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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pitfalls of sequential career

Makrand, one of my coachee, works in UAE in a bank. Being a MBA he earns a good salary, and due to tax savings, the savings are substantial. His family has returned back because of his son’s education. We met when he was last in India. When I asked him what he is planning next, he said, he is planning to live alone without his family for another 4-5 years in UAE, return with substantial savings, and start a second career in teaching. Can one plan such sequential careers?

One of my doctor friend, who is a busy surgeon, is an exceptional musician. He plans to ‘retire’ early from his work life and launch his second career in music.

What are the pitfalls of living careers sequentially?

All of us live career with different objectives. Objectives also evolve or emerge as we move ahead. What was significant first becomes insignificant later. Money, which is very significant in the early part of our careers, becomes less important. Job satisfaction becomes more significant. We all see mix of objectives such as money, job satisfaction, happiness, and living life for significance at different times of life. This is a natural part of our growth. Sometimes, we cannot fulfill our new objective because we are locked-in a situation. For instance, one of my MBA friends started his first job with a huge salary. However, when his immediate money objectives were satisfied, he wanted to move out. He could not, because he was locked in due to his commitments of housing loan. Many of these lock-ins can be avoided with planning, some of them cannot.

In all these situations career objectives emerge forcing us to take a different decision. Let us call them evolving careers.

But planning a sequential career is difficult, because we are holistic beings. We cannot ‘start’ and ‘stop’ the evolution of our ‘Self’ by the press of a button as though we are a machine. Our self evolves as it engages with the external environment- situations, relationships and events. Every ‘engagement’ helps us discover of what we are, and what we are not. The denser the engagement, the better it is for discovering our Self.

Makrand is making three assumptions which, instead of producing the desired result, can lead to unexpected consequences. One, he plans to restrict his engagement of life ‘only with job’ so that he can earn the necessary money. He is underestimating the resulting frustration with which he will live his life and the ‘compensating’ practices he will develop to thwart the frustration. In such situation, people are known to develop many practices such as drinking, smoking and others which can completely derail his later plans. People also develop other lock-ins that can completely restrict their options later.

Second, he believes that his restricted engagement will still help him ‘grow’ his other parts of self and help him ‘really’ make a shift to teaching career later when he returns to India. As we grow, we find difficulties in learning new skills, new attitudes and mind sets. The initial hump of moving into new areas becomes difficult to traverse. If we are out of practice, we find difficult to learn anything new. Our age and stature does not further allow us to do certain things which we find very easy to do at an early age. For instance, a colleague of mine cannot do any consulting at low rate because ‘market’ cannot accept him at that rate. There are many more ‘stock’ factors that thwart a person’s ability to move into another field in later life. Unless those ‘stock’ factors are addressed, one cannot negotiate them at later date. For instance, if Makrand can start some teaching assignments in UAE, it will help him cross that hump easily.

Thirdly, Makrand is wanting to ‘stop’ life. He is hoping that his current option of ‘teaching’, which has emerged out of his past engagement with life, will still hold good. It is important to remember that his option of ‘teaching’ has not emerged out of his ‘teaching experience’, but more out of ‘necessity’. By limiting his engagement, he is not allowing life to emerge with other options. Many individuals get stuck with their earlier options, not because they are more appropriate, but just because they emerge out of the ‘wish list’ of early years. This may decrease his chances of succeeding with teaching career, as and when he moves into it.

The chances of succeeding with sequential careers are very limited because of the systemic structures in our lives. Although it looks like a nice option on the ‘paper’, the certainty of that option is illusionary.

I have seen many individuals who retire early from their corporate careers to do some ‘different work’, but they are unable to do anything significant due to this dynamics. The second career remains a dream. Money is not an issue with them. Doing something with their life however seems impossible for them, despite their money resources, their network of contacts, and their wisdom. Unless lot more planning is involved in launching the second career, it is almost impossible to overcome this dynamics.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Output Preparation is most ignored aspect of career building

I met Dan, a hardware engineer. He learnt to work with PC's and became master in repairing them. A hardware engineer also has to learn the 'operating system' of a computer to become a good hardware engineer. He therefore got to learn about Microsoft Windows. He had an innate talent to learn these things.

However, when i met him after three years, he was still working as a PC hardware engineer. I was surprised. A good hardware engineer quickly migrates from maintaining PC, to maintaining a network, and then to maintain a mail server, or to maintain a server which has large application software like SAP or Oracle on it. The climb requires a hardware engineer to get 'certified' in these different courses so that he can get the platform to display his skills. However, all this training and certification, requires lot of spare time.

