Tag Archives: performance management

Skills You Need for Successful Career in the Business World

I have been working professionally in the financial world for more than 20 years. While I would not categorize that I am “extremely” successful (or I would have been a CEO of a large company by now) I would consider myself as an “A” employee.

Climbing up the career ladder sometimes is quite daunting as there are other employees who are vying for the same positions. After working for over than 20 years for two large multi-national corporations I learned that there are certain skills that are very essential. If you just graduated from college and aspire to work in the business world, I hope the following pointers will give you some idea how to have a successful career.

Technical Skills

I recall when I worked at Arthur Andersen 20 years ago that some of the Partners did not know how to use a computer and all of the Partners had executive assistant (or secretaries) who would assist them, taking notes and answering phone calls. If you step in a large corporations today you would rarely see secretaries and everyone would be using a computer or laptop. On top of knowing how to use a computer, it is given that 90% of business people use Microsoft Office Suite software. Certain positions would require specialized skills in certain software such as Tableau, or data mining tool.

Logical Thinking

I find that having logical thinking is an extremely important skill. You cannot attend a meeting without thinking logically. Upper management today are more agile and they expect results quickly. As such in order to more faster management expect each employee to be able to adjust to the environment and think how to best approach the challenge. If you read the IBM of the yesteryear, everyone would dress in blue and go with the flow because that was how it was done.

Time Management Skills

Managing time is as important as getting things done. At any given time, an employee can have up to 20 to-do items, including major projects and minor tasks. Without a good time management skill it could spell disaster if certain projects could not be completed on time. It is no longer that easy going into an office and tackle the questions and challenges one at a time. To be able to meet all the deadlines all employees are expected to juggle their responsibilities effectively.

Communication Skills

Every year we are required to complete a performance management review. This annual exercise is to gauge if we are meeting company and personal goals. I recall several reviews that I had with my manager where I was rated less than ideal. And the skill that held me back was having good communication. Since then I worked twice as hard to improve my skills through taking training in speaking and writing. Additionally I learned to read my email twice before sending it out to avoid having confusion in what I am trying to convey.

Listening Skills

I list listening skills different from communication skills because it is not easy master the listening skills. Yes, all of us know what listening entails but to be able to move up the ladder in the business world you need to know when to start listening and when to start speaking. It is very easy for us to interrupt the speaker because we make assumption of the message that is being conveyed. I’ve seen a few people who tend to jump in the conversation without allowing the speaker to stop. Not only this is rude but it could cause confusion on what message that we as listener are suppose to pick up.

People Skills

Do you know what is the major difference between a CEO and high school teacher? A successful CEO is able to connect with his/her employees and get things done. A high school teacher only cares about getting the lessons across and hopefully the students understand the contents. To be able to climb up the career ladder it is important that we are able to have good rapport with the people we work with. Living under the rock and work on the project alone can only go so far.

Continuous Improvement

The company I work for care of future skills and it continues to encourage employees to gain knowledge through training (in person and virtual). However, all those investments would be wasted if employees do not care to improve their skills. When I had my performance management with my manager 15 years ago I told my manager that I did not take any training because I did not have the time. My manager told me that, “I make the time.” That was the wake up call that I need to focus on myself my continue to make commitment to learn new skills. Today, when schedule permits I would take training focusing on Artificial Intelligence and Anti-Money Laundering.

What I list here is not an exhausted list of skills that you should focus on. Depends on certain professions certain skills are are more important that others. For example if you are in investment banks, having good math skill is as important as good listening skill. Or if you are in communications department, you are likely place people skill first and technical skill last.

Everyone Can Be Exceptional Employee

Every living soul at one time or another want to be able to contribute positively to a cause. Be it as an environmentalist, a teacher or a good Samaritan. In the corporate structure, being able to contribute to the success of a company is one thing, but how do you get recognized. Being recognized and getting the paycheck go hand in hand. Believe it or not, it is not difficult.

I have been working in several large corporations close to 30 years and I have learned to adopt several methods that will ensure continued success in my career. In large multi-national corporations, the human resources department always strive to keep and retain “A” employees. So it is in their best interest to keep these employees happy through higher salary and bonuses. However, it also go both ways. The employees need to be able to contribute positively.

