You are an accomplished professional. You've been doing financial analysis, software development, professional training, or managed your department for a while, and you are really good in what you are doing. However, you are ready for more. You want to move to an adjacent professional area, get a higher title, become a people manager, or a business executive. How do you make this happen? How do you escalate this process, given how professionally strong and how hardworking you are? This section of our site will help you in making the next step in your career happen organically and as fast as you are ready for it.
Each week, we will share new tips coming from our experience with running Leadership University for career professionals as well as personal experience working as a consultant and a permanent employee with multiple organizations. Those tips will be followed by detailed explanations, real life examples, and thought provoking questions. We expect you to also contribute and share your questions and personal experiences.
Let's begin out journey by sharing the first 10 topics we will cover - see our next posting.
The first ten most important topics for career advice for advanced professionals ready for the next step in your career that we identified are listed below. We used a number of criteria to come up with this list. This included basic expectations setting such as "Sharing your professional aspirations", statistical criteria (topi 5 reasons why you are overlooked for a promotion) as well as emotional intelligence (targeting your communication to your audience and ability to read your audience) that are another frequent failure points.
Every week, there will be two new tips posted so that this site has its first 100 tips by the end of 2016. We will structure these 100 tips in such a way that there may multiple tips related to one competency, so the way titles will be organized is <competency>:<tip>. While competencies will be mostly familiar to you, the tips are intended to be fresh and as practical is possible with a lot of examples from our personal career as well as stories shared by students at our Leadership University sessions and visitors to this web site. We will share questions and exercises that will help you assess whether you are on track.
Your input into the topics and the content is greatly appreciated. Let's make this conversation interactive, as every conversation should be. Share your experience, ask questions, make this helpful to you in your career growth.
Having that said, the list of the first 10 topics includes:
1. Sharing your professional aspirations
2. Getting to know the shadow that you cast
3. Giving and receiving feedback
4. Creating your elevator pitch
5. Using your emotional intelligence for competitive advantage
6. Establishing your professional presence in the office
7. Establishing your professional presence outside of the office
8. Setting and communicating clear goals
9. Innovation on the job
10. Finding a partner in your manager
See you soon with the topic #1: Sharing your professional aspirations
You are great at what you do, but it no longer excites you. You want to move to a new step in your career but no one seems to recognize it. As simple as this tip sounds, may accomplished professionals fail here. Basically, they fail before they even start. There is a simple five-step workflow in making your next career step happen:
1. Define where you want to go next? Think of what in your current job makes you successful. Is it working with people? Is it your specific area of expertise? Is it motivating and leading others? What are your professional strengths? How do those contribute to your success? Use your experience, knowledge of yourself, self-discovery, and feedback from your colleagues, clients, and managers in answering those questions.
Once you answer those questions, think whether you want to move to what you presume to be the next career step in your immediate area of expertise or an adjacent area? This is a very important question even for an established professional. If you are an experienced software developer, would you like to become a tech lead or a project manager? If your are in quality assurance, would you like to learn to code or pick up automated testing skills? Do not limit yourself to a career ladder as it is defined by your organization. The world is becoming much flatter, and the concept of lateral adjacent move is widely acknowledged nowadays.
When answering this question, take your long-term objective into account. For example, when I was a software developer, I wanted to eventually become a Chief Operations Officer. However, I loved information technologies and was not as fascinated about Human Resources in their function as I knew it. There was no easy way to connect these two functions. However, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to build beautiful software that will delight its users, and in orchestrating the processes and interactions around envisioning, creating, and enhancing this software I saw an opportunity to learn about people, their interactions, and their power in a highly technological world.
In my case, the progression from developer to business analyst to a project manager, than a manager of project managers, software delivery director, and COO was not a zigzag. It was a well calculated combination of short-term goals and a long-term objective.
Think of your projection strategically. Where you want to be in 5 years? What do you need to learn and understand before you get there? What are several possible journeys that would take you there? Create a map, put your timelines there, and make it happen.
2. Validate your plan. Now you have a plan and you know what are the options for your next steps. However, if you do not share it, no one will know about it. Most people wait until their annual performance review (if their company is doing performance reviews) with their manager to share their expectations for their next step. Do not do either of the two:
- do not wait until annual performance review, and
- do not share your next steps directly with you manager.