Spare time is at premium for a good hardware engineer, who typically works for 10/12 hours a day. And because hardware engineers can work as freelancers in their spare time, they continue to work even on weekends, to earn some money. As their salaries are low, this income is good for them. But if they work on weekends, they do not have any time to learn new things. If they think of 'today', they get caught in the vicious cycle, and unknowingly jeopardise their 'tomorrow'.

Dan, after three years, was still working as a PC hardware engineer because he could never extricate himself out of the vicious cycle of 'today'. Output preparation was never taken seriously.

Like Dan, i have observed many individuals who hardly spend time on output preparation.

When they get married they do not spend time on learning how to adjust in a new relationship. When they change jobs they do not spend time on learning how to be 'part' of a new company. When they relocate, they do not know the difficulties of adjusting with new place. When they change jobs, they do not spend adequate time in knowing the metasystems and therefore waste lot of time in comparing 'new company' with 'old company'.

They grossly underestimate the benefits of output preparation. They fail to understand that, if they spend time on output preparation, they can save huge time, cost and pain of transition. Instead, because of inadequate output preparation, they get themselves in wrong and tough situations and therefore spend lot of time in resolving the 'painful' situation. Or they just waste time like Dan and hope that situations will improve by themselves.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Perception is inherent part of working in organisation system

Harish, a marketing support, was complaining. “Everyone blames me when the order is lost. However, when the order is won, sales and marketing take the credit. I work in a thankless job".

Jeevan, a programmer, was telling a new colleague of his, “If you have to succeed in this organisation, you have to butter your boss. Or else you get consigned to assignments which no one wants to do, or get the worst jobs in the group".

Both Jeevan and Harish are complaining about the system's inability to evaluate their work objectively and the consequent reliance on 'perceptions' in evaluating them and other people. Why does this happen in any system? Is it an inherent characteristic of a system or a flaw in a system that can be corrected? Let us use systems thinking to understand.

When you are working in a company, you are working in a group: group consisting of bosses, colleagues and subordinates. Barring few colleagues working in the same function, all of them are specialist in one area or another: sales, delivery, quality, finance and so on. Because each one is part of a function, one works to fulfill the function's purpose. If it is sales, the primary purpose of the system is to bring in new customers. If it is delivery, the primary purpose of the system is to deliver the 'promised' proposition to the customer. Further, each person may have got specialised in different fields: engineering, accountancy, and others.

Working in a function and fields makes it difficult for us to evaluate each other. For me, working in sales, evaluating my colleague Daniel in other function like hardware support, needs information about Daniel’s system, purpose, characteristic and so on. Morever, I need ‘time’ to do this evaluation. Neither I have information, nor time, to evaluate Daniel. In such cases, how do I evaluate Daniel?

You are right. I rely on perception markers. I rely on how Daniel talks, walks and presents himself. If he is untidy fellow, my perception is likely to be ‘Daniel is a shoddy performer’. I evaluate on how Daniel communicates. I evaluate Daniel by how other colleagues evaluate him. Or his colleagues evaluate him. In short, I seek ‘perception markers’ to evaluate him. If you do not believe me , take a pause, and think of how do you evaluate your doctor, TV mechanic, or your auto mechanic. You will realise the power of perceptions.

Imagine bosses who want to evaluate me, Daniel and others. Besides barriers of specialization and fields, they face another barrier: too little time. But they are the ones who decide ‘who should go for this important assignment’, ‘who amongst others should be promoted’. When something fails, they are ones who decide ‘who could have gone wrong’.

In an organization system, where cause and effects are related with each other loosely, how does one decide ‘what and who performed well’ or ‘what and who performed poorly’. Both credit and blame cannot be ascribed easily in an organization system where ‘cause’ of performance is loosely coupled with ‘result’. In such a situation, the only way to ascribe ‘causes’ to a good or bad performance is through ‘perception markers’.

That is what bosses do. And that is why it is necessary for every one of us to understand and become ‘part’ of a perception system of an organization. We do not have any choice. Perception is an inherent need of a system. If we ignore it, we get evaluated by others. If we consciously become aware of the perception system, we can at least ‘influence’ our evaluation.

If we are good performers, it is all the more necessary to be part of perception system to ensure that we get the rewards what our works deserve. If we choose to ignore it, we can only complain that less deserving are getting the rewards.