Looking to grow and take on new responsibilities in your organisation? Read my reflections and insights from my career

by Chris Winfield-Blum  - February 23, 2018

Earlier today I was looking over my CV, as I do on a pretty regular basis because I find it easier to update and add notes about new knowledge, skills and experience as I go, rather than when I am looking for a new role or opportunity. I paid particular attention to some of my earlier roles and the words used to describe my accomplishments. It was very obvious to me that my personal perspective while working in those early positions was vastly different from today.

This is not all that surprising given I now (hopefully) know more than I did 16+ years ago, but it got me thinking about the things I wish I understood back then, so I thought I would share some with my community in hopes that it will assist somebody looking to take on additional responsibilities in within their organisation.

Business outcomes vs personal expectations – read: salary

When we first come into the workforce we often lack the professional maturity to understand that if a business or you aren’t performing well, that it is difficult to have a meaningful discussion about a bonus or significant increment. At times we have an extremely unrealistic view of our own value (could be lower or higher!) and there is a sense of entitlement associated with performance reviews that they will always result in an increment.

Unfortunately, just because you’ve worked another year in a role does not mean that you are worth 5-10-15% more than last year, in fact, sometimes your skills and knowledge are one more year out of date!

My recommendation to anybody who feels that they are worth more and would like to seek a higher increment is to prepare answers to the following questions prior to your salary review and be willing to both ask the question and provide the answer if your reviewer is not;

  1. What have you done in the past period that adds value to the organisation?
    Have you completed training or certifications? Have you taken on additional responsibilities? If so, you are in a great position to have a meaningful, and hopefully, successful discussion about your salary when you can articulate what you have done that is of value to the business.
  2. Do you add revenue to the organisation or are you a “cost”?
    To be clear here, when I refer to a cost, we all are, but some staff generate revenue directly as opposed to administrative or back-office functions that are considered a pure cost on the P&L. There is nothing wrong with being on either side of this coin, but the message to your direct report could change as a result.
  3. If you’re generating revenue, how much did you generate in the past period?
    Were you above your targetted numbers? Are you trending upwards? What strategies have you initiated and adopted to improve your efficiency and effectiveness? If you can answer these it is a much better tone for the discussion.
  4. If you’re a “cost”, what initiatives or changes have you introduced to be more efficient and effective?
    Did this introduce ideas that helped to reduce the costs for other business units? Did you get more cost-effective as a result? If so then, again the discussion is much more positive in nature.

Another great way to drive these discussions is to be actively seeking, presenting and implementing new ideas throughout the year that will; increase revenue, decrease costs or improve organisational culture and effectiveness.

I recall my first leadership position where I had the responsibility for my team’s performance and salary management. A team member came in and said: “I want a 10% increment”. I asked one simple question “why are you worth 10% more?”.. to which he said, “I’ve been here another year”. Not good enough! To make things worse for him he’d been enrolled in training he never completed and actively resisted learning new aspects of the products we were delivering, but that’s another story altogether.

Perhaps my approach was unfair in hindsight, but I needed him to understand that increments for increment’s sake are not scalable approaches for any business.

Time vs Effectiveness

Another observation I made in my CV, was that there were accomplishments that were directly related to working above and beyond. For example: “Achieved 80% utilisation despite increased management responsibilities”. My perspective at the time was that this shows that I work hard, achieve big services numbers and still do everything needed to manage my new team.

With experience, my perception has shifted and now this suggests that I was not managing my team so well. I was definitely not giving them my time for coaching and mentoring OR I was working long hours consistently OR possibly worst of all, I was unable to justify or articulate the importance of my time and its effect on the effectiveness of my team to the organisational leaders at the time.

Working long hours is not a strength, it is a potential weakness in your work habits. If you are doing this consistently and regularly then you are not working effectively or you are not able to have that constructive dialogue with your leaders about introducing effective working habits in the business.

Targets, Goals and Objectives

When I was a green worker, I always dreaded targets and goals because, in truth, many of them were poorly designed and implemented (a direct sales target on every resource in a business is just silly!). That led to a negative association that took a long time for me to shake. Quality of targets aside (which will form the basis of a future post), I hated to be measured, despite being a high performer within any business I’ve worked for.

Now, I understand the value of SMART goals and objectives as a tool to drive effective and organisationally important behaviours and outcomes. Try to look at your goals as your roadmap to success rather than criteria that will be used against you during your performance management process.

If you feel that your goals are not SMART in nature, raise this with your leadership group and present examples of business valuable goals that you would be happy to work towards. Remember goals should not be too easy to achieve (otherwise what’s the point?), nor too hard (otherwise why try?). One suggestion is to work on this in a small group and present your recommendations in a united way that expresses the importance of getting this right to the leadership group.

Opportunities – New responsibilities

One thing that I experienced many times was being given “the opportunity” to take on new responsibilities, which usually did not coincide with an increment or a development plan that would lead to an official plan. This is one of those “tricks” used by poor or ignorant managers to get more out of somebody without taking a hit on salary, and in my lack of wisdom, I accepted… way too many times.

On one occasion, my CEO talked to me about becoming the new product manager (I was a project lead at the time). We talked at length about the responsibilities and opportunity for my career but there was no talk of a change in package, nor the introduction of a development plan to guide me on this path. We parted ways on poor terms not long after as I pushed the point of increment at the next salary discussion and he was upset about my approach (should have thought through my above questions!). His response was to give me the increment but retract the product manager role.

These discussions need to be open and direct and must be beneficial to both parties. The above mentioned “Achieved 80% utilisation despite increased management responsibilities” was a direct result of another such “opportunity”. I, however, lacked the confidence and the leadership competence to open up this discussion to say that if I am now managing a team, my utilisation targets (related to project billing) should also decrease.

Now, not every “opportunity” means an increment, but you must be clear on what value you will be adding to the organisation and what the package will look like once you have developed the required competencies. Do not be afraid to ask questions such as;

  1. Which of my current responsibilities will be delegated or decreased to give me enough time to do justice to this opportunity?
  2. When I have met your expectations, what will my package be?
  3. What criteria are to be set to define my success, and therefore trigger an official role and package change?
  4. Can we work together on a development plan that will state all of the above?

If your manager is uncomfortable about answering any of the above, I would be questioning the reality of this “opportunity”.

This has been quite a fun reflection session for me, and I hope that some of these insights and thoughts will help those who are seeking to take on new responsibilities within their organisation.

Do you disagree with any of my points or suggestions? Let me know below!

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Chris Winfield-Blum

Software enthusiast, operations & project manager, MBA graduate, team builder, creator, developer, writer and father.

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