As any plan, your career plan needs to be validated. Validate it with the people you trust, within and outside of your organization. Create a form that is easy to present. I suggest that you consider using an infographic format for this. Years ago, I created a prezi for myself entitled "My Career Journey". I still have it and when I look at it, I am surprised how little it has changed and how much of it came true. I believe that one of the reasons it happened is because I've always had it in front of me, so I was able to validate and course-correct as necessary.
Once you came up with your career journey in any format that works for you, share it with someone you trust in your organization. Once I shared mine with technology leader who ran a huge program that I supported, and he responded in two sentences. The first was: "I would never think this is the next steps you see for yourself." This was not what I expected so I almost feared to hear the next sentence, which was: "But I have huge respect for you, so I want to support. What can I do to make it happen?" This is just one possible example. Get advice from you trusted friend, from a family member. From our experience, avoid getting advice from your peers - they may feel unnecessarily competitive and ask to your disadvantage.
3. Identify the gap. Most likely, there is a gap between where you are and where you want to be, otherwise you would be there already. In Step #1 when you are getting feedback and in Step # 2, when you share your aspirations, keep asking your five "why's" to identify this gap and find the ways to close it.
- "I've never thought you would be interested in taking managerial responsibilities."
- "Why so?"
- "You do not come across as a manager?"
- "You are always quiet in meetings. I've never thought you have an opinion."
Here's a gap and a way to fix it. Share your opinion in meetings. Advocate for what you believe in.
- "I do not think it's a great idea for you to become a project manager."
- "Project mangers are disciplined. They set up rules. Once they set up rules, they follow them themselves and hold others accountable too."
- "Why do you think I cannot do this?"
- "Well, frankly, you are always late to meetings. Maybe a minute or two, but you're never on time. And once you come, you don't seem too organized. You don't take notes and forget about your own action items so that others always need to remind you. How would you take care of other's if you can't take care of your own? Sorry, I did not mean to be harsh, you are a great Java developer, I'm learning a lot from you."
- "Of course, of course. This is actually very helpful. You also mentioned about holding others accountable?"
- "Yes, actually. You never call people out. I think you shy away from conflict. Remember, Alex did not write his sql queries which you depended upon, so you stayed late and just took care of it yourself, rather than confronting Alex or escalating to his manager? Franly, I thought this was nice of you, but this is not a quality I would expect from a project manager."
As you can see from this example, there are two immediate gaps identified, and a number of ways to close those. This takes us to Step 4: close the gap(s).
4. Close the gap and plan for BATNA. Once you collected enough information on the gaps, you have to plan on closing those. There are two things that have to happen: first, you have to close the gaps identified in Step #3 and confirm by soliciting feedback that this is noticed. To do so, you cannot take any feedback personally. Acknowledge it, summarize, and plan for it.
For example, in the first case above, create a checklist: meeting, date, did I speak up? Make sure though that you do not just speak up for the sake of speaking up, but in each case, you have something valuable to share. To do so, prepare for meetings, study the background, research the issue, talk to stakeholders, and form an opinion.
In the second example listed in Step #3, you need a more complex plan with ongoing feedback. Initially, you would list all the instances where you are not organized or disciplined as a checklist:
- come to meetings on time;
- always be prepared;
- take and share the notes;
- always fulfill your action items;
- follow up on other's action items and dependencies;
- ensure a well structured repository for your documents and data, share it with others.
Be innovative and creative is coming up with those steps, share your data with others, and your contribution will be noticed and appreciated.
As for you being assertive and your ability to deal with conflict, you may need to do research, modify your behavior, solicit feedback, or even find an external advisor or mentor.
If you were not able to close the gaps in a long period of time, consider revising your goals. But if you were and you feel that you are ready for the conversation with your manager or other decision maker, there is one additional task you need to accomplish: formulate your BATNA. The term BATNA comes from the Negotiations Theory and literally means "Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement". BATNA is the most advantageous alternative course of action a party can take if negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. Before you share your aspirations, decide what do you do if you hear "you are a great developer but I do not see you as a business analyst, no one can understand what you are saying" or "we do not have a director title in this organization so don't expect a title promotion here".
