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Realizing your Dreams
Ashutosh Parasnis
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
-Henry David Thoreau

This quote holds good for those of us thinking of climbing the career ladder. It symbolizes our dreams and desires to advance in our career. Dreams and desires are natural to us. We don’t have to make too much effort to dream and these dreams propel us into action to aim higher and perform better.

When we realize our dreams we are ecstatic and when we don’t, we experience emotions that range from helplessness to frustration, sadness to anger and even jealousy. This is not what we asked for when we built our castle in the air.

You would therefore be better off if you were equipped to achieve what you aspire for.
What are the “foundations” required to realize these dreams? In my opinion there are three things you need to focus on:

Knowing your career objective: This is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you begin your career. Your objectives may change in response to the situations around you. However having an objective always helps.

Understanding how career progression process works in an organization. Preparing yourself accordingly.

What is the intent behind climbing the ladder? There are many reasons why people want to climb the career ladder. For some it is a symbol of public recognition; some are probably excited with the power and authority required to attain professional goals. For others it is the way to earn more while for the remaining it may just be a quiet sense of achievement. This is not an exhaustive list- so go ahead and figure out what your objective is.

Let’s now see how career progression typically works in an organization.
While preparing for my first job, I had my own perception of career progression. I thought I would work with a reputed organization; an organization with different rungs— from entry levels all the way up. To realize my dreams all I had to do was to work hard, perform well so that my manager would appreciate and recognize my work, promote me.
People perceive the progression differently. They see the career ladder with some twists and turns representing challenges as one moves ahead. Few people experience that as one moves up, things start changing. In trying to understand how the ladder works, one ends up with more questions than answers.

For example, let’s refer a notional career path that starts with Development Engineer and progresses to the Head of the Division.

This ladder is bound by what is called the organizational pyramid. The pyramid basically points out that there is more room at the bottom of the ladder than there is at the top. There can be many development engineers in a department, but only one head. The pyramid is determined by the nature and size of the business of an organization and represents the opportunity at every level. Most good performers experience the initial progression, but the subsequent progression is tougher.

The reason is that the new levels mean new responsibilities and hence new competencies. You may be a high performer as a Member- Design, but do you know what it takes to be a Team Lead? Apart from being technically competent, you are expected to be competent- or at least demonstrate the potential to be competent- in the areas such as people and project management.

Thus, the three key parameters that influence career progression would be:
1. Performance -at your current level and job.
2. Competence - which would be required for the next level
3. Opportunity - which needs to exist.

So far we have discussed about the need to have an objective and understand how career progression works in an organization. Now let’s talk of how to prepare for progression, by focusing on the three parameters identified above, so that you are positioned better.
I expect good companies to have a strong performance management process. This is essentially a process for the manager and the employee to discuss the performance level goals, what is expected out of the employee and to have a continuous dialogue with the manager about progress and achievement. This allows for a constructive dialogue between you and your manager to manage your performance. Such tools can effectively manage performance, get to know how you are doing and correct yourself on time.

Competency is an important requirement if you are aspiring for the next level. Find out what are the competencies expected out of the next level. Remember, professional companies try to create a conducive environment by defining detailed career paths and communicating the same to their employees. This includes not just the levels but the job descriptions at each level as well the competencies expected. It is up to you to take the initiative to understand and act. Management can help you but you need to be in charge of your destiny. An effective way is to discuss your aspirations with your manager. This way the manager knows what you are aiming for. A constructive dialog can identify your strengths as well the areas where you need to develop yourself. Development can take place on the job, through company training programs or your personal efforts.

Finally, you need to wait for an opportunity to come your way. Have an eye for opportunity or make an effort to seek an opportunity. Opportunities may exist within. You can increase your visibility and credibility by taking initiatives, be it technical or non-technical projects. Focus on building relationships and adding value to organizational activities. Such efforts demonstrate your strengths to a wider audience within the company- be it your communication skills, people relations, penchant for processes, technical expertise. At the same time be extremely careful to ensure that you are not hurting another person’s or organizational interest in the bargain.
Before concluding, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that organizations evolve and adjust to the continuously changing business environment. This impacts the organizations structures as well. The hierarchical structures are today replaced by flat ones that have relatively lesser number of levels. Cross-functional teams working together are replacing a departmental focus.

Why this change? It’s due to highly competitive global markets as against protected local markets in which the companies have to perform and grow profitably. It’s not just the high quality and low cost which customers demand, but also the time-to-market, which companies have to address to beat the competition. Flat structures and cross-functional teams help in faster decision making. Be aware of these trends and more importantly understand them, so you are never caught on the wrong foot!

Ashutosh Parasnis is the Managing Director, PTC Software (India) Pvt. Ltd.
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