Tag Archives: Management

The Go-Getter Dilemma

A close friend reached out to me recently with a story I’ve heard and experienced way more than I care to admit.  He had started out in a new company and began to rapidly climb the corporate ladder.  Unfortunately, he was recently fired and the reason for his dismissal was personal.  In this post, we’ll find out why and we’ll identify the single greatest challenge for a go-getter.

Before we dive into this post, it’s best I provide my definition of a go-getter.  In my experience, most go-getters are highly educated (e.g. master’s degree or higher).  This is not always the case so don’t get offended. I’m just sharing my experience here.  A go-getter is an individual with significant drive, determination and an unwavering passion to be the best they can be.  They want to learn and grow in their work.  They are enterprising, ambitious and aren’t afraid to pursue what they want.  They are also intelligent, get things done and are able to accomplish work without direction.  I know….that’s a lot to cram into one person.  But they exist.  I know many people like this.  You might even expect that these people would be highly successful.  They are but not always with respect to position on the corporate ladder. With that, let’s talk about why go-getters can’t always climb to the top.

My recently unemployed friend told me about another high level manager in the company that didn’t like him and his meteoric rise.  This manager monitored his actions closely for a way to get my friend terminated.  Well, he found a way.  The disturbing part of the situation is that the other manager spent a lot of effort and time into something that was not good for the company; that is, eliminating the company’s national sales leader.  A logical person might feel that to grow the company, it is useful to have a high rate of sales. I’ve learned over the years that when people do things that are illogical, it’s usually because the driving force is emotion, not logic.  To make matters a little worse, the company’s senior leadership admitted to knowledge of the situation but chose to fire the national sales leader to keep the more senior but spiteful manager.   Low performance harmony is better, right?

You would think that companies would run their organization like an NBA team; that is, hire the best and brightest, tell them what you want them to do, give them the resources to do it, and then get out of the way.  Logical?  Well, authority and power are not always logical.  In my experience, most aren’t.  You see, most managers feel some anxiety about their role.  Maybe they earned it and maybe they didn’t.  Either way, they are in a leadership role and feel they must lead (even if they don’t know how).  In my friend’s case, this other manager couldn’t manage his meteoric climb.  “If you can’t manage them, they have to go.”  Managing the smart and talented is not easy, especially when your abilities fall below theirs.  That’s why you see so much information about leadership on the web.  There just aren’t that many great leaders out there and most of the ones we study are dead.

So as you go out into the world to obtain high levels of formal education and achieve great feats, don’t expect that it will shower you with accolades.  Here are few things you will run into.

I can’t manage you.  Some managers shouldn’t be managers.  They will be unable to handle the difference between your abilities and their own.  The only way to handle that is to get out of the situation entirely, which means YOU have to go.

Don’t threaten me.  If you’re too good, you will threaten your boss with your success.  They may not view your success as a reflection of their leadership abilities but rather in a more selfish light; that is, you took their success.

I’m a prick.  Some managers are just mean.  I had manager write me up on a dozen infractions during a two week holiday shutdown.  I was asked to work a solid month in December to get some challenging products created, tested and shipped by the end of the month.  I worked with several vendors since my company was home on holiday. In a highly successful completion, my boss wrote me up for breaking company rules such as working more than the company allowable hours in a day, pulling parts from inventory without following full process (i.e. remember, no one is on-site), and numerous other things that were a result of everyone being on holiday.

It’s a competition and I’m the boss.  Have you ever been around people who were highly competitive? They are always trying to outperform every story they hear.  It’s unusual to have a boss that will work hard to help you grow.  If you’ve got one, hold on.  If not, try to avoid any confrontation with your boss.  It’s not in your best interest….ever.

Many believe that your boss has the greatest impact on your career.  I disagree.  I think it can be many people in the organization.  It can be other managers or those who influence them.  In my experience, your greatest career challenge will be other people who will push things in your way and try to drag you down.  It can easily impact your employment, as my friend found out recently.  It’s also important to realize that fighting the system rarely gets you anywhere.  HR, regardless of their intentions, is too ineffective in such situations.  Senior leadership will usually side with their management team, regardless of the validity of the argument.  It’s really hard to believe but the people who can do the most for your career are actually the least likely to do anything.

How do you get away from this?  Be your own boss.  Be an entrepreneur!  Put yourself in a position where your limits are set by your own abilities.  Get in a place where you can run as fast as you can run….and not as fast as your boss can.  Be in a place where your rewards are a direct result of your effort.