What is that minimum outcome that you are comfortable accepting from this conversation? An action plan to help you get the role, the title, the responsibility you are interested in with a specific timeline? An opportunity to move to a different department where your dream is an option? A conversation with a peer who can make your next step happen? What would you do otherwise? Do you have a backup? Is your reputation strong enough to explore other options within the organization? Did you explore the market outside? Do you have external relationships built? Be very clear with those answers before you have this important conversation or, in other words, have your BATNA ready. You do not need to share it with anyone except for yourself, but you have to be honest with yourself on those topics.
Don't overlook this, as a failure in this conversation may lead to loss of motivation and sliding job performance. For example, you speak with your manager who does not see you neither now nor in any foreseeable future in the role that you want to be in. If you are right and your manager is underestimating you, without BATNA you are staying in your current role and feeling miserable, or you quit and start looking for a job while being unemployed (which is rarely a good idea). If you have a BATNA, you move to a different department in the role you are interested in (or with a clear negotiated plan how to get there) and feel more energized than ever.
What if you are wrong though, and you are not ready or do not skills/qualifications for this role yet? This topic we will cover in the Step #5.
5. Share, agree, and follow up. Now you are finally ready to share your expectations with your manager or the other person who is the decision maker in making this happen. You set up a meeting with a clear objective so that you do not surprise your manager with this conversation and give him/her time to prepare, and have this important dialog.
If you manager is supportive and receptive, you jointly on the plan to make it happen. If he/she is not, you have to make your decision. Does he/she have a point? Are you confident this is what you want and this role plays to your strength? If not, get very detailed feedback and take time to think about it. From a manager perspective, the most difficult type of employees are steady performers who lack leadership, confidence, creativity, but do a consistently good job in their subject matter area, and come to you on a regular basis with the same question: when I am going to get promoted to a tech lead? business analysis manager? head of QA? They take feedback literally:
- you said I do not show any initiative? Look, there is an Excel template I created last year.
- you are saying I lack leadership skills? Everyone comes to me to ask about business logic behind this screen.
Few of them are coachable, but many keep having the same conversations until they come up with their BATNA and move on, and this is the best scenario in this case. If I see they cannot perform in the next level role, I will not promote them. In other words, following the Peter's principle, as a manager, I won't be the one who will promote them to the level of their incompetence.
However, in most cases you will have a good meaningful conversation with your manager, get helpful feedback, and jointly come up with a plan for you to get where you want to be. In this case, make sure that this is a SMART goal and make it your priority following up with your manager on a regular basis in implementing every step along the way and getting immediate feedback. If your manager changes, it is your responsibility to ensure continuity.
Meanwhile get yourself prepared for your new role: read books, establish relationships, find mentors in this area internally and externally, practice things you will need to do once you officially get this role, pilot, get feedback, so that you are completely ready even before your complete all the tasks discussed. Once you reach the goal, initiate the conversation on making your next step official.
"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality..”
How many times in your life you were surprised by someone's opinion? You liked a move and someone unexpectedly considered it the most boring movie ever. You considered someone a poor performer and this person thought that he or she was the greatest computer programmer/accountant/recruiter/editor alive? You felt you had a productive conversation and were able to achieve consensus, and the opposite side thought you had an ugly argument and agreed with only because because it made no sense to argue anymore?
Whether the difference is significant or subtle, the most powerful knowledge you may have in a professional environment is being aware of the "shadow that you cast?". We got acquainted with the concept of the "shadow of the leader" via a values-based leadership development program at UnitedHealth Group based on the research by Senn Delaney described in the book "Winning Teams–Winning Cultures",
There are only three steps to this:
1. Define which "shadow you want to cast"
Start by making an effort to forget about titles, positions, day-to-day responsibilities, event reporting relationships. Concentrate on one topic: what is the shadow that you want to cast professionally? In other words, how do you want to be perceived by others in your organizations? What reputation would you like to have?
From this prospective, think of this latest promotion. Did you claim your team success as your personal achievement? Did you take ownership over a template your colleague created? Did you feel happy about achieving this promotion which was in part based on these two instances? What did it do to the shadow that you cast? Do your colleagues perceive you as successful? as their true leader? or as a backstabber who would do anything to achieve their selfish goals?
Hopefully, this does not apply to you. You have your shadow described now: you are knowledgeable, fair, positive, great collaborator; you are always positive and come across with solutions; trustworthy; you are creative and innovative, and of course, you are a strong leader and a "go-to" person. Let's print out this description and move to Step #2.
