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Managing upwards

Sunday, October 11, 2015

As Stacy Seales leaned back in her leather office chair she couldn’t help thinking, with a sigh: “So this is what it feels like to have made it”. 

She had just returned from attending her first executive’s retreat after being promoted to the position of branch manager at the bank where she worked. This was her second promotion since joining the bank as an accounting assistant in 2007 and it represented a major achievement for her career. 

As she reflected on the meeting, she couldn’t help wondering how she had come across to the other managers, most of whom were at least 20 years older than she was. She remembered the advice that she had received from Frank Peters, the head of the HR department when she had been promoted.

He said: “Stacy, you are only 32 and most of the managers in this organisation are from an older generation. Don’t let that intimidate you. We selected you for fast tracking because we believe that you have what it takes to get the job done. Just make sure that you keep your head up and provide the strong leadership that we expect from all our managers”. 

While Stacy knew that Peter’s words were meant to provide encouragement, she couldn’t help wondering whether she would be accepted by employees who were so much older than she was and what she could do to earn their respect. 

Early career

Stacy Seales had always loved mathematics so it was no surprise to anyone that she decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in accounting. At the end of her second year at university, she was accepted for an internship at one of the local banks, where she was exposed to real world applications of concepts she had only read about in textbooks. The manager of the branch where she interned was so impressed by her work ethic and attention to detail that she suggested that Stacy should apply for a permanent position at the bank after graduating. She indicated that she would be happy to provide a favourable recommendation if she ever applied for a job with the bank. 

After a brief stint as a payroll officer at a manufacturing company, Stacy joined the bank as an accounting assistant in 2007 and began working in the loans department. During her probation period, she earned a reputation as someone who was ambitious and willing to take the initiative in getting the job done. She also got along well with her co-workers and always seemed to have a smile on her face. 

In 2010, Stacy was asked to assist with the installation and integration of a new suite of accounting software across all the bank’s branches. This proved to be a challenging assignment since branch managers were reluctant to change from the existing systems which they were comfortable using. 

In order to ensure that the project stayed on schedule Stacy often found herself working on weekends and public holidays but the successful completion of this project also earned her a promotion.

Promotion opportunity

As 2015 began, Stacy felt that she needed to plan her long-term career path at the bank and requested a meeting with the HR manager to discuss her future. 

During the meeting she dropped gentle hints that she might consider changing jobs if there was little chance of future promotion. She also expressed some dissatisfaction with the benefits she was receiving given the high level of performance she had consistently demonstrated. 

The HR manager responded by complimenting her on her job performance to date and encouraged her to apply for a branch manager’s position that was expected to become available later that year. He also suggested that she consider identifying a mentor in the company who could provide advice on the best way to achieve her career goals.

Stacy felt this was good advice and changed her approach to how she did her job. Instead of simply trying to figure out a solution when stuck on a project, she started going to her supervisor and other senior managers and asking them what would be the best way to overcome the problem. 

She became friendly with the veterans in her department and often shared ideas about how to more effectively organise the work flow with her fellow employees. She continued to volunteer for extra assignments and work late into the night but also made an effort to join her younger colleagues at their weekly after work lime. 

She was not sure she completely believed in their motto of “work hard, play hard” but she had to admit that it felt good to get out of the office and let loose from time to time. During this period, she also began pursuing an MBA degree in order to “keep her options open” as she described it to a friend. 

Leadership challenge

Eight months after her conversation with the HR manager, following a glowing performance review, Stacy successfully applied for the job as a branch manager which represented a further step towards achieving her career goals. 

While she was excited by this promotion, she sometimes felt like a misfit since she was often the youngest person at meetings and often found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to give instructions to subordinates who were twice her age. She compensated by working twice as hard to prove that she deserved her appointment. 

Shortly after her appointment, Stacy attended a branch meeting where employees were asked to provide feedback about how they viewed each other. Stacy was shocked to find out that some of her colleagues viewed her as a hard worker but somewhat abrasive when dealing with staff. She had also been experiencing increasing friction with a few of the older staff members who seemed to resent her rapid rise in the organisation. 

After one particularly testy exchange with an older employee who inferred that she lacked leadership skills she couldn’t help thinking that maybe it had been a mistake to turn down the offer from an accounting firm which had approached her. “Not only would I make twice as much money but I wouldn’t have to deal with this stress. Perhaps I should call them back,” she thought. 

Discussion Questions

1. What are the typical characteristics of employees who belong to Generation Y?

2. What strategies would you recommend to manage these Generation Y employees?

3. What challenges does Stacy Seales face in her current position and what career advice would you give her?

Dr Barney Pacheco is a lecturer in the Department of Management Studies at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine


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