Don't ask, don't get

April 13th, 2013 by Julian Corlet

Particularly early on in their careers, there is a tendency amongst people to keep their aspirations to themselves, rather than sharing them with their manager. If my own experience is anything to go by, this is based on the presumption that their manager expects them to be happy working in their current position indefinitely and that any further ambition will be taken as a sign of disloyalty, or that their goals won’t be taken seriously.

Far more often than not however, this just isn’t the case. The reality is that most managers want to know your ambitions and letting them in allows them to open doors for you. I have found that if you don't let people know what outcome you're looking for, the odds of it coming to pass are greatly diminished. Or put more simply, if you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Why you should share your goals

This sort of feedback makes your boss’s job easier. If they know what motivates you, they will get the best out of you. Less pragmatically, managers are people too. Helping employees achieve their goals is one of the greatest sources of satisfaction for a manager and gives a sense of purpose to their own job. But in order for them to help you, you need to tell them what you’re looking for. Even if you think it’s obvious.

There is also something to be said for the view that people like to see themselves reflected in others. It is reasonable to assume that managers will typically value career progression and as such, will be pleased to see this value shared by people in their team. Consequently, they will want to help them move forward.

Conversely, if you keep your ambitions to yourself and aren’t making progress towards them, your job satisfaction is likely to be affected. As a consequence, you may find your engagement drops and the quality of your work tapers off, making your goals even less likely to be attained. In short, you find yourself in a rut. To pull yourself out of the rut you take a job elsewhere, only to find the cycle repeating. This may seem like a dire scenario, but it’s one that many people repeat throughout their careers.

A former colleague of mine who I’ll refer to here as Joe provided a great example of how others knowing your goals can be beneficial. Joe was a smart, softly spoken engineer who had been with the company for fifteen years and was expected by all to see out the remainder of his career there. One day out of the blue, Joe turned up at work in an ill-fitting suit and tie, in place of his standard outfit consisting of jeans and a t-shirt. It was pretty clear that Joe was off to a job interview.

As Joe was a highly valued employee, the company scrambled to understand his concerns and address them, which they were able to do. Clearly, Joe had been quietly getting less satisfied with his lot over time until finally it was bad enough for him to leave his comfort zone to head out into the job market. In the end, this worked out well for Joe and for the company. However, if Joe had been more open about what was missing from his job, perhaps the issues could have been addressed before they were severe enough for him to seriously consider leaving.

Approaching sharing your goals

There are many situations throughout your career where it pays to be specific. This, in my opinion is not one of them. It’s enough to share the general direction you would like to head in. This leaves the door open to many more opportunities, including some that you mightn’t have considered.

So by example, demanding your boss’s job could leave you waiting quite some time for the opportunity to arise! However, letting your manager and others in a position of influence know that you would be keen to develop your leadership skills makes it much easier for them to help you make some initial steps down this path.

Performance reviews are a great time to communicate your ambitions, but they shouldn’t be the only time. In fact, discussing what you’re looking for at points throughout the year will mean your manager is better prepared to set meaningful targets for you when your performance review does come around. If you have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager, these are a great opportunity to raise your plans. Failing that, you could always invite your boss for a coffee and talk things through then.

The ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ philosophy is nowhere more true than in the world of startups. Since long before starting my business, Reportify, I have been following the likes of Patrick Mckenzie, Gabriel Weinberg and Jason Cohen. Early on, it would never have occurred to me to contact any of these people due to their large followings and ‘rockstar status’ in the startup community. More recently, I have learned to engage more actively with people regardless of their status and it continues to surprise to me how generous people can be if you only take the time to ask.

If you feel uneasy about letting others in on your goals, have a think whether this is helping you attain them. If you let others in, you may be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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Julian Corlet is the founder of Reportify, a web-based status reporting tool. Julian's background is in the Telecommunications industry where he spent 15 years in management and technical roles prior to founding Reportify in 2012. Reportify was built to address shortcomings with existing approaches to the creation and collation of team status reports. You can follow Julian on Twitter @reportify.