Episode 7 – How to get on the Fast Track?
Learn all about getting on the fast track. How getting a mentor is the first step to getting on the fast track. Some great insightful stories on leveraging unpopular opportunities in our career roadmap. Practical tips to get your career on the fast track.
Rajesh: This is Rajesh Setty. I’m a serial entrepreneur.
Ravi: Fantastic, Rajesh. The topic we just picked before we hit the record button, is how to get on the fast track.
Rajesh: Yeah. It’s a great topic. I don’t think anybody, Ravi, will say, “I don’t want to get on the fast track”.
Ravi: Yeah. Even when you are driving, you want to be on the fast lane.
Ravi: There’s this beautiful song, “Getting on the Fast Lane” or something like that.
Ravi: Yeah, I think it’s a good topic, cuz all of us don’t want to be on a slow lane.
Rajesh: Yeah. Correct.
Ravi: When it comes to some extremely happy moments, we want those moments to last. So, you want time to move slowly.
Ravi: But when it comes to your track, your success, your career, you want to grow as fast as possible.
Rajesh: Correct. What are some things that somebody should do, to get on the fast track? Let us start with it.
Ravi: Yeah. What I think about, day in and day out, is first, get a mentor for somebody to clear the fog for you, somebody to show what the road ahead is like, where are the twists and the turns, and where are the ditches and obstacles. I think the first thing is, you cannot be on the fast track on your own.
Ravi: You need somebody.
Rajesh: Correct. So, the question comes is, double clicking and getting a mentor because somebody is just joined the company and everything, and then, they want to get on the fast track Then there are some amazing people they want to get them as a mentor. But, those amazing people have so many requests that everybody wants them to be a mentor. First, how do we clear that fog? What do you think they should do?
Ravi: In fact, in previous episodes, we talked about having those engaging conversations. We talked about the power of mentorship. Our recent episode, we talked about networking, and networking is extremely critical even inside the company. Once you join the company, you want to really be visible.
Ravi: Just if you are sitting in your queue but doing work all day, that’s what a photocopier does.
Ravi: Just sits in one place and does job all day long.
Ravi: It does the job but no one knows its significance, whereas as an employee, as part of the organization, you want to be visible. To be visible to those people that could be great ambassadors for you, for your fast track, you got to be worthy of it.
Rajesh: Exactly. So, they have to show some accomplishments that will make other people notice them and say, “It is worthy of giving my mind share”. I remember, in my early days, when I first came to United States, I had a consulting engagement at HP, and then, there was no technical job there. I was sitting on the so-called quote unquote “bench”, where consultants when they are jobless, they sit on the “bench”. Then, my boss came and said, “Rajesh, there is no technical job but there’s a documentation project. I don’t think… you write well and all, but you may not want to do the documentation. But, I am just telling you. But it’s this job that if you want to, you can take it”. So, I was contemplating myself, “Should I take it or not take it?” and then, I just thought, “If I don’t take it… it’s a six-week job anyway… if I don’t take it, then there is no guarantee that I will get a project”. So, [crosstalk] get me out of…
Ravi: Yeah, sitting around for six weeks.
Rajesh: Yeah. Then everybody said, “Don’t take it because then people will brand you as a documentation person”, and I said, “That’s a Friday problem. But, I have a Monday problem. I have to get a job, which is, otherwise I am not valuable for the company”. So, I said, “I will take it”. That, Ravi, turned out to be the turning point in my growth because the documentation project happened to be like a implementation checklist for a global rollout of a CRM project. They were rolling out in multiple countries… more than two dozen countries… and they have localization problems and everything. They wanted me to create a five-page checklist so that they can hand it around. Now, why this was a turning point in my career, was because, for me to create the checklist, I had to meet with all the managers of all the modules, the key decision makers and [crosstalk] everything.
Ravi: Through a forced networking, forced…
Rajesh: It’s a forced networking, although it looked like a documentation project. And then, I started asking questions, “What is this?”, “What is the relevance of this?”, “What is the relevance of this in Ireland?”, whatever country they were implementing.
Ravi: So, you got a chance to understand the whole business.
Rajesh: The bigger picture.
Ravi: The bigger picture of…
Rajesh: And then, even people, who were working on the project for more than 6-8 months, they were working on one module. I had the opportunity to understand the whole because I am preparing the implementation checklist. Then, I got so fascinated by the project and I started creating… instead of a checklist, I created a cookbook. It was 108 pages. They didn’t know that I was creating a cookbook or…
Ravi: It wasn’t one of what they were expecting you to do.