The MBA: It’s Your Ticket to the Middle

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your job.  Yet, year after year, your performance reviews provide little insight into what you need to do to gain some upward mobility.  No raises. No promotions.  Eventually, you begin to realize that with little movement after 5 years or more, it’s unlikely that any real movement will be coming in the near future.  You’ve got to change your outlook and the MBA seems like the perfect credential to boost your career.  If you want to get into management, it seems like the ideal tool.  But can it really get you to the top?

When I was working on my MBA, I was just as optimistic as every other student.  I thought the MBA would propel me into management quickly.  I earned my MBA while working full time.  The managers around me didn’t have a lot of credentials themselves, so I felt that my MBA would have a huge impact on my growth in the company.  The only MBA in the company was a Harvard graduate and he was the CFO.  When he came in the company, he came in at the top.  He had considerable management experience at the top level and a MBA from Harvard.  This was my introduction to the two things that get you into top management.

Many believe that the possession of the MBA will push you to the top of any organization.  I wish it were true.  The challenge for MBAs entering the workforce is that there are too many MBAs for too few positions.  According to Statistics Canada data, 10.4 percent of all jobs were management jobs in 1995, but that has reduced to 7.8 percent today.  The recession has brought about change that will greatly impact your ability to climb higher in your career.  About 1 in 10 management jobs that existed in 2008 are gone.  Wal-Mart Canada cut costs by targeting more than 200 head-office jobs. After Tim Hortons merged with Burger King, the coffee chain cut 40 per cent of its middle managers. When Rogers Communications restructured its business under CEO Guy Laurence, it let go of several hundred middle managers and up to 15 per cent of its executives.  While the rate of MBA enrollment has not increased in recent years, it still remains high.  About 52 percent of students around the globe are exclusively interested in the MBA, indicating that the supply of MBAs is unlikely to decrease anytime soon.

If the reduction of management jobs and the large numbers of MBAs doesn’t deter you, then you’ll need to create value for employers to convince them that you’re ready for top management.  There are two things you must have to create that influence: a recognizable value and desired work experience.

The MBA is a faster ride to top management positions if you get it from a top program.  It’s not because they are considerably smarter than everyone else, it’s because they bring a perceived value that the company needs.  For example, if a company is preparing itself to be sold or seeking investment funds, bringing in top program alumni creates the perception that the company is well managed.  This makes investors feel more comfortable about the risk of investing in the company.  It’s little more than managing perception. It’s similar to reasons why professional athletes earn so much money playing a game.  They bring an inherent value to the organization, which for sports athletes lie in their ability to sell apparel with their name on it.  Do you think an MBA from an unknown university would create such perception?  If not, then it’s likely that the MBA won’t carry you to the upper echelons.  Even the ivy leaguers who start out with the Fortune 500 companies don’t start at the top.  Andrew Ainslie, dean of the Rochester University Simon School of Business, said “You’re reporting two to four levels below the CEO. That’s middle management, and that’s where most MBA students go and it doesn’t matter which university they came from.”

Another factor that will slow your rise to the top is work experience.  Companies looking for top level professionals will focus on the experience of the individual in the areas they need support in.  That could be mergers, acquisitions, startup, restructuring or dressing up the company for sale.  Company needs are often very specific and without such experience, you don’t have a chance.  Is experience more valuable than the MBA? I would say it certainly is.  Lynn Lee, managing director at Atlantic Research Technologies, a global executive search firm, says “Corporations typically call us in to help them identify people who are already in the upper management or middle management ranks. When recruiting these candidates, most companies, large and small, Singaporean and international, usually look first and foremost at the candidate’s employment experience, and at his or her achievements and management style. A person with a truly outstanding employment record can get a great senior management job without an MBA or other advanced degrees.”   How do you know what experience they want?  That’s a great topic for another post.  That’s coming soon!

After I earned my MBA and spent many years in middle management, I learned about another extremely important factor that can greatly decrease your chances in reaching the corner office.  It’s self-preservation.  Most managers at the top are focused on growing their own career, not limiting their employment by promoting someone else to take their job.  This mindset creates an environment that I call the “dark side of management” and I have an upcoming ebook that will dive into this topic in detail by providing real examples of situations that often happen that can limit your middle management career because someone at the top was trying to preserve their own career from poor organizational performance or create some organizational change that has great potential for personal financial gain.   I was really unsure about creating this ebook since the world wants to focus on all the happy stuff in life but it’s these unpleasant situations that damage and limit your ability to grow your career.  You will run into them at some point.

