TLDR: I believe the ability to work with your manager to advance your career is a key skill for professionals. It may be an uncomfortable topic due to reasons like workplace culture, but there’s no harm and a lot of goodness to work with your manager to identify career goals clearly and build concrete plan to achieve them.
Back in August, I had my annual rewards discussion at Microsoft. I was somewhat confident that I could get a promotion this time: during the past year I had accumulated great impact, and in my opinion I was definitely ready for it. However, while my performance review came back strong, I eventually didn’t get the promo.
I took this as an opportunity to improve the effectiveness in how I drive my career. For context, the idea of being in the driver’s seat of my own career is not new to me. I was already following a set of great advice and learnings: Make impact both as an individual and create synergy with others’ impact; drive for results in areas that really contribute to the business I’m in; ensure my work has visibility so my impact doesn’t go unnoticed, etc. I had long ago bid farewell to my naivete that says as long as you are doing good work, career advancement will automatically happen.
So what did I miss this time? I began self-reflecting and reaching out for advice. After some learning/soul-searching, I believe my biggest effectiveness gap is the ability to work with my manager and leverage their help to drive my career.
After all, how can your manager help you effectively if you two aren’t even on the same page?
Here’s a closer look at my ineffective way: I’ve always known by book knowledge that working with my manager is an important muscle that I simply have to develop, but I barely took that knowledge to heart. For example, I was one of the first on my (previous) team to set up a monthly career conversation with our manager. However, during those conversations I never tried to identify concrete plans or areas of impact with him or check-in to discover latest areas of opportunities. I suppressed the voice in my mind that wants to review the map and find concrete next steps towards career advancement.
Why did I do that? I think I felt intrinsically uncomfortable talking about topics like career goals or promos, partly due to the observation that many people treat the subject as taboo. However, I now believe that shouldn’t be an excuse to not work with your manager on your career: 1, it’s important for you, 2, your manager already has full visibility – probably more than you do – on your performance and opportunities, so it’s moot avoiding that topic. I know I need to stop brushing it off with “this is just outside my comfort zone” and apply a growth mindset with a belief that, through effort, I can change this culture in me and make that muscle stronger.
As a result of these learning, I started having more straightforward conversations with my current manager around career development, and that means:
- Not shying away from my career goals
- Working with my manager to identify concrete areas of impact
- Getting a sense of opportunities ahead
- Learning how promotions work in my organization from my manager
- Checking in regularly to course-correct on where I focus my time and energy
In the long road trip of my career, I just refueled my engine and employed a new driving mindset, and I am really excited to see where it takes me.