2. Check out your shadow
Now it's time to reconcile. There are two ways to do it, internal and external. First, you define which responses should your shadow elicit. For example, if you are innovative, you would be invited to participate in brainstorming groups, or in a hackathon - depending on your subject matter area. If you are well respected, people would come to you for your informal opinion. If they consider you trustworthy, they share confidential information with you. If you are a strong leader, they follow you. If you are positive, they ask for your suggestions.
If you see that in fact, you are not a highly sought meeting participant; if your opinion is not frequently solicited, if no one comes to you for advice, then there is a discrepancy with the shadow that you want to cast.
External validation is based on direct and indirect questions that you can ask to your colleagues. If you notice that you are frequently overlooked in meetings, ask your colleague: "What contribution do you think I can/could make to this conversation?" If you ask a closed (yes/no), question, follow it with a "why", e.g. "do you think I am a good team player?' "why do you think I am not?" "what can I do to become better?"
3. Shape your shadow
Now you have two most important data points: where you want to be and where you are now. The question is then how to bridge the gap, if any. In most cases you will notice that if not a significant difference, there are discrepancies in how you think about yourself and the shadow you are casting. What can you do about it?
The answer is very simple. Keep your shadow in mind and validate every decision, every professional move that you make with the shadow you want to project. Print out the description of your shadow and have it handy with you. Keep it on your mobile device. Make it a habit to use it as your moral compass.
Once you made a decision to shape your shadow and build the reputation that you deserve, create your journal of decisions that you have to make and the qualities that help you make them. Review this journal and align with the shadow you want to cast. This requires courage, discipline, and persistence, but trust me, your road to leadership is worth the effort.
When you ask people whether they would like your feedback, you will most likely hear "yes, of course". Feedback is a buzzword in a modern workplace, along with "lean", "continuous improvement", "motivation", and other important concepts. However, similar to other words on this list, "feedback" is a widely used and significantly misinterpreted term which means different things for different people. Everyone understands it in their own ways.
Let me suggest a few examples from real life:
1. One of the Big 4 Consulting companies announced widely that they are not going to use their traditional performance reviews anymore, replacing it with ongoing feedback. They rolled out a software application which prescribed every employee to request "feedback" from a specific number of their peers or clients which was recorded in the HR-accessible system. Feedback was based on a rating system with a monthly average being generated. Their manager was responsible for reviewing the numbers and acting upon them, if averages were low. Employee compensation and promotions were directly dependent on the outcome.
2. A large corporation announced that they are not doing "performance reviews" anymore and everyone should engage in ongoing feedback. Besides this, they did nothing: no education, no framework, no suggestions on frequency and form of this feedback. In a year, employees started missing dreadful performance reviews, because there were too many surprises and no ability to use feedback (which was hardly ever provided and if provided, was rarely well-received) for their professional growth.
3. A medium-size company decided to build a culture of ongoing feedback. They provided multiple training sessions with the approach being: do not wait, always provide real-time feedback. As a result, the "feedback" became overwhelming. A long-term employee with limited out-of-company experience would lecture an experienced new joiner on conducting meetings in front of other participants of this meeting. A manager would call employees into his office after each meeting, presentation, client pitch (almost daily) and reprimand them for poor work. He would start this with a question: "Would you like my feedback?"and of course, no one could say "no", so he considered it a solicited feedback and was actually very proud for contributing to employee growth by being open and honest. I was one of those employees, and all of us were continuously discouraged and demotivated by his feedback, which frequently turned into simple finger pointing. One day I suggested to park this "feedback" and have a weekly feedback session instead. Unexpectedly, he was open to this and was genuinely surprised that his daily feedback was not welcome.
4. Another manager I knew used the term "feedback" as an excuse for keeping a running list of every employee's "errors", which he generously used to explain why they are not getting promoted or are being missed on annual bonuses. In this company's employee survey, the number one response to the "start/stop/continue" question in the "stop" section was "feedback". No one wanted this type of "feedback".
Chances are, you've worked for one of those or similar companies that misinterpret feedback and are unable to build the culture of open and positive feedback loops.
All of those (any many other similar) examples show how incorrect interpretation of feedback can be damaging. At the same time, establishing an ongoing feedback loop can be very beneficial. What are the characteristics of a feedback loop?