No matter where you earn your MBA, it’s all about value (i.e. perceived or real).  If you earned your MBA from a lower tier program, don’t expect it to have high perceived value that executives look for when they want to manage perception.  This will limit your upward mobility.  Therefore, you’ll be forced to develop specific experience that executives and boards are looking for if you want to draw their attention for any opportunities at the top.  Experience has value.  Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in middle management.  While that may sound exciting, especially when you consider where you are now, it comes with a big set of problems (which are covered in my upcoming ebook).  Then, when you consider the sheer quantity of competition for an ever shrinking pool of opportunities, you might just find middle management to be one of the toughest places in business.

I’ve Got An MBA – Where Are the Management Jobs?

You’ve finally earned your ticket (the MBA) to the executive ranks. Graduation is over, you have a diploma and now you need to figure out how and, most importantly, where to put your skills to work.  The job market for managers is fairly hot right now.  If you haven’t found your opportunity yet, here are some places you might not have thought to look.

New business.  Many companies tout their successes to the world, mostly in the hopes of winning favor with potential customers but you can use these press releases to identify potential employers.  Small to medium companies often win big contracts from the private sector and government sector for which they are not totally prepared to manage.  While they may have established some preliminary management strategy to win the business, they may get changes to what they were awarded that is outside of their proposed plan.  Change always creates opportunity for establishing vision and direction.

Your action:  Monitor websites in your industry to identify companies that have announced big wins.  Learn as much as you can about their new business and determine where you can help out.  Then, contact someone in their Business Development department to see if you can get connected with the person responsible for that new business (e.g. department manager).  You go to Business Development people because they like to talk and negotiate.  Pitch your knowledge, skills and abilities in a way that clearly articulates how you can help them manage that new business.

Mergers & Acquisitions.  Companies are always trying to find ways to make money.  One of these ways is through the acquisition of other companies.  Big companies buy smaller companies to expand into new markets, increase their intellectual property or simply to show growth to investors.  Usually these transitions are challenging and difficult to manage as larger companies are not adept at adapting small companies into their fold.  Often, they will select new management for the smaller companies to help them make the transition, and this is where you can help.  A word of caution: Most of these acquisitions only last a few years before they are spun off or shut down.  If you’re not afraid of change, this is the type of business to follow.  M&A is always happening.  Read about 2015 M&A activity here.

Your action: M&A activity is not a highly publicized activity, at least not until the deal has been made.  The best way to learn about these activities is to tap into the industry grapevine and listen for rumors.  Talk with Business Development people to learn about rumors of mergers and acquisitions in your industry.  Go to trade shows and industry association meetings and conferences to gather information.  Companies love to talk about these rumors, which often have a strong element of truth.  Get your information and strategy ready for how you can make that acquisition more successful. Then, maintain contact with your connections to identify when it will occur.  Send your resume and cover letter that explains how you are the solution to the success of the new acquisition.

Venture capitalists (VC).  Another great source of management changeover is companies owned by venture capitalists.  Typically, VCs provide funding to companies and try to grow the companies as quickly as possible in an effort to sell them in a few years for a large profit.  This process of buying and selling companies creates a need for exceptional leaders who can manage each transition.  Often, VCs will identify organizational leaders they like and will seek to work with them many times during their career.  But there are also opportunities to introduce yourself and how you can help make them more successful.

Your action: Search the web for venture capitalists in your industry.  It’s as easy as doing a Google search on the name of your industry and the words “venture capitalists.”  Click the links to identify numerous VCs in your industry.  Then, research them to find out what companies they invest in.  Create your business case for why they should hire you and send it to the VCs and the companies they own. But make sure you know which of their companies may be in line for a transition before you engage with them.

Having an MBA is great.  You do learn about business.  Unfortunately, business isn’t run anything like it was when the MBA was first created.  Constant change is the flavor of the day.  Managing in transition isn’t the same as steady state management.  My guess is that there are far more companies in transition than there are in steady state.  If you can create a compelling case for why you’re the best for transition management, then you’ll likely find an opportunity to prove it.

Do You Really NEED an MBA?

I recently held conversations with a brilliant engineer from India.  He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering and has a dream of moving into a management position.  Don’t be shocked, engineers do this all the time.  He thought that the MBA would be a requirement for getting into such a position.  I wasn’t surprised by this, he is an engineer after all, and management isn’t his forte.  I asked him to consider a few things before he made his decision to earn the MBA.  Here’s what we discussed.

Is the MBA required for management positions?  This question is a little higher up than his specific situation but it is imperative that MBA potentials understand the requirements for the positions they seek.  To illustrate my point, I went online to several job sites, like Indeed.com, and pulled up several management job descriptions to assess their academic requirements.  Here’s what we saw.

