Career Acceleration – move up, not out!

by Elizabeth Bailey, Executive Career Lead for EMBA London and Global

Progressing in your career doesn’t always mean you need to leave. You may have a greater contribution to make within your current organization and still feel as though you are learning. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your work and effort will speak for itself. Don’t wait for your manager, the HR team or your organisation to notice you. Be as strategic internally as you are for external career moves.

It takes time and you will need a combination of sought-after skills, knowledge and experience, a good reputation and strong relationships with key influencers, and a deep understanding of the key drivers for success in your business.

Writing in his blog, Blaz Kos offers a blueprint for making yourself a sought after commodity by developing a #hashtag shaped skillset. The #hashtag has 4 lines: 2 horizontal and 2 vertical. According to him, the first horizontal line is general knowledge. It is useful that your general knowledge and experience is good, but, in an internet age, anybody can look anything up, so to avoid being easily replaced, you need a deep specialist knowledge that few have. If however, you only have that specialist knowledge or skill it may pigeon-hole you, limiting how others see you and thus limit your career options.

So the starting point is a T-shape. But beyond your deep specialism and your ability to apply it in a range of contexts, there is another horizontal line: your soft skills. Nobody wants to work with a poor communicator or a non-collaborative personality, so add this layer of skill to your shape, resulting in an ‘I’.

Finally, for good measure, and to make you truly indispensable, add another vertical specialism. The result is a 4 bar #hashtag and a killer combination.

On your way to developing your #hashtag-shaped self you need to be working on your relationships, taking care to be remembered for the right reasons, leaving a legacy that is valued long-term, and becoming known as a person that people want to work with. How high is your profile in your organisation? And do people with influence know who you are?

What would your boss’s boss say about your skills, experience and potential? What would other senior people in your organisation say? If your answers to these questions are a) I have no idea, or b) none of them really know me, then set yourself an action right now to rectify the situation. You may be a legend in your own lunchroom, but when decision-makers are planning to fill their next roles, if they don’t know who you are you won’t spring to mind.

To raise your profile and currency within the organisation volunteer for valued projects that enable you to learn new skills and work across internal boundaries. Join groups that will bring you to the attention of others, but ensure that what you are doing is valued. Being the Sports and Social Club rep may develop your reputation as a great organiser and increase your popularity and profile, but if it takes time away from your day job, it could cause you problems.

The final part of the jigsaw, but perhaps the most important one, is understanding your organisational culture and politics – how things are done around here. Look around you. Look above. Who gets promoted? What qualities and experiences do they have that demonstrate to you what is valued by the organisation? What career paths have they followed? If you can, try and speak to some of the people you admire or who have similar profiles to you for advice and information. Also seek honest feedback regularly on your own performance and the perceptions of others on your behaviours and contributions. This will not only improve your performance, but will mark you out as someone who is keen to learn and develop. Learning agility has been shown to be a core signifier of high potential (see the Korn Ferry Institute’s article ‘Global Talent Management: Using Learning Agility to Identify High Potentials Around The World).

Become familiar with the processes for advancement. There may be formal, documented routes for promotion, but in many organisations, the informal methods are more effective. You will still have to go through the full recruitment process, but if key influencers in the process are advocating for you, you will have a greater chance of success.

So the keys to accelerating your career internally are: ensure you have the right knowledge and skillset by knowing where the gaps and needs are in your organisation; nurture relationships strategically across internal boundaries; and be clear on ‘how things are done around here’ both formally and informally.


Image: Dylan Nolte

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