- feedback is a loop. It's ongoing and bi-directional. I worked for a manager once who gave me feedback (very positive) during an annual performance review session, and when I tried to share mine, told me that this is my "performance review", not his, so my feedback to him is not relevant. We were both in the very beginning of our careers, and I know that he grew into a fine manager, and I am a more confident person now and would question such a statement, but at that time, this feedback, though highly positive, damaged our trust. Always reciprocate the feedback.
- feedback is voluntary. Ask for feedback, use it as your vehicle to grow. Do not force your feedback on anyone.
- feedback is a one-on-one encounter. Do not provide your feedback in front of other people.
- feedback is a gift (if genuine and not done as an excuse to reduce your compensation or not to give an employee an expected promotion). The only response to someone's feedback is "thank you". Never be offended or hold it against the person. Appreciate it and use as an opportunity to improve.
- feedback is one person's opinion. Don't let it demotivate you or kill your self esteem. Validate feedback with others and use it as a learning point.
- feedback is positive. When you provide feedback, do not make it personal. Instead of saying, "you are not sensitive", say "when you told me that I did not make sense, I felt demotivated. It would help a lot of you said "this is how you can improve it" and provided examples."
- feedback does not have to address improvement opportunities only. Praise is also a form of feedback. If you are grateful to your colleague or think they did a great job, give them feedback. It is twice as important. Just be genuine and specific in either case.
- feedback should be solicited, explicitly or not. Make sure that the person that you are talking to is open to your feedback. For example, if someone is highly competitive and views you as their thread, partner with this person and share your values, rather than initiating a more formal feedback conversation.
- feedback should be done directly to the person and in a least formal environment. For tough feedback, consider selecting a venue outside of office. This would make this conversation less confrontational and will help to establish long-lasing relationships. Consider other person's personality type and your prior relationship in selecting the form and the venue for your feedback.
In sum, be mindful and use feedback as a gift and not a weapon!
Most likely, you've heard about an elevator pitch, but have you ever applied this topic to a job promotion or a professional interview?
If you are not familiar with the concept, an elevator pitch is a short (3-5 minute) statement that is designed to accomplish a pre-defined goal (e.g. advocate for a promotion or land a job of your dreams). The concept comes from a hypothetical situation that you are sharing an elevator with a decision maker who can promote you, hire you, or let you go, and you want to use the limited time in the elevator to make a strong statement to this person. If your statement is successful, you will either agree to meet later to continue the conversation, or exchange contact information to set up another conversation to discuss the topic further. Both are favorable outcomes. Alternately, if you are not able to present yourself or your point concisely, it could result in a missed opportunity or even worse, in a damaged opinion about you as an employee.
This results in two seemingly contradicting rules:
1. Never miss on an elevator pitch opportunity.
2. Don't jump on an elevator pitch opportunity until either you or the recipient are ready.
Let's discuss the first statement. An elevator pitch (meaning: dedicated time from your company's executive to hear about your project or idea) does not happen every day. As a result, you may find out from this person's executive assistant when this decision maker is available (goes for lunch to the company cafeteria, walks out of the office to the parking lot. etc.) This does not have to be in the elevator and neither does it have to be specially organized. You wouldn't know to deliver your elevator pitch about your contributions and the fact that you feel you've grown to the next phase in your career if you have not shared it with anyone prior to the engagement.
Now the second one. Under no circumstances stalk your recipient. You want to share but you do not want to impose on the recipient. Wait for a question. Make sure your elevator pitch is short. Make pauses as you go through it. Remember: the goal is not to deliver information, the goal is to build a relationship. Practice active listening techniques as you work more on this topic.
And now, final advice: at any moment of time, you should know your elevator pitch by preparing a strong statement and learning it by heart. Elevator pitch could be about you (e.g. "Hi, I am WIll Evans, I work for Accounts Receivables. Wanted to share with you that last month, we increased AR collection by 26%. The reason is that I came up with the suggestion to call their partnering executive instead of the payments department and walk them over the new regulation which shows that their payments to us are tax deductible. According to my initial estimates, this saved us over $ 3M."
Your elevator pitch can be about yourself, you group, your practices. In each case, please target your story to specific situation (you may want to learn at least a couple, one specific to you as a professional and one about your team and group).
About the Blog
The difference between our career advice site and many others on this topic comes from the fact that it is not written by a career consultant who has limited experience with achieving career growth in a professional environment. This site comes from an industry expert who achieved career progression step by step and learned the lessons that are now generously shared with you.
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