VP, Operations Support

  • Bachelor’s Degree
  • 7 years of experience in Product Supply
  • 3 years of experience forecasting, planning, supply chain metrics, Lean/CI, Six-Sigma

Regional Vice President

  • Functional Area: SA – Sales/Sales Support
  • Experience Level: Mid-Level
  • Required education: Bachelors Degree or equivalent experience

CEO and President

  • Education Requirements: No requirement

Sr Vice President – IT

  • Education: Bachelors Degree (four year college or university)
  • Experience: 4 to 10 years experience

On and on this went.  Most management jobs did not require an MBA.  The jobs we saw that mentioned the MBA stated it as a preference or as desirable, not a requirement.  In those cases where it did appear, the experience requirement was more significant (such as 12 years relevant experience).  These listings, and many others, clearly illustrate the need for MBAs at mid and senior levels.

Does your management have an MBA?  In determining whether an MBA would help your career in your existing company, it’s useful to assess the background of your current management.  How many of your leaders have an MBA or an advanced degree?  I would suggest that in most cases, the upper echelons are not highly educated professionals.  Most have been in business for some time, however.  If your management doesn’t have advanced degrees, they most likely won’t see a great deal of value in it at their level.  Experience will trump everything else.  Why? Because it’s the value they can provide easily.  I would never place a high value on a characteristic I don’t have.  I would be ruling myself out of my own job.  So take time to understand what your leaders consider to be important.  Otherwise, you’ll stress yourself out over a credential that won’t help you much.

More isn’t always better.  If a bachelor’s degree is good, then a master’s degree or PhD has got to be better.  This is what many professionals believe.  If I can’t get opportunities with a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree will certainly bring them to me.  Really? This isn’t logical thought.  There are industries that require advanced education but most don’t.  When you earn an advanced degree, you do put yourself in a unique group of professionals (who all have an advanced degree), all of which who are seeking opportunities at the upper end of corporations where there are much fewer opportunities. Don’t forget that many of those positions are already filled by professionals with less education and aren’t interested in giving their position up.

Will your performance suffer?  Earning the MBA takes time and energy.  For most of us, we’re already too busy and taking on the burden of classes and homework pushes our boundaries.  If you’re working full time and earning your MBA, it’s important to understand that your daily job performance can suffer.  You’ll get tired and become more focused on your school work than your job.  People will notice the change.  At first, it will be okay as people will understand your new challenges.  But after a while, their memory will fade and even though you’re working twice as hard as everyone else, you could be seen as an average or even below average performer.  It’s not fair but then again, you are being paid to do a particular job.  Balance is critical.  Make sure your management understands your situation before you dive into it.  Ask your coworkers to watch your performance and let you know when you show signs of an imbalance.

Who wants your MBA?  The biggest challenge you’ll run into as an MBA professional is finding organizations that truly value your educational credentials.  There are companies that do seek out MBAs, but they are usually tied to particular universities.  Consider the big 4 consulting companies.  They chase the graduates from top tier programs.  Not because they are smarter but for the brand power their MBA credential carries.  For example, I’ve worked with many Harvard and MIT graduates and I don’t think they are any smarter than anyone else.  But when you mention they are a Harvard or MIT graduate, people go crazy, as if they have superhuman powers.  Now, for all of those graduates of lower tier programs, you won’t get this reaction, especially from major companies.  The good news for you is that there are companies who do need the skills MBAs possess.  You have to identify what companies need and then create your value proposition, which includes tangible proof that you possess those skills and have used them to create success.  This type of analysis requires some serious networking inside of companies to understand how their management works, what skills they need, how you can become their beacon of hope and position yourself as the only viable candidate.   But I figure if you can afford two years to earn the MBA, you can certainly afford the time it takes to find the right position.  Just don’t get in a hurry and settle for something less.

If you’re asking yourself if the MBA is right for you, take time to consider these questions.  The MBA is just a college degree.  It’s a tool that you can use to improve your career.  It bestows no guarantee of success.  In fact, many colleges are struggling to improve the MBA’s value proposition to students because graduates are finding many of its promises to be empty, void of the ability to make their dreams a reality.  Universities sell too much and students expect too much.  The MBA can be useful in building a career, just take the time to understand how and where to use it.  Getting an MBA to simply possess one will only leave you with a big student loan….and who wants that?

If you’re really sold on the idea of earning an MBA, you should check our ebook “The Joy of an MBA.”  In this book, MBAs share stories of how they used the MBA in their career.