A short story about the 6 types of managers you don't want to be if you want to get ahead in your career. There are many paths to the top of the corporate ladder ... except these.
In my experience, the biggest reason talented managers don’t advance as quickly as they should is that they don’t fully understand the playing field they’re on. We make false assumptions about corporate dynamics which cause us to build sub optimal strategies for our advancement. We all want to believe companies act with logic and fairness. We want to believe they identify and reward hard work, talent and passion with career advancement. We build our career strategies based upon these assumptions. Unfortunately that is not how corporations work in reality. As much as it may sound cynical, your experience will likely tell you the same. In actual fact, most corporations function in a manner which actually favors the Incompetent Executive – a concept I speak about at length in my book Stealing the Corner Office.
We speak about companies with a certain assumed respect for operational integrity and logic. The media reports on corporate strategy and execution as though it’s mechanical and well-conceived. But it doesn't take more than about six months working in middle management inside a typical corporation to realize that all companies are flawed from top to bottom. And this is not about hating on corporations either, this is about accurately assessing the environment you’re contesting your career in so you can make good strategic choices.
Corporations after all are comprised of people and people care about personal security over everything else. And most of us are not logical by nature, we're instinctive. We opt for self-preservation over and above any notion of corporate allegiance. And most importantly, people make up the decision making engine for the company. Human beings, not a corporate entity, will ultimately determine the fate of your career. As you might imagine, this has major implications on your strategy for career success as well as your priorities at work on a day to day basis.
Should you be focusing on short term results or expanding your skills?
Should you be aggressively pushing your ideas or dispassionately presenting alternatives?
Should you be holding your peers accountable or finding ways to help them?
Early on in our careers we assume a certain logical order of things in business. We use terms like ‘meritocracy’ to describe how things should work. Should – yes. Do – no. If a widespread corporate meritocracy in fact exists then the scoring system it uses runs counter to any rational definition of merit. What we see when we examine the tactics of successful people - the competent and incompetent alike - is that the most powerful strategies are designed to win on a very human playing field which often times can run counter to the conventional tactics we've been taught are the secrets to get ahead.
If you want to learn more about the tactics people use to navigate and win in the corporate world we really work in, check out Stealing the Corner Office.
A lot has been written about “Job Hopping” in the last couple of years particularly as it pertains to the generation y workforce. We’ve all seen the stats: Your typical millennial will work for 15-20 employers in his or her career which means on average they’ll jump ship every two years or so. Contrast that to your parents who stayed with the same company for 30 years and it’s certainly startling – but is it wise?
On the surface there seem to be plenty of logical reasons why job hopping would be a good strategy. To that end Jacquelyn Smith wrote a pretty balanced account on forbes.com of the pros and cons of executing this game plan. Other more passionate proponents, like Rebecca Thompson, in her post, laud job hopping as an optimal – mandatory even - career strategy in the current corporate environment.
Having spent the better part of three years researching unconventional but effective career strategies, I can say with confidence, that in the long run job hopping is flawed. Certainly it’s flawed as a career strategy if your goal is advancement. And, as I talk about at length in Stealing the Corner Office, your priority at work should always be advancement, even if, like many millennials, your ultimate objective is rooted more in fulfillment than finance. Advancement leads to seniority which comes with the freedom to be selective about roles and projects and employers and all the other things that lead to a fulfilling work life. Without advancement, the quest for job fulfillment will always be an uphill battle for most of us.
I’m certainly not the first to argue against job hopping as a strategy, but most often those arguments focus on resume optics and professional network depth. I have a slightly different perspective – here are three flaws that rise to the top for me.
1. Turmoil is your optimal environment for advancement
In my experience your greatest moments for career advancement come in times of uncertainty and disruption. That is, if you’re around long enough to capitalize on them. During these periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities are at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. Change begets opportunity – people get fired, organizational structures change, objectives shift – these are the best times to jump up the ladder. But instead of embracing these periods, Job Hoppers bail at the first sign of trouble. They’re missing out on the best possible time to advance their careers.
2. Credibility demands on-field promotions
In my opinion there is no greater indicator that a candidate is worth hiring than if he or she has a track record of receiving promotions. And any executive who’s paying attention knows there is a big difference between an on-field promotion and a cross-company jump in responsibility. So while job hopping may work once or twice to get a small salary or role bump, more and more these moves are being heavily discounted by hiring managers. I certainly do. There’s just no credibility in it anymore. Job Hoppers, who don’t stay around long enough to get on-field promotions give up the most powerful marketing tool in their arsenal when it comes to job search time.
3. Learn so you can move – don’t move so you can learn
There is a widely used, albeit flawed argument that says job hopping allows you to broaden your skill set by gaining more experiences in more roles with more companies. But I would argue that learning, when acquired this way, comes at too great a price. And, I should point out that few experts advocate as strongly for learning and skills expansion as I do – it’s a cornerstone of the optimal career advancement strategy in my opinion. But what is a strong tactic when implemented correctly, is being horribly misapplied here by job hopping supporters. Job hopping as a means to broadening your skills assumes incorrectly that skills expansion is the desired end in and of itself. They’ve got it backwards. You should be leveraging your current job as the means to expanding your skills so your next job provides broader leadership responsibilities, compensation and freedom. Jumping from one employer to the next at best demonstrates that you are a flexible individual contributor but does nothing to create a reputation for leadership, which is critical to moving up the corporate ladder.
Whether you’re after fame and fortune or fun and fulfillment, your career strategy needs to be about advancement. Advancement is the fastest path to achieve your personal objectives. Job hopping is a relatively new phenomenon, so only time will prove if it’s an effective career advancement strategy or not. But having spent several years studying the tactics successful people use to get ahead in the current corporate environment, I would recommend spending a little more time finding opportunities for advancement in your current job and a little less time looking for opportunities at other companies.