One of my best appraisals occurred sometime in 2005. I had joined this firm and my first project was a high-burn gig. The client valued my expertise so much that they reduced the hours of other senior partners on the project. The company even recognized it with a 22% raise, a promotion within one year, and then a caveat - this is probably the last promotion in a long time. We don't question your expertise but there are all these other things...my shoulders just dropped.
Hindsight, a lot of inconvenient truth about me was being put right in front of me and some of it went deep into my upbringing, exposure, and my inner personality. I was shattered, angry, sad, and wanted to quit. It was a choice - i could either walk away or move forward.
There was something different about the review. We discussed it in the context of a simple framework, it wasn't personal but a thorough reflection on various dimensions that were key to thrive in that particular environment. I dusted myself up and decided to move forward by submitting myself to the overall system. The colleagues and the gentleman who gave me the feedback are all my friends for life and I owe a lot of my current career to them and that pivotal moment!
Over the years, I have diligently followed that framework, augmented it with my own thinking, and have used that to approach discussions with my team. In this post, I am simply going to write it down and pay it forward.
I usually think of it as a six legged stool - three legs are to get the foundations right and the remaining three legs are to accelerate your progress into unchartered territories.
Setting the right career and performance foundations
It's really three things - 1) the gifts you bring to the table (aka Expertise), 2) the context in which you bring to the table (aka Business Acumen) 3) how you bring it to the table (aka Leadership/Professional Skills). Most importantly, are you pointing all these three things to generate tangible results like a business actually cares for it!
- Expertise is again two pronged - today's skills and tomorrow's skills. In the early 2000s knowing Excel was like great but in the 2020s, it is important to learn SQL, and in the 2025s/2030s it would be about using data science + low code apps and so on. You pick a job or profession there is an existing view on this. You just need to find it for your job. If you aren't aware of what it is for your profession - please STOP, research, and reflect - you are probably working your way towards extinction.
- Business Acumen is about the industry or domain you work in. It is important to know the industry such as Fintech, Healthcare, Retail, and others and the domain like Finance, HR, Supply Chain and so on. The application of expertise and solution set varies drastically. In the 2004s it was very important to be an expert, in the 2010s both Expertise and Business Acumen became important. In the 2020s the combination is a deadly combo.
- Leadership/Professional Skills has been codified by many people. It is a vast area of study but at the heart of it is about self-reflection and relentless self-development. At the end of everyday, simply write down things that went well and things that could have gone better. If self-reflecting is a problem, look around and ask a colleague. You will be surprised how much time the other person has taken to think about you. Put a plan and start forming habits that can fundamentally alter who you are as a person.
Lastly, I say this to everyone. If you are showing up to a job with all 3 but feel like you are not sure who actually cares for what you do - you should talk to your manager like tomorrow! If you still don't get the right answer, simply look for a new job. Either you can do it or someone else will do it for you. Large corporations have a way of catching up.
The Primary Stage is very important. It gives you the required lift, credibility, and stability for you to do bigger / better things.
Accelerating the career ambitions
At a certain point in your career, you need to figure out when is the right time to engage in the secondary stage. It is a personal choice and it is usually comprised of three things - 1) Who views you as an expert (aka Eminence) 2) who you know / who knows you (aka Network) 3) who will come with you or to whom you are willing to give (aka Community). Most importantly these need to be pointed towards the future - what you want to be.
- Eminence is again two fold - internal and external. Internal is who in your company knows about you and values it and external is about who outside of the company knows about you and values you. Internal eminence sometimes is an outcome of working on interesting projects, connecting with people, and so on and external eminence is almost always an outcome of your ability to share a view point via a blog, conference speaking engagement, podcast, video, etc. Today, you are in a digital dogfight. If someone Google's you and can't find any stuff, you are already way behind. Manage your digital footprint as your brand guess what most people probably Google you up!
- Network can be explained in simple concentric circle. Put yourself in the middle and draw a few concentric circle around you. Look at everyone who is in your network and who should be in your network. You will most often notice that people in your network today are helping you with the primary stage and not with secondary stage. The people who can help you with are either away from you or not have been activated. You will also notice that the primary stage consumes a lot more time leaving you with no time to activate the secondary stage network. Networking is not going out for a drink but about building your champions. It can only happen if the other person feels like they can go to war with you! Balance your time appropriately.
- Community is personal. The world is full of imbalances and are you doing your bit to help fulfill those imbalances. It can be as simple as becoming a guide for the people who worked with you, grooming more younger talent in your current role or outside of it, and building a series of followers who believe in you and trust you for who you are is key. It also includes charitable donations and purpose-driven work that uplifts the entire community. You don't have to be public about it - it is best spread word of mouth.
Years ago, I analyzed my LinkedIn network and found that most of my followers were instructional designers and training developers. They were all very crucial for my success in the current stage. However, to go onto next - I desperately needed to break out. I needed more chief learning officers/talent officers looking at me. I started slowly but steadily morphing the digital persona. Then came what's next and so it continues.
It is important to know "what is your end-game" and if it isn't clear it is okay to do some soul-searching but not be in this perennial "i am figuring it out game". Doesn't matter who says what - it impedes your growth after a while.
Once you've reached the destination, you will feel like you need to stabilize your foundations again, and then accelerate it, and find a need to evolve to the next destination. And the journey continues....
You may be wondering what's it got to do with the performance appraisal or career management. Before you get into the next performance appraisal sit down and do a:
+3/-3/+1 for your foundations - 3 good things, 3 opportunities, and 1 area to focus. Work on it relentlessly for the next year and make it a habit. If your foundations are shaky, acceleration ain't matter.
+1 for your acceleration - Do 1 thing to fix one aspect of your career acceleration. Take baby steps.
In the last few weeks, I have brainstormed with several individuals about their journey's using this framework. If you haven't already, please take the time out to think about it, write it down, and establish a plan. At the end of the day it is your career and it shouldn't require a performance appraisal to have you think about it! If you have other frameworks or thoughts, feel free to share it in the comments below.