Companies adopted what they call “Performance Management” to gauge if the employees are “A” players. Usually employees are placed into several tiers:

  • Exceptional – these are the employees who continue to perform above expectations. They are usually recognized by everyone in the organization to go above and beyond what is asked of them.
  • Above Expectations – employees who meet the expectations are placed in this tier. Employees usually meet the goals and objectives they were expected to complete.
  • Meet – the employees who have met all the expectations after a negative rating previous year. This usually applies to employees who continue to struggle at their job assignments but have made some improvements.
  • Development needed – employees who did not meet expectations and is expected to be appraised again.
  • Unsatisfactory – this applies to employees who failed to meet expectations are expected to be on the “chopping” block.

While the above ratings seem simplistic enough, companies place a lot of thoughts in ensuring the process is full proof. I’ve seen some process so complicated and convoluted that completing the process became a chore itself. And some companies would go to the other spectrum and make the process as simple as possible.

I have been completing my performance management for all my professional life and I’ve seen it all. While I continue to think the process is a chore but a necessary one. Without the process, I would not be getting the salary that I hoped for and I would not know if my peers are valuing my contribution. I’m happy to say I have always been in the exceptional “A” employee. You can be too and here are several tips on how to place yourself in the exceptional tier

Be Motivated and Excited

To be able to achieve the goals you set out for yourself, first you need to be excited about the job. If you believe the job is boring and you are not going anywhere, no matter how hard you tried you will not make the cut. Employers and managers do sense when the employees are not performing. If the employees always come to work late or the employees disappear for no apparent reason, this is usually due to the employees feel bored or no longer have any interest in performing the work. If you want to be recognized, you need to first recognize your weaknesses.

Set Clear Goals (using your prior year achievements)

At the beginning of the year, every employees must set goals and objectives that they are supposed to achieve. Usually this is not a clear piece of paper. Employers know this and they usually provide a template from last year for the employees to fill. The best way is to look at what you achieved last year and tweak it slightly. Add new objectives if you believe there are specific projects that you could excel add. As an example, if you will not become the President of the company, you would not add it in your objectives. Set clear goals and something you can achieve.

Listen and Listen Again

Keep your ears on the ground and listen to the company’s direction. If you are aware of the company may perform a job cut due to economy downturn, update your goals to point out how you can contribute positively to the continued success of the company in the challenging times. Again, keep it clear and achievable. Be agile and adapt to the changing environment; in this case you do not need to keep updating the Performance Document but do keep a record of what you have achieved during the year. This becomes handy as you rate yourself at the end of the year.

Asking is Important

During the year you need to be able to perform the work assigned to you. If you are not clear of the assignment, ask. When you ask employers or managers will notice that you are attentive and are willing to learn. This is something that I continue to use to help me prioritize my work. When I’m not able to meet the deadline I will clearly communicate to my managers and “ask” for further guidance. Now that I am a manager, I expect my employees to take the initiative to ask questions. If I do not get any questions, I expect the assignment to be completed without problems.

Advertise Smartly

Completing the work is one thing but being recognized is very different because managers do not sit next to you the entire year. You need to use the best technology available to assist you – the email. Advertise your achievement subtlety so your managers are aware. As an example, you may thank your clients for being a good client and how you could be of any help by including your manager as CC. Or you could forward the positive feedback you received to your team thanking them for helping in the project (and copy your manager).

You Are Not Important

Employment is voluntary and believe it or not it is not about you. Companies exist to make money and they have shareholders and constituents that they need to make happy. As an employee, you need to remember this and always place the company’s interest first. While most companies have consider employees as important asset, the ultimate goal remains to bring in profit to sustain the activities of the companies. By placing company’s interest first will help you how to adapt to any changing environment and hence meet and exceed company’s expectations.

Get Feedback

During the course of the year it maybe necessary to seek feedback from your managers or people that you work for. This is helpful in ensuring you are on the right track and also show you care about the assignment. Completing the work and then hide yourself in your cubicle will just do the opposite. Similar to the point above, use the feedback session to advertise your achievement. Employers love to obtain feedback particularly from clients. If your managers know that you were part of the achievement, they are likely to provide positive reinforcements through bump in salary or bonus increase.

Most recently college graduates go through the coursework with the intent to make “big” money but companies continue to place their interest first and will hire employees who will provide benefit to their operations. To that end they will use tools and metrics to ensure the employees meet the minimal threshold if the employees should be kept or let go. Sometimes it is a shock to these graduates that they are on the chopping block because they put their own interests instead of the company first. Hopefully my points above will help anyone to climb the career ladder and make the “big” money as they progress through their career.

If you have other pointers, I would love to hear them. Thank you for reading.