Your Credentials Don’t Matter

We help a lot of young go-getters build strategies to move into executive positions. Here’s an experience you’ll need to be on the lookout for as we’ve seen this scenario increase over the last few years. It’s a situation where your credentials don’t matter to anyone in the management ranks.

Venture capitalists (VCs) buy companies. They do this in order to resell it later for a profit. Most of us think they only invest in startups but this isn’t the only financial support they provide. They also buy failing companies where they have an expertise and feel they can turn it around for a profit. Often the life cycle between buy and sell is around 5 years or so. The VCs will take an active role in the company, often being the board, and by putting certain high level executives in place to run the company. With small companies, this usually means they will only put one or two people at the top.

Here’s where the excitement comes in. Once the new leader is in place, he’ll have to figure out how to fill the remaining positions in his leadership team. Sometimes this leader will bring in some friends to establish a circle of trust. Other times, the remaining leadership positions are filled with previous leaders from the company (before it was sold). But before we talk about the process for filling these positions, it’s important to understand the value of these positions. Remember, a VC owns the company and it’s likely the company will be sold again in several years. High level management positions are contract positions and are usually well compensated when the company is purchased. Some managers will stay and continue with the new owners, while others will have their contract “bought out” by the new owners. Money is the driver in this situation.

Before the new leader assigns his new team, those individuals who want to lead will begin to push themselves into higher positions. If these individuals were managers in the old company, they’ll “assume” a higher role. I say assume because they aren’t necessarily appointed yet but they will act in this role in the hopes that once assignments are made, they’ll own that position officially. We’ve watched quite a few companies over the years go through this scenario. The dominant personalities usually win out, especially if the new leader isn’t a strong leader. Some companies have allowed individuals to assume management roles with no experience or credentials for such a position. For example, a high tech company had put an English major into a product development management position. The key to earning these positions is to exert your influence. You have to be pushy. Most individuals miss out on this type of opportunity because they wait to be identified as worthy of such a position. In this situation, waiting to be recognized might only keep you in your existing position.

It’s important to note that this type of transition in a company is highly political. Building alliances with other managers is difficult as the environment becomes one of “survival of the fittest.” It’s unlikely that other managers will help you move into a higher position. Why? Because they want a higher position and they aren’t interested in giving away opportunities to someone else, regardless of how qualified you are.   Yes, I know this goes against the advice that you usually hear, but we’ve seen this in numerous situations.

Now, if you happen to be one of those managers who gets pushed out, you’ll have options too. One of the most obvious and most likely to work is to seek employment with your competition. Of course, you’ll have to ensure a non-complete clause doesn’t get in the way. To make this type of move, you need to find a competitor who looked at your company as a real threat to their business. They’ll hire you to understand how your company operated their business. It’s often an inexpensive way for companies to capture competitive intelligence.

I understand that this type of transformation in companies isn’t pretty and isn’t what we would expect it to be. Common sense might suggest that companies would seek out the best people to put in the leadership roles, but this isn’t what we see happening. Those with less impressive qualifications are aware of their shortcomings, which drives them to push themselves into these positions. Why? It’s the only option they have and….it works.

This scenario is more common during economic downturns where organizations experience more volatility. While organizational change is painful, it is also the land of opportunity for those who seek to gain from the transformation. Organization change is NOT a time for you to sit back and wait for your name to be called out in the draft as the next member of the management team. It’s a time where you push yourself into a position that will propel you into the ranks of an Executive. Why? From what we’ve seen, the payouts are worth it. Sure, it’s a side of business that colleges don’t tell you about, nor will your company. It isn’t pretty and isn’t always the best path for the long term viability of the company, but it can make you into an executive and provide a big bump in your salary. Yes….it’s a short term mentality but that’s usually what happens in tough economies.

The MBA Guide to Mentoring

Has your career mobility stifled?  Has your salary flatlined?  Perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of trying to achieve your career success individually.  As a high achiever, you already know that many have achieved greatness.  We’ve read about them and you find tons of stories about they continue to do great things.  But they don’t achieve these things merely with their own effort.  They have help.  So many of try to gain success by impressing others.  Unfortunately, the ones we’re trying to impress aren’t really concerned with our success, only their own.  So how do you select the right people?  You must search and find those who are willing to invest in YOU.

Here are a few statistics to consider:

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes in this article from August 2011:  “The Corporate Leadership Council of the Corporate Executive Board surveyed 880 high-potential employees. More than 25 percent said they planned to change jobs within the next 12 months. That’s potential attrition 2.5 times greater than just five years earlier. Among the dissatisfied, 64 percent said their current employment experiences are having little impact on their development.”

Inc Magazine says CEOs can’t find the talent they need.

In an overview of its “2011/2012 Talent Management and Rewards Study, North America,” Towers Watson says, “…almost 60% of North American companies are having trouble attracting critical-skill employees, an increase over 2010.”

In an article from The Wall Street Journal on reverse mentoring: “In an effort to school senior executives in technology, social media and the latest workplace trends, many businesses are pairing upper management with younger employees in a practice known as reverse mentoring. The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising.”

For my friends in the UK:

Sage surveyed more than 11,000 small and medium sized businesses in 17 countries across the world, to find out their attitudes towards business mentoring. Here’s what they found.

