I was talking to one of my team members yesterday about the company’s service awards. Usually I don’t go in for service awards much, you know being recognised and maybe rewarded for staying a long time. I kinda think you should be rewarded for what you achieve and what you contribute. But on Saturday night I was lucky enough to attend the company’s annual dinner and at the dinner people were presented with service awards. 5 years, 10 years and so one, until we got to an employee with 35 years. Can you imagine?
It was really special. But is it brave? Did he achieve all he wanted to in his career? Maybe he did. He started with the company in an era where you had a job for life and maybe that was enough. I have always worked for businesses with people with long tenure. My first HR job had people on the management team who had worked for the company longer than I had been alive. That was a bit sobering.
Usually I have changed jobs because there was nowhere for me to progress. I felt I needed to leave to get bigger and different experience and to grow my career. At times it’s been tough. Starting new roles can be hard and you have to have courage. Overall, it’s been a good strategy. As I moved between roles I can explain what I was looking to learn and what I actually learnt. Sometimes these were the same and sometimes there were unexpected but different learning.
To progress I think you have to be brave. You have to put yourself out there. You have to do things that are uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone. These are some things you could try:
1. Speak up
Say the things youare thinking but aren’t brave enough to normally say. I don’t mean thing like “Geeze you’re a dickhead, that will never work!” or “This meeting is so boring I would rather be stabbing myself in the eye!”
I mean things like speaking up in meetings when your contribution is expected and needed. I mean speaking up when things are not right. I mean taking the opportunity to take the lead on something.
There have been times when I didn't speak up. I usually regretted these. A lot. And there haven't been many times when I did speak up that I didn't regret. By speaking up it moved a situation forward or helped a group of employees or made something better.
2. If it’s not working, leave.
I have had some experience lately doing some recruitment. It’s been a sobering experience in that many of the people I have interviewed have left jobs because they didn’t like it or it wasn’t what they were expecting, without another job to go to. Coming from Australia this is pretty confronting. Most people do not do this even if they want to. There are bills to pay and it's not in our psyche.
Some of the reasons for leaving I have been given have been, well…pathetic. But there is something in leaving a job you are not happy with (if you can afford it) so you have time to find one you are. I’m not suggesting you quit your job because someone looked sideways at you but if the job is not going the way you want it to, and you are not learning the things that help you progress maybe you should start looking around.
I’m not talking about soul destroying stuff here. If you are experience this you should definitely leave.
3. Keep your own development up
My whole blog is based on the premise that organisations won’t develop you. Well maybe some will but on the whole you need to make sure you are developing yourself. I have been lucky to have a couple of people in my working life who have challenged me and given me feedback. Things like “Lisa, how are you going to get the men on the leadership team (who have been in the business longer than you have been alive) to trust and respect you?" That was my first corