Monday, October 20, 2008

Working one level lower than you should be?

I was talking with a colleague this week that was trying to comfort himself for not getting a position of interim General Manager because (according to the selectors) the position would have stretched him too much.

Apparently there is a much applied theory that it is best to recruit interim managers one level lower than their highest career position ever. The idea being that the client does not want to take any risks. If this is true then there is little hope for career growth the moment you give up employee status! Logically this makes no sense to me on any grounds (even the risk aversion argument does not really apply). Some points:

1. It is true that many employees, at one stage in their career are promoted to one level higher than they should be. Thus I guess when they are booted out (given ‘early retirement’) that they can/should only be offered assignments one rung lower as a freelancer?
2. An interim Manager who does well on one assignment and is given more responsibility – eg starts as COO and gets promoted to CEO during an assignment, would then only be able to be a COO again in his or her next assignment?
3. As we get older we will always be promoted downwards until we became cleaners!

Point 3 is not so unusual – perhaps not a cleaner, but I know a senior executive of a big multi-national who worked for many years in the city of London and yet chucked it all in to be a ‘messenger boy’ at the age of 55. He spent his days (rain or shine) walking the streets delivering important documents and cheques by hand to clients and banks. etc. When asked why? He explained that he had no stress, enjoyed the bustle and beauty of the city, and kept fit into the bargain. I know a previous international banker that drives a delivery van to wherever it is needed. Perhaps soon there will be many ex bankers asking us if we want a side dish with our big Mac’s – but I imagine that we will not see this for a few months yet. Trickle down takes a while…

So the question this week is – at what level are you? The trouble for me is, I like being a COO, sometimes even the CEO – but I really love being a program manager, or even a change manager and even an everyday project manager. The only important point for me is to have a real challenge. One that is tough and needs all my skills ingenuity and management to drive a team to deliver against all odds. When the gauntlet of complex problem solving is laid before me – I simply can not resist it.

So my advice is, especially if you are between assignments or jobs. Think about the best job you ever had and be honest with yourself by asking (assuming you can survive on the lower fee) just how far would you be prepared to drop to find your optimal level? It is worth considering – especially before someone considers it for you!

Have a good week – stay positive and remember: Focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses (unless you can fix them in a relatively short timeframe).



matthew said...

Indeed, we all need from time to time to spend some time on reflection and not only between assignments or jobs. One of the outcomes of this reflection should definitely be your plan B (see: Georges Antoon: Talent in Actie). However, to approach this from a perspective of dropping to your optimal level is in my opinion not the right one. If one knows who one is and what capabilities one has, one is able to find out what one will as the next step. I am talking about willing and not dropping. Because, if you are in the situation of implementing your plan B, you will need all the will power in order to succeed and certainly not the negative energy of the perception of yourself or your environment of a career drop. Finally, if you need help with this discovery process, find yourself a good and certified career coach.

Koen said...

Hi Harley, what is the definition of "level" ? Is it the job title ? Or is it the content, the complexity of an assignment? I agree that in most cases if you compare similar functions in similar companies the level will be similar. But being service delivery manager in a large ICT company might be more complex and demanding then being the CEO of a small local business.
So in the end I look at the challenge in an assignment more then the title or level of the function. And very important, do I feel like doing this ?
And, I admit that on a sunny summer day it looks tempting to bring documents around as a motorcycle courrier, so maybe one day ... I might be the one working under my "level".

Harley Lovegrove said...


Thank you for your comment. To answer your question, I was refering to the level of complexity.