Success Unclear? Own it!

Blog | May 5, 2018

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a leader of a large organization, if you work in the tech and start-up world, it’s likely that you’ve been hired or re-org’ed into a role where the definition of success is slightly unclear. Some of us even seek out these opportunities, I know I did! This can be a tough and awesome place to be.

Let’s get the tough part out of the way. The tough part is that the responsibilities can be grey. The direction to take specific projects can be unclear. Perhaps you’ve had different managers over the course of a year and your current manager doesn’t yet know you, your work, or how you are supposed to be delivering in your role. How do you move forward when you are surrounded by options? How do you choose a path when there are conflicting viewpoints on the best direction forward? This can feel immobilizing.

But, there is a silver lining!

When no one is telling you exactly what to do, what they need or what they want from you – you get to build and create the role you want.

You get to use your own mind, leverage your own experience and identify the gaps that need to be filled.

You will be rewarded for taking initiative. You will be thanked for setting direction and moving deliverables forward. You will be applauded for creating a role that no one dreamed could exist! All while adding unanticipated value to the organization! You get to trip and fall, fail and succeed in a low stakes way – the workplace is your playground.

Of course, the silver lining approach is easier said than done, so here are 5 tips to be successful in the midst of an ever changing, quickly growing organization, where there may be more grey and then clear:

  1. Know What Interests You: If the parameters and expectations of a role are unclear and you don’t have direction, a good place to start is by thinking about what you can get out of it. Check in with yourself: What do you love to do? What brings you energy every day? What do you want to be spending your time on? What skill sets do you want to grow? If you are setting a direction that interests you, the company is sure to benefit. You will be moving forward instead of feeling immobilized by options.
  2. Take Initiative: Identify where your interests overlap with the company’s gaps. List the potential projects that can occur as a solution to those gaps. Being able to articulate why you are moving forward in a certain direction in the context of the company’s big picture vision is important, and creates a clearer roadmap for you and your manager.
  3. Leverage Your Resources: Don’t forget – you are not operating in a silo (or if you are – change that!). Lean on your team to understand what’s working and what the perceived roadblock are. How can you solve for them? Bounce ideas off your peers. Reach out to stakeholders to understand what they want and aren’t getting. Pressure test projects that you’ve come up with and earn their buy-in. This provides evidence of research for when you bring a proposal to your manager.
  4. Speak Up: In an ever changing organization, your manager might be dealing with their own sense of grey, trying to set direction for the team amidst conflicting priorities and opinions. They will value when you speak up, identify a problem area and propose a solution. This gives your manager something to react to without having to come up with the idea themselves. This gives you an opportunity to show that you’ve taken initiative, and have thought things through, all while getting a pulse on if you and your manager are aligned.
  5. Don’t Be Afraid To Fail: Keep the ideas coming! If your manager disagrees with the direction you propose, you will gain a better sense of your manager’s expectations. At best, you get to showcase your thinking and get the thumbs up to run with your solution. Tech can be very forgiving! The environment is ever changing, companies are quickly growing. The only way to be successful is to know when things don’t work, and pivot accordingly. Trial and error matters here! So, take a leap and if you fall, that’s just another data point to influence how to best move forward.

One of the many perks in the tech space is that roles are dynamic; they often flex to meet the needs of the organization in the moment.

This is especially true when your role is highly amorphous. Most often that means that initiative is valued. In partnership with your manager, you can transform your role into something you love and adds immeasurable value to the organization. Everybody wins!

As the in-house performance coach at DigitalOcean, I have the privilege of working closely with highly talented employees every day, discussing the above steps, and encouraging excitement, satisfaction, and clarity on what they need to do to get the new job done. DigitalOcean is a high growth, fast paced environment, where roles are often being created for the first time. At DO we are committed to fostering a developmental environment and supporting their growth through coaching.. For some candidates, that’s why they join us — to explore a position that has not previously existed, to grow and develop in new ways — but that desire doesn’t necessarily make the transition any easier. This is precisely why I’m here as the onsite coach to help leaders find success  in new roles and to support employees with transition amidst an ever changing, ever growing environment.

Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant