Can Too Much Excel Harm your Career?

You can learn Excel and spend more time with the kids, but Ian comments that:

I have found that I have ended up doing many things that other should have done – even if it took them longer. Being great at Excel slows promotion through management ranks – delegate and show what a manager you are!

I agree with Ian and yes, I believe that too much Excel can harm your career. In fact, you shouldn’t master any tool (or be recognized as such) if you want to be a manager, and if good people management skills is what is expected from you.

Generic office applications like Excel or Word have no intrinsic value for the organization, they are just tools used by the lower ranks to help implement the corporate mission. You can be great at Excel, but if you want a promotion you must hide it, and remember the Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle

In the stock market, “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results”. Likewise, if you excel in your current job you’ll get a promotion, but the skills that got you there may be irrelevant or even work against you in your new position. This is the well-known Peter Principle: “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence”. To avoid to reach your level on incompetence too early you should think strategically: be good enough to get promoted and start practicing in your current job the skills that you’ll need in the new position.

Become a Craftsman, Instead

Trent, over The Simple Dollar, writes that your most valuable asset is you, not your career. So, what happens when you really love what you do, want to be really good at it (a tool, a specific knowledge field), and a promotion means that you can’t do it anymore? Well, probably you must leave, join a company that actually needs your advanced skills or start your own consultancy business. Get a virtual assistant to take care of administrative matters and hire a freelancer for larger projects. Focus on your skills and buy time. Become a craftsman. There are less formal promotions, but networking is still a fundamental skill.

A Balanced View

Mastering any tool or knowledge field is a decision that you can’t take lightly. You must understand its role in the overall career/life goals.

You want to be an craftsman (in the sense above), you don’t want to leave, and you want that promotion. What do you do? Well, I’m probably the last person in the world you should ask for advice on this. In fact, I am not sure if there is a balanced view at all (yes, you can look for your dreams at a higher place). Worse of all, remain on the fence and you risk losing your dreams and your career.

Do you have an answer? Do you think you can hurt your career because you love your work?

3 thoughts on “Can Too Much Excel Harm your Career?”

  1. I’ve also experienced what Ian had said. But I’m used to it. I was working on different technologies like BOBJ, xCelsius, Flex and attained no growth in my career despite mastering these technologies. But I’d love to be a smart techie than a dump manager. As you rightly pointed out, becoming a craftsman is my only option. Thanks for the post.

  2. “Too much Excel” led to my new career about four years ago when I was laid off from my last engineering job.

    (Note to moderator: I don’t know if WordPress ate my first response, if it’s in moderation, or if I messed up. Delete this one if it’s a duplicate.)

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