[Blog 29] The Chief Guru Chronicles 105: Go Global, Act Local

While a supportive and nurturing boss is vital to your overall job experience and development—especially during the early stages of your career—do you ever feel like your manager couldn’t care less about or undermines your career growth?

You display enthusiasm with a set of exceptional work ethics to boot, yet you are not receiving enough traction to progress at your workplace. Do you hang tough and press on or do you pack your things and bring your talents someplace else, where your talent will be more appreciated and valued?

I have faced my fair share of blunders and blind spots in my career trajectory, specifically during a stint as a young, hungry and ambitious HR professional some decades back. I was then head-hunted for a HR manager role by an international hotel chain and worked directly under the lead of the local Director of HR of the company. For my strong management capabilities and significant contributions throughout my first year at the company, I caught the attention of the hotel owners and regional office and was even included in the regional talent pool. I aced at the countless opportunities thrown my way in order to prove my readiness for significantly bigger roles and responsibilities. Simply said, I’d checked all the boxes—standing-in as the hotel HR Director while he was on sabbatical leave, lending my hand to several hotel pre-openings in the region, getting involved in due diligence and as well as transition and integration exercises. These led me to foolishly believe that a well-deserved promotion was coming my way, as a deserving reward and recognition for my good work I had done. After about 2+ years into my service, I was already more than eager to take my career to the next level and move the needle for the organization on a local or regional scale. I mustered the courage to speak up to the local HR Director to claim what I felt was rightfully mine, only to have him cleverly “tai-chi” the discussions of my career growth and aspirations towards the regional HR office. The regional HR Director was in a different class – he “promised” me everything under the sun to get me out of his office. In all fairness, he did invest in a series of ‘short-term assignments’ for me over the next six months across East Asia, but my efforts were futile because it became apparent that he had no intention of going to bat for me.

At the 3-year point in my service, I get to grips with the regional HR director once more. This time, the final nail to my coffin was hammered deep—I was told blankly that while I may be one of the top performing stars of the hotel, I will not stand a chance to be groomed for development for any regional roles. He proceeded to add salt to the wound by mentioning that the hotel chain is not in any short supply of local talents in each of the countries that they were operating in. It then became clear that both he and the company did not have my best interests in mind, while adhering strictly to one single mantra: go global, act local. But it was executed with a twist, more like: go global, develop locals locally. This simply meant that the locals were meant only for local roles, and people who filled the regional positions were corporate elites who were specially handpicked by the global or regional office.

Any strategy I took from then on would fall into one of three buckets: to continue helping out with short-term assignments for my own personal development, to wait for my HR director to retire or resign before I could receive a promotion or to just give up all hopes and aspirations for a permanent regional role. I decided to take the conversation to the Regional President but made no headway.

At the time, I managed to seek support from a mentor who was a very good sounding board. He counselled and provided me with practical and pragmatic advice and help me to expand my frame of reference to take the next best course of action. Not only did he help map the route towards a new job opportunity at a renowned homegrown corporation, he also reassured me of the potential growth that might await me there. True enough, I heeded his advice and started out at the company as Director of HR and grew with them for the next 17 years, retiring as the Global CHRO. On hindsight, the above reflection on my career development journey was truly a lesson well-learned and it served as one of the reasons for me to begin my own consulting practice – to provide advice and solutions related to people and HR!

Remember that your performance is just one piece of the puzzle. If your superior is not willing to pave the way for a development plan with you to meet your goals and accomplishments, consider a graceful exit strategy. As bitter as it may be, the sting of getting passed over will soon wear off with time. In fact, it forces you to take control and have more empowerment over your career path towards the success that you deserve.

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This article is part of a series of accounts of The Chief Guru Chronicles, a monthly column which recounts our Founder & Chief Guru Tommy Ng’s experience and encounters in HR management across various countries and industries. The purpose of this column is to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed, and to educate readers through challenges experienced. It should not be perceived and used as a professional advice. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, races, ethnic group, organisation, company, individual or country. In addition, we do not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability and accuracy of the information. As a disclosure, some names, information and situations were intentionally concealed or edited in order to protect the identity of the involved parties. Except as expressly consented, the contents may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without HR Guru Pte Ltd permission.