A few years back I ran across a book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. I didn’t buy it, because what I can’t stand is when good things happen to bad people. That drives me crazy.

And I’m not alone. More than any over other issue, employees become enraged when they see some no-talent, incompetent kiss-up get a promotion over more deserving souls. Like themselves, for example.

So how is it incompetent bowbs get promotions while the company passes you over?

If you look at yourself as a product, it’s all becomes clear: the Windows/95 employees always seem to beat out the OS/2 ones. (Macintosh employees thrive, but only in Marketing. Unix employees find niche jobs and stay in them until they retire. Pick your favorite operating system and insert it here.)
Last week we talked about the first of the “Four P’s” – Product. Let’s continue with the other three.


Now don’t turn up your nose. Like it or not, perception is reality: It’s a falling-tree-in-forest thing. No matter how good your work and how great your potential, it will go unrecognized unless someone who can do something for your career (a potential customer) perceives your work to be good and your potential high.

As in product marketing, self-promotion can lead, to put it gently, into ethically questionable territory. While that’s true, don’t make the mistake of viewing marketing as a morally dubious activity. Ask yourself: what’s the point in creating a high-quality product and then not helping people who need it see its value?

Self-promotion, when too flagrant, can be self-defeating, especially when it takes the “I’m really great” approach. The best marketers know two facts that in combination create powerful marketing: specifics work far better than generalities, and benefit to the customer is the best message.

So be specific. Make sure people who matter know about significant accomplishments, not in the context of, “…and so I’d like a promotion,” but in the context of, “…and so the company is better off.”

A fringe benefit: you’ll focus your efforts on achieving tangible results that improve the organization.


Place describes your market – who you sell yourself to. Here’s what it means in this context: figure out who can help you get where you’re going, and cultivate them.

This isn’t a matter of Machiavellian machination. You’ve spent some effort figuring out the product you’ll want to be … that is, the position you want to hold. You’ve also figured out the skills and experience you’ll need to acquire to get there. With luck, you’ve also done some soul-searching to make sure you have both the attitude and aptitude.

Look around your company to determine who can help you make the transition to the job you want. It’s probably not the person you report to. It may be the next person in the hierarchy, or it may be someone in another area.

Call them. Ask for a half-hour of their time. Even better, buy them lunch. Explain the process you’re going through and ask for their help. Volunteer for a project in their area that may benefit from your skills. Ask advice and listen intently.

Pay close attention to the chemistry between you and your potential ally – if the chemistry is wrong, you should probably try someone else as well.

Don’t be shy. People like to help, and asking for it flatters them.


Now we come to salary. Many companies rely on salary surveys to determine pay ranges for different jobs, and they’ll use them to explain why they can’t pay the salary you want. Your only defense: find similar surveys or recruitment ads in the classifieds that support the salary you think you deserve.
Negotiating salary is a lot easier when you change employers than when you change jobs inside the same company. My best advice: be assertive but not greedy.

(To be candid, I’m not all that good at negotiating salary. Sigh.)

You’re your own product. Manage yourself well.

American management has a tendency to latch onto fads, most of which are labeled “fundamental shifts in how businesses operate.” These fundamental shifts rarely last long, but while they do they can make life miserable for employees trying to advance their careers by doing their jobs well.

A case in point: the “De-jobbing of America” (aren’t you glad IS folks aren’t the only wreckers of English on the landscape?) According to this theory, the company of the future will be virtual, employing nearly nobody while contracting for skills as it needs them.

While this is a valid enough idea in small doses, many businesses, ignoring the Greek philosophers’ advice of moderation in all things, drive it right off a cliff.

Implicit in this approach to human resource mismanagement is a perspective that employees are bags of skills. Company executives know what has to get done and the skills needed to do it. Hire those skills when you need them; get rid of them when they’re not needed anymore.

Not all companies buy into this approach, of course. Many distinguish between short-term and long-term needs, and some understand the importance of less definable character traits such as loyalty, morale, commitment, and other traditional virtues. Regardless, prudence dictates you view your employer in these terms – at best you’ll be pleasantly surprised, at worst you won’t be caught off-guard, and in all cases you’ll do a far better job of managing your career than you will be relying on your employer to enhance your career.

In fact, whether or not the “de-jobbing” philosophy turns out to be good business or not, it promotes a healthy attitude toward career management. That is, you’re responsible for it. The best companies will provide you with education and opportunity. That’s the limit of their role in the process.

Last week’s column presented the 70% Rule – if you don’t deliver at least 70% more in value than you accept in salary, your employer does better by putting your salary into mutual funds. While the 70% Rule provides a guide for job security, it doesn’t help your career advance at all. You advance your career by treating yourself as a product, and managing that product as professionally as you can.

Product managers talk about the “4 P’s,” yet another annoying encapsulation of perfectly useful ideas. The 4 P’s are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. (“Place” really should be “Marketplace” – the definition of who you sell to and how to reach them – but “3 P’s and an M” doesn’t have as much pizazz.)

At least once a year, and probably more often, take some time to analyze yourself in these terms.
Start by defining yourself as a product. What functionality do you provide? Do you write code? Analyze requirements and define specifications? Troubleshoot thorny network problems? Work with company management to link technology and organizational strategy?

What differentiates you from your competitors – everyone else looking for the same job title. Are you exceptionally reliable? Hard working? Innovative and ingenious?

What bugs need fixing? Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? Drop the ball on critical tasks? Misunderstand ambiguous assignments without helping clarify them? Remember, there’s no such thing as a bug-free human.

What enhancements do you want to incorporate into the next release? Do you want to become more diplomatic? Delegate more effectively, or at all? Use object-oriented programming tools? Manage time better?

Your temptation will be to choose your skill enhancements based on what you want to do next. That’s fine. Keep one thing in mind – you don’t define the value of these new skills. From a career-planning perspective you’re better off striking a balance between the skills you want to acquire and the skills your market – everyone who can help your career advance – values most.

Product, however, is just one fourth of the mix you have to attend to. More on this next week.