’ve arrived at the goal.
- Tell them how you plan to get where you’re going. Provide enough context to help the big bosses understand the challenges you face.
- Tell them where you need their help and intervention. “Boss, we have conflicting customer specifications. I need your guidance about setting priorities.” Mention your recommendations and seek agreement. “Here is our recommended approach to the problem. Do you concur?”
Kathy asked, “Every time I ask my boss a question about a process, I get a lecture instead of a quick yes-or-no answer or specific instructions. Is it necessary to listen patiently and let her finish her lengthy sermon, or can I cut her short and tell her that a brief answer is all I need?”
My short answer: Live with it.
Interrupting and cutting short a boss in the middle of a conversation may be an impolite way of handling a harmless habit. Your boss may ramble on for a number of reasons—she may be uneasy, excited, or frustrated about the topic at hand. She may just be thinking aloud or stating some particulars about the subject matter. If she is uncertain about what she wants to say, she might blather about everything she can think of.
Here are some techniques that can help:
- Try to meet your boss just before an appointment on her calendar, prior to lunch, or at the end of her day. This encourages her to stay within a set time limit—she’ll want to leave her desk or prepare for the next meeting.
- Phrase your question or request in a way that suggests that you need only a brief answer. Open the conversation by saying, “I know you’re headed to Peter’s office, but may I have a minute of your time to talk about …”, “I’m up against a deadline but can’t proceed until our scheduled meeting. Can you please tell me quickly …,” or “I only have five minutes—can you explain how to ….”
- If you must cut off a boss when she’s rambling, interrupt her only occasionally. Your boss’s rambling may simply be her attempt to clarify or reiterate some details. Politely say, “Would you please excuse me? I must get back to my desk for …” and state a verifiable reason. Next, if you have what you wanted from your boss, recap what you’ve heard from her by saying, “So, I will ….” Alternatively state, “I think this topic needs more time. What’s a good time to discuss this later today?”