Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Career Progression Factors, part 1

How do you advance in your career?  I've met a lot of clients who, upon reaching the last platform before a truly senior leadership role, feel stuck.  In the past it has always been enough to excel at their work, apply for new jobs, and take the next step.  But this formula only works to a certain level in any organisation. To have a truly executive career, you need to think about your personal and professional development.

When I encounter a client who is stuck on their career path, or losing motivation, I find that it generally comes down to one or more of the three factors of development:  Environment and Organisation Objectives, Your Purpose and Ambition, and Self Knowledge.  This series on Career Progression Factors will cover each of the factors in turn, along with some thoughts on finding your own career "sweet spot."

Environment & Organisation Objectives

Development is not only about who we are and our abilities, but how we are in our environment--what our environment brings out in us.  Naturally our personality informs our behaviour, but I'll get to that in the Self Knowledge part.  For now, let's consider what you can do to think about your Environment objectively.

1. Connect your goals to those above you.  You need to be able to clearly state how your work contributes to your organisation's goals.  If you don't already know your boss's objectives and how your objectives tie into hers, find out!  Find out the big boss's objectives, too.  Try to develop a deeper and wider perspective.  Keep in mind that while there are many things in short supply, one of the biggest is time.  And when none of us has enough time, we need help. This includes your boss!  If you can position your contributions in a way that emphasizes benefit to the organisation, then you are a step ahead of the crowd.

2. Be curious and share your knowledge.  If you don't already know the answers to the following questions, find out:

  • What industry and world events are affecting the way your company does business?
  • What innovations are your competitors coming out with?
  • What are the predictions for your customers' needs in the future?
  • How does all this impact you, your work, and your company?
Once you have these answers, it is not enough to keep them to yourself.  Talk about these things with others, be curious, and ask them what they see.  Get the reputation for being someone who knows what is going on outside your company and who shares information.

It is commonly said that getting ahead is not about what you know, but who you know.  This is true to a large degree, but only because it is hard to find that highly qualified someone if they aren't visible.  So accept this for what is is, and make sure that when you meet people you have something interesting to talk about!  Then the chances that they will remember you are significantly increased.  And what seemed like an unfair way of the world suddenly becomes much more reasonable.

3.  Share credit when it is genuine, but speak in specifics about your own contributions.  You've heard the advice before about overuse of "we" in an interview instead of "I" brings into question what you have personally contributed.  On the other hand, some are faulted with using "I" when truly there were more people involved and "we" would be more accurate.  How can you win on this conundrum?  The safest route is to describe what the team (we) achieved, but to be specific about what you yourself contributed to the larger effort.  You will not only seem like a talented person, but also a team player who can connect how her contributions fit the larger organisation's goals.

4.  Support the organisation's interests.  In my 17 years of working in executive development and coaching, I have never met a person who was promoted, but who saw themselves as an outsider in their organisation.  People can become disenfranchised and want to leave, but in order to advance it is first necessary to be seen as part of the solution and future progress of the company.  If you cannot support the wider interests or ethos, try to find a part of it that you can support, or make a move elsewhere.

In part 2 of Career Progression Factors, I will address Purpose & Ambition.

Victoria Hall, Executive Coach
Founder of Talent Futures

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