Advance Your Career: Think like Your Boss

I used to think that career advances in steps. I get promoted, then I stay at the same level until my boss sees I consistently reach my objectives, then I get another promotion and climb up again. It turns out, thinking this way is a waste of time.

My stupid pitch

Usually I asked for more money during one of the two annual reviews I had with my manager. This is what everybody did. Most of the time my manager acted surprised I brought up the money topic. I used to consider the meeting a success if she agreed ‘to think about it’ and see what she ‘could do about it’. Since she always agreed to do that, the meeting was always a success in my mind.

Here’s how I pitched why I deserved a raise:

‘Carla, as we agreed at the beginning of the year and then re-established at the last review I fully achieved goal A, B and C. I tackled training through workshops, peer-to-peer sessions, online training and formal two-day leadership courses. In addition to that I run new-hire training for a total of 630 hours. You must admit that this is a remarkable performance compared to last year.’

It hurts just writing about it.

My mistake: I just listed what I did. Pure and simple. I did not once mention the impact on the business of the things I did. Which, in fact, always stayed very vague. Did I really think I deserved a raise because I essentially did what I agreed to do in the first place?

Think like your boss

There are a million things you could do to make your career go the way you want. But in my experience nothing beats this: think like your boss!

1. Understand your boss’ objectives. ASK!

It never crossed my mind to ask: ‘What are we trying to achieve by providing all this training?’. Had I asked I would have found out that sales were down 10%, our team managers were sloppy and customer satisfaction rate was an all-time low 77%. My boss’ objectives were:

Increase sales Increase team managers’ report accuracy Increase customer satisfaction

That’s all she cared about.

If she thought she could achieve her objectives by tap dancing in her office all day she would have done so. But she thought the key to reach her objectives lied in the training department. In me. Hence, she set my own objectives like ‘providing 600 hours of training to new hires’, or ‘run 4 leadership training sessions a year’.

2. Evaluate your work against your boss’ objectives and take credit for it!

Achieving your objectives is just what you’re supposed to do so they don’t fire you. On the top of that, you must understand the impact of your work on your boss’ objectives.

Rather than pitching my accomplishments the way I did, I should have said: ‘I monitored the 60 new hires I trained in the past four months and their customer satisfaction rate is about 93%. I’d say we’re on the right track, don’t you think?’.

She didn’t care whether I achieved that result by doubling training time or hypnotizing people. She would have given me credit for the impact of my work on her objectives, not just for the amount of time I trained. And she was right.

3. Quantify the impact of your work

This is where you show the value of your work. It’s critical that you quantify as much as you can and do that regularly, possibly for every project you’re involved in.

The way I should have done it was: ‘Hi Carla, hey I was just checking the sales conversion of all people who went through my training in the past 3 months and apparently results are good, sales for that group are up 15% which is a great result. That 15% translates more or less into a nice extra 400K. Pretty good uh?’

Those extra 400K is a direct quantification of my work.

4. Act as if every day was a review meeting

The review meeting should be the time when you review and move on to the ‘what’s next’ part. But don’t wait for that meeting. Review every month with your boss.

I tend to send an email before the review meeting so that my manager is aware of what I’m going to bring up. Find a sample of that email here.

Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s tough. Promotions, raises, anything people usually like must be planned and fought for. Especially in big multinationals, which is the environment I’m most familiar with. The planning part is where people usually go wrong. Planning involves a lot of negotiation and agreeing on stuff, and people are not comfortable with that. A raise may take two years to get if you follow a plan. Five years, or never, if you don’t.

How did you get your last raise?

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