  • 93% of small and medium sized businesses acknowledge that mentoring can help them to succeed.
  • 28% of small and medium sized business currently make use of business mentors
  • 27% of business decision-makers would be most likely to go to people they know for business advice and mentoring.
  • 9% of business decision-makers would go to ‘select business mentors’ as their first option for business advice.

There are so many things you can learn from mentors.  Think about it.  Why do you read a book?  To learn from others.  But you can’t usually get access to the author to understand how to mold their advice from the book to fit your situation.  But mentors can help you do that.  While it’s hard find statistics that identify the impact mentors have, some mentoring statistics show that professionals who have used a mentor, earn between $5,610-$22,450 more annually, than those who perhaps didn’t use a mentor.  That’s a pretty good benefit, at the very least.

Stop chasing dreams by repeating lessons others have already learned.  Your career should be a learning experience but don’t make it one full of things you wish you hadn’t learned.

Before you head off to find a mentor, check out our latest ebook release, The MBA Guide to Mentoring.

Success: An Unborn Dream

The past few decades have ushered in new challenges for younger (and even older) generations in creating success in their lives. Now, we can point to a sluggish economy for providing fewer opportunities; that is, less promotions, pay raises and job openings from companies who are tightening their belts. Perhaps we can blame the rising cost of tuition as a way to limit the success to only those who can afford it. Maybe you can blame companies for eliminating training, canceling their management development programs and even foregoing their tuition reimbursement programs. Well, we can’t forget the reduction in the number of startups, as those represent a decrease in opportunities as well. What about people working longer rather than retiring? On and on we can go.  Are there real challenges for creating success today? Of course there are and there always have been.  But these aren’t the barriers that are really slowing us down. The ones that have the most impact on our career mobility are self-generated.

Clarity. Most of us want more success. Yet, when it comes to defining it, we struggle to put even a simple description to it. Now, this still doesn’t deter us from working hard to gain recognition and reward. In fact, we will overlook the fact that we don’t really have a destination we are seeking for many years. Naturally, a lack of a definition of what we want to achieve and maybe even when we want to achieve it forces us into a journey where our only reward for our effort becomes stress and disappointment when we don’t get something in return for our efforts. How long does it take for you to get frustrated? It really depends on your tolerance level. I’ve seen many MBA graduates sit in their same jobs for many years after graduation waiting on their rewards. If you can’t define what you want, it’s almost impossible to identify the tasks you need to take to get it. It’s also quite challenging to identify what others can do to help you.  “See” what I’m saying?

Passion. You’ve surely heard all the advice about following a career path you have a passion for. If you follow your passion, success will follow. That advice has always irritated me.   But, that’s because for many years I hadn’t been following my passion. Within 3 to 6 months of working in a new job, the novelty would be gone. At this point, I’d begin looking to create a little excitement in my work, maybe it was a new project or traveling to a new place. I had to have something to break the monotony. In just three years or less, I’d be stressed to the point where I had to make a change. It wasn’t my passion. While I didn’t clearly define my destination to my consciousness, my subconscious was looking out for certain accolades in my environment and when I didn’t get them, my satisfaction decreased to the point where something had to give. What’s your passion? What signs do you see when you aren’t living out your dreams?

Boundaries. So many of us build boundaries around ourselves but still hold expectations that assume our possibilities are without bounds. I understand my boundaries. I’m not a single kid who can go anywhere and do anything.  I’m married with three children. My kids are entering high school now and I want them to have a stable surrounding. I wouldn’t entertain a job in another state. So, I’ve limited my own opportunities. We all do this to ourselves to some degree. Some limit themselves geographically. Some do it by job title or salary (minimum salary, of course). You might also limit yourself by remaining in the same industry. The problem with these limitations is that we tend to forget they exist and that we’ve chosen them.  Then, the only time we make a change is when our happiness is lost and we must change something to find it again.

Determination. Malcolm Gladwell proposed the law of 10,000 hours in his book, Outliers, which basically suggests that it will take you ten years of intentional effort to hone your craft. In the 1970’s, where people held “long” jobs, ten years would have been enough time to make a considerable impression on your company. However, today, job tenure is about 4.4 years. In other words, by the time you craft your skills, you’ll have gone through two companies and will be on your third. Granted, organizations are transforming themselves at alarming rates and are forcing such change, it will take you longer to build your expertise. As Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton, says “For some reason I don’t understand, employers seem to value having long-term employees less than they used to.” Such changes will increase insecurity, volatility and risk. Staying true to your cause will be challenging, as the changes you have little influence on will act to redirect you when you least desire it. But that’s business today.  It requires more determination than ever.

Our dreams of success are influenced heavily by our surroundings. From the commercials we watch on TV to the Internet to our neighbors, our dream is constantly bleeding through the lines and off the canvas. Fortunately, reality steps in and gives us a gentle nudge and reminder of where we really are. Our success isn’t simply a victim of circumstances, unless you want it to be. It can be planned. It can be changed. It can be improved. You simply have to develop your dream by giving your mind an image of your desired life, making changes when the happiness of work is gone and no desirable future is in view, and setting goals that are in sync with your own established limitations. Lastly, if you really want to achieve your dreams, you will. You’ll give it everything you have. You’ll find all the answers. You’ll get all the help you need. You won’t give up until your dream materializes. That is, if you really want it. Otherwise, you’ll be forever stuck in your own unborn dream.