I get asked often by frustrated, hard-working, high achieving business people what they are doing wrong that they haven’t achieved the success that they feel should be theirs. They desire to move up the corporate ladder but seem to have moved up as far as they can go. Maybe they are stereotyped as a “finance guy” or “salesperson” or the “ops type”. Nothing wrong with any of these but getting to the top requires knowledge & experience in many facets of the organization.
Often times, I think it has to do with many people’s tendency to stay in their comfort zone. We all get pigeon holed to a certain extent and when we excel in one area, we are less likely to branch out and take a risk on something that we could fail at. Our co-workers and managers may see us as the “go-to” for one area but may not see our potential in other areas.
The key to success (in all areas of life I think) is to constantly grow, take on new challenges and expand not only our abilities, but also how people see us.
So what to do? Hang your ass over the edge. Just a bit. Or a lot. For my own and my employee’s personal growth, I always encourage half the ass on and half the ass off. Meaning; stay half way in your comfort zone – an area that you are confident you can be successful, but the other half needs to be hanging out there.
Here are some ideas:
1) Special Project: The easiest way to get out there is to volunteer to work on a project that isn’t in your particular area.
- An example could be a financial analyst or accountant that volunteers to collect market data for a new product offering. As an analyst, you likely have the fundamental skills of collecting and analyzing data, but chances are you haven’t looked at data this way and peers likely don’t envision you beyond your number crunching self. To be successful, you’ll need to be a bit vulnerable and humble and realize that you don’t know everything (it would be like an engineer doing a business case!). Do your research (Google baby!) and ask for advice or mentoring from someone that does have this experience. This method shows a great deal of respect for the individual you seek out, it creates new business (and sometimes personal) relationships that will be fruitful for your future success and you get to see a part of the business through someone else’s eyes.
- Maybe you are a consumer or retail sales manager that wants to take a shot at the business side of things. Discuss your desire to dip your toe in that end of the pool with your boss or peers that are in the business sales world. Find a project you can team up with someone already successful in this area.
- An operations guy that thinks he could have a future in management. Volunteer to be on a tiger team or process improvement team. This provides great cross-pollination with other parts of the company. Don’t be afraid to voice your interest to your peers or bosses.
2) Job Sharing or Cross Training: Some companies have implemented programs where they will let shining stars take a hiatus from their current position and jump across and work in a different area for 3-6 months. This provides a dive in, learn & try a new career path but still provides the security to go back to your old position after the agreed upon time. If you don’t have some of the basic skills to move across the aisle to another job, think about taking some basic courses or training. If your company doesn’t have something like this, suggest it to your boss. (Hint: don’t just throw the idea out there, if you are serious, do your research on the benefits of similar programs and identify a few places in your company that you can see would make sense, do a presentation and volunteer to be the guinea pig. Managers love
3) Create cross departmental relationships: Let’s face it, relationships are key. Establish yourself as an expert and go-to person in your area of expertise. Be friendly, professional and helpful and try to see a problem from the other guy’s perspective. When I was an analyst, way back when, what really set me apart was that I didn’t come at the business case like I was the police. So many others really felt like the marketing folks were a bunch of idiots and it was their personal job to shoot down any dumb idea they came up with. I took a different tact. First of all, if it really wasn’t a great idea, I needed to have the integrity with the Marketing folks that they would actually believe me. (It does no good to be right if no one listens to you – I’m not a big fan of “I told you so”). I would make sure I understood the market, the product and what they were trying to accomplish, then I’d take an objective approach to the business case. I would always do a write up to document my assumptions and my conclusions (and I’d never use the word dumb!). When the idea wasn’t great, I’d work with the product/marketing/sales/operations team to find a solution. I quickly became the go to person and it wasn’t long before I had plenty of opportunities to work on special projects and prove I could do more than just crunch numbers. Eventually I was running the marketing department.
There are many other ways that you can stretch yourself. Regardless of your path, be bold, take risk and hang your ass over the edge!