How to Advance Your Career With the 51% Rule
When it comes to advancing in your career, who’s responsible for making sure you get what you need? Is it your responsibility or your manager’s?
This question, or a version of it, came up during a workshop I led this past week.
When I was passed over for promotion
I had just told the story of being passed over for a promotion to a bigger role because I was too oblivious to put my hand up and audition for the job. Instead, one of my colleagues got the role.
In the end, he turned out to be the wrong person for the role – a case of interviewing well but having the wrong disposition for the job – and they brought in someone external after six months. In retrospect, I might well have been a better choice, but it was too late to find out.
After hearing the story, someone in the audience asked me whether my manager should have taken more responsibility for encouraging and reaching out to me. Wouldn’t that have been what a great leader does?
Back in the day, that thought hadn’t crossed my mind. Instead, I put the episode down as one of my failings and felt bad about myself for the rest of the year. I even thought of quitting.
But with the benefit of hindsight, I see things differently.
It’s not a 50/50 proposition
Opportunities to advance are an important part of the retention equation. And retention is in both parties’ interests. This suggests an equal partnership with a 50/50 split of responsibilities between you and your manager.
But 50/50 partnerships are inherently tricky because no one is clearly in charge. So, whether it’s in business or personal relationships, things can end badly.
In a career context, it’s all too easy for each party to behave as though they’ve got 49.9% of the responsibility. While that rounds up to 50/50, the reality is there’s a gap where things can slip through the proverbial crack.
When that happens, the wrong people can end up leaving and everyone loses.
The 51% Rule
That’s why I believe in the 51% Rule. If both the manager and the team member take on 51% of the responsibility, then a successful outcome is far more likely. That extra 2 percent creates a solid bridge with no crack to slip through.
When both parties take ownership for reaching out and engaging, everybody wins. Managers are more likely to retain talent and team members are more likely to feel seen, heard and respected.
So what would the 51% Rule look like in action?
For you as team member
As the team member, taking 51% ownership means several things.
First, speaking up and letting your manager know how and what you’re doing. Don’t assume anyone knows your activities and accomplishments. Most people are busy with their own issues.
Second, share what your aspirations are. Managers are not mind readers, so make sure to clue them in.
Third, ask for the resources or support you need to be successful. You’re expected to produce results for the organization, so make the business case for what you need in order to deliver. And be a little artful in framing the ask in a way that’s easy for people to say “yes” to.
Overall, it means being willing to initiate conversations on these crucial points, or at a minimum being prepared to reply to questions from your manager.
And remember that managers can get busy and distracted, and many are not yet the best managers they can be. So doing a bit of “managing up” is essential.
For you as manager
As a manager, the 51% Rule means learning about your people and what makes them tick, and flexing your approach so that you can be effective in bringing out their best.
This starts with the recognition that treating everyone the same is not going to create the same outcomes because each person is different. These differences could be due to cultural background, personality or experiences. And while you can get clues from looking at their context, it’s important not to make assumptions.
Instead, get to know your team as individual people. Here, it’s essential to have conversations to discover how they’re doing, what they aspire to, what they need to be successful and how you can support them.
When you’re having those conversations, listen more than you speak, and make it safe for people to come to you. It’s how you learn the important stuff.
If you’re an introvert, frame it in a way that makes it easier to reach out. For example, think of it as being curious about your team members and doing some “research”. Take it one person at a time rather than overload yourself.
If you have team members who are introverts, don’t expect them to come to you as others might. Adapt your approach to reach out and engage them.
And don’t feed just the ones who shout the loudest. You may be setting yourself up for making the wrong people decisions, and that’s a loss for everyone involved.
What will you do?
The 51% Rule can save us from negative outcomes as individuals, as managers, and for the organization as a whole. Better yet, it can help bring out the best in each of us as managers and team members.
The world needs each of us to be our best and contribute at our highest level, and you can make a difference.
So, it’s over to you.
What will you do to take 51% ownership of your career, and as a manager for your team?
Leave me a comment and let me know.