Or else…

Last week a VP of our company visited us and spent some time with us – there was typical Motivational Speech by him which was followed by Q&A…I call it DQ&DA i.e. Dumb Questions and Diplomatic Answers J

The VP said ‘Feel free to ask any question…do not hesitate, you can ask any dumb questions…’ and few people took the ‘dumb questions’ part very seriously! They asked really silly and dumb questions – but that is not what I want to talk about here…

The motivational speeches are mostly the stereotype – with typical management jargon…I am yet to come across a senior exec that talks for 5 min. and does not utter any of the following buzz words even once – synergy, collaboration, leverage (If the exec is from Infosys he has to use this word at least 3 times!!! Or else he is not a true Infoscion), traction (this is a new buzz word which itself has seen a lot of traction in recent past – the old fashioned execs still prefer momentum), end-to-end solution (just solution would also do, but would suggest that you are still a novice…the solution must always be end-to-end), holistic approach, value addition and…oh yes, value chain!!!

But there was something else said by the VP that caught my attention…

He was answering a question related to giving more opportunities/ responsibilities…and he said, “Nobody will give you opportunities/ responsibilities, you have to ask for those…demand, seize! If you come forward I assure you that organization will give you an opportunity…but come with a healthy and positive attitude. Say ‘I want to do this or I want this responsibility…’ Don’t say ‘I want this…or else…’ This type of ‘…or else…’ attitude is bad, we would not cater to it”

This was what got me thinking…the bit about ‘…Or else’ attitude. And then I started thinking about my experiences – occasions when I had asked for some responsibilities and how?

When I had asked for some opportunity/ responsibility with the so-called healthy and positive attitude (as defined by the VP), it was dealt with diplomacy and sugar-coated reply – and I did not get what I wanted.

When I had asked for some opportunity/ responsibility with the ‘…or else’ attitude, it led to arguments and altercations – and I did not get what I wanted.

So when did I get what I wanted?

When the ‘…or else’ was still part of the message but it was not explicit, it was subtle, hidden sometimes!

I feel that all this motivational talk about ‘you standing up for what you want and then getting an opportunity from the management’ is good to talk – but it works rarely in practice, and almost never when you are towards bottom of pyramid. I have seen and experienced that when there is any new opportunity – say a new client/ account, foray into different geography, new product/ service launch etc. – the top leadership is always handpicked. So you would often find Head of Asia-Pacific (after or because of having established his credentials there) being moved as the new Regional Head of Europe or Africa market. That has to be done at such key positions.

But suppose the new market requires 500 people across the hierarchy, right till bottom, barring top 10-15 people who would be handpicked, how the rest of the team is formed? It is practically impossible to choose the rest.

One might think that some selection criteria would decide who joins that team; that the appraisal data and/or feedback about performance would be a deciding factor. Again no, not always.  For two reasons – there is hardly so much time to do this for the rest of 480-490 people and more importantly, not all good people can be moved to this new engagement leaving the existing engagements void of good people. There has to be a balance of good and not-so-good people in existing engagements as well as any new opportunities.

So in a nutshell, what this means is, your performance/ keenness to prove your abilities may give you new opportunities – but not always. Similarly you being average to below average performed would not stop you from being assigned to new opportunities. So availability and suitability also plays a major role!

I think this is what is considered as ‘being fortunate/ lucky’ or ‘being at the right place at the right time’…

What I am trying to say is:

  1. It is possible, to some  extent to influence the opportunities that come your way, create a growth path for your self
  2. It is also possible to be just lucky and being at right place at right time
  3. But more importantly – being aware of both these routes to reach a destination and knowing which category you belong to (not forever but for a given case/ opportunity)

I have seen people boast about ‘they seizing opportunities, carving a niche and hence growing tremendously’ and also people who think that they were ‘just luck to get opportunities and thus grow’

More often both views are without knowing the points I mentioned above – so they only have unilateral view/ perceptions.

What I feel is important is to be aware of when you brought about your career growth and when it just happened to you – and both are likely and equally legitimate ways, not one is superior that the other.

Also the ‘…or else…’ part the VP scoffed at is also not the bad attitude always!

At times you surely do need to assert that you want growth and you are capable of achieving it on your own (meaning ‘…or else…’) part, but you still want to get that opportunity from your current work. To me, it is not a bargain; it is just saying that ‘…I am damn serious about my career growth, so if I do not get any here I would have no option but to think about other ways to grow. I cannot wait for my starts to align and lightening to strike before you give me opportunity to grow. I will wait for some time but not all the time!’ – which is also a positive and healthy attitude!

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