Rajesh: Yeah, and I just did it because it’s supposed to be done. There was a committee with 60-80 people, together, all of them, Monday, they said, “Can you bring your checklist to the meeting?” I said, “How many people are there? They said, “80 people. Bring a hundred copies, just in case, we want to give it”. And, I walked into the room and they said, “Where is the checklist?” I said, “The office boy is bringing”. They said, “What do you mean, office boy is bringing?” “Because there are 100 books. I could not carry all of them.” After that, they started looking at me very differently because they expected something, I went back with something that is, even in their dreams, they were not expecting it. And, I had an executive summary of six pages so that… along with it because if you want very quick browse, [crosstalk] it’s there…
Ravi: You can just skim through it, yeah.
Rajesh: After that, I got a meeting with one more big boss in a company called Vantiv Corporation, where I consulted for a long time and I was thinking that just now they will give me a technical job. I heard from HP that “You did this. So, we want to send you to another project, Lincoln Telephone Company in Nebraska”, and I said, “What is the job?” “Oh, you will be managing the project.” So, I came in as a programmer, did the documentation project because I understood the big picture and represented it, and then, also I was able to manage relationships with all the decision makers, they never looked at me as a programmer beyond that.
Ravi: That’s a great story, Rajesh. I think, I just want to use the word you use. Let’s “double click” on it.
Ravi: I think that open mindedness. Somebody got you a project, you had nothing to lose, and one of the most important things, as far as getting on fast track, is to have that open mindedness because you don’t know when a door opens. You can’t assume what’s on the other side of the door because what you expect to happen is based on your past experience, which you don’t have a whole lot. Correct? So, might as well, if you have nothing to lose, have that open mindedness, and then open the door, and the world of possibilities will show up, whereas many people will think, “What will I do with this documentation project?” So, they will find the way to not to do things where is you found reasons to do it, had that open mindedness with “Let me go and check it out. I have nothing to do for six weeks, right now”, and that I think, is a very important aspect that I’m drawing from it.
Rajesh: Yeah, I also… first few times, people looked at me as a documentation person, and then, once they realized there are a quite quality of questions that I was asking, they became, “Oh, nobody ask this question like this. Let me tell you, or let me show you, give a demo”. After the first meeting, it became very interesting for me because I went to the next meeting, and there… I used to tell them, “This is what I learnt from there, that module, the module head, and this is the summary”. He said, “Whoa, this is very interesting. I have been here, I didn’t know what all they were doing. It was very interesting. So, what do you need from me?” The third person, I used to tell them, “This is what I learnt from that module”. The fourth person was almost waiting for me to come because, “I’ll get a quick summary of everything that is happening in this project”.
Ravi: Very good. If I had to summarize the again, the [inaudible 09:17] story, you’re open minded, so, you took the project and then you found ways to be visible to a bunch of people.
Ravi: Cuz, the other way to be on a fast track, is to become visible. People should know… Like, if Rajesh became a director tomorrow, everybody should think, “Oh yeah, of course! That guy deserves it”.
Ravi: Nobody should question, “Who is this guy?”
Ravi: So, you got… you were open, you made yourself visible, and you made yourself extremely valuable.
Ravi: You are innovating on the fly, and creating something that is more valuable than what they were expecting of you.
Rajesh: Correct. There is an old adage. It says, “When life hands you a lemon, make a lemonade out of it”. So [crosstalk]…
Ravi: Perfect. “When life hands you a lemon, make a lemonade.” Don’t just complain that somebody gave you a lemon.
Rajesh: Yes. So, my thinking is, this is what I got, documentation project, this is my first foray into the United States.
Rajesh: I was running a big project in Singapore, before coming here, but they said, “In US, everybody starts with the lowest level. You have to prove yourself”.
Ravi: Correct. Correct.
Rajesh: I said, “Oh, this is the way it works” but I said, “I will make the most out of this documentation thing”.
Ravi: The other thing that I wanted to… I can highlight, just focusing on your story, and drawing points from that, as what fast track is. I hear you say that you really loved what was given to you.
Ravi: Because today, you are doing what you love.
Ravi: So, if I have to phrase, if people really show that they love what they are given, or what they are doing, show enthusiasm, show passion, then eventually, people will observe you and they will give you what you really love to do. So, love what you do so that you can eventually do what you love.
Rajesh: Beautifully said, Ravi. Very, very nicely said. It sums up the whole thing because my theory is that, what I do in the “bench”, I know what was there because I was already on the “bench” for more than 10 days, so, I know exactly what would happen. Anything beyond that, is an upgrade for me anyway.
Ravi: Exactly. Exactly. I think, that’s a great story, I think we all have those stories when we went beyond our expected outputs because we want to really, so that we know more than what the company knows because there are… every employee has something that they do, and there are also many things that they know, and if you can somehow draw from what you know, that happens only because of passion.
Rajesh: Totally agree.
Ravi: Otherwise, it’s just in your head and you just do like the example I was giving of a photocopier. He doesn’t say, “Oh, I can also do fax. Let me fax it”. It won’t. It will just… if you say copy, it would copy. But, as human beings, if somebody says, “Copy”, you can ask, “Is this what exactly you want to accomplish with this copying? Oh, okay”. You could think and instead of just doing your job, you can actually do a ‘job plus’, which a machine cannot do.
Rajesh: Yeah. On a lighter note, we have to be careful with the photocopier, because it might show us where the discrimination lies, because you’re using it as a example of what not to do, and the photocopier is thinking, “Oh my god, I am just doing my job. Why is Ravi targeting me?”
Ravi: Exactly. This is again, a good lesson. If an employee says, “Hey, I am doing my job. How come I am not getting promoted?” This is a good story. Doing a job is what you are paid for, but creating value over and above your job is what you get promoted for.
Rajesh: Beautifully said. I love this. Today you are on a roll.
Ravi: Yeah, it’s very spontaneous.
Rajesh: Yeah. I’ll tell you one more story, and there is a lesson there. When I was in Singapore, I used to work for a bank, Standard Chartered Bank. It was a very high profile project. Then, my boss there, who is senior director or something, he said, “When will you let me know how long it takes?” I said, “Friday afternoon, I will let you know”, and then I was wanting to have those meeting but there was some fire, and not literally fire, but there was some fire in…
Ravi: Some [inaudible 13:32] situation.
Rajesh: I forgot about it. Actually, totally forgot that I was supposed to… So this person was waiting for it. Then, he sent me an email saying something needs to be done. I said, “Oh, I’ll work on it”. Then, I realized. But, I had not even started working until Friday evening. So, Monday morning, he came and told me, “Do you have the… I need to get this information. Do you have it?” I had half-written information. Then, he called me aside and told me one thing, “See, for you, it looks like it’s a four-hour delay. 11 am, I have a meeting with the CIO of the bank. Now, I have told him, based on your promise, that you will give me on Friday. I have to do some more work on it because I need the budget, because you don’t know what it costs. I need the budget, I need the whole weekend to think through it, and then I have a presentation at 11 o’clock. For you, it’s four hours. For me, it’s face saving. Now, I can blame it on you saying, ‘He didn’t give it’ but I’ll look like an idiot, because he’d say, ‘You should have thought about it. Rajesh is not going to do it, talk to Ramesh or get something done’, because CIO is not like, ‘Okay, no problem. I’ll give it to you, tomorrow’”.
Ravi: So, what happened?
Rajesh: I learnt the biggest lesson. Of course, I was wrapping up. I did everything. Somehow, he saved the meeting. But, I’ve learnt the biggest lesson because in a big company or any small company, there are always dependencies.
Rajesh: There is a chain [crosstalk] reaction.
Ravi: It’s not [inaudible 15:13].
Rajesh: It’s not like, “Okay, I’m delaying, no problem. It’s only four hours”. No, that four hours is translating to 40 hours, by the time that end impact happens. So, that’s why when you mentioned about always create value, I was always thinking that you have to think through the overall impact of what you are doing.
Ravi: Absolutely. I think you are making an another interesting lesson for people to get on the fast track, which is, make your boss look good.
Ravi: Most people try to fight with their bosses.
Ravi: And here’s the statistic that I want to leave this conversation with. We are almost out of time. 80% of managers are bad bosses. This is Industrial statistic. Because we are not trained to be bosses, we are trained to do stuff, and suddenly, because we did a bunch of stuff, they make us leaders, and then, we don’t know how to handle other people. So, the most important thing is, your manager is there because he or she has done something better than other people, however bad he or she is. So, making your boss look good, or making your team look good is a single most recipe for getting on the fast track. Making your boss feel bad, making your team feel that “Why is this person here?” is a negative recipe for your being on the fast track. So, who you are working for, make them look good.
Rajesh: Beautifully [crosstalk]…
Ravi: Leave emotions aside, leave personality aside, get the job done so your boss can get move up. That leaves a position for you to move into that role.
Rajesh: Beautifully said. My closing comment is very simple. The boss, your team, the structure that you have, the company, are the cards that are handed to you. Now, you have to make the most out of those cards. You can say, “I got a bad card”, and then, “That is why I lost my game”, or you can say, “This is the card, these are the cards that I have [crosstalk] to make…”
Ravi: Yeah. How can you make the best use of it?
Rajesh: Exactly. That probably is one more thing to keep it in the back of the mind that I have to do magic with the cards that have been handed over to me.
Ravi: Fantastic. Excellent. So, being open minded, making yourself visible, having a great mentor, making your team and boss look good, are some of the key summary points that I want to take away from this spontaneous conversation. Thank you for listening. This is Ravi, you can learn more about me at mentorcloud.com.
Rajesh: This is Rajesh, and you can learn more about me at rajeshsetty.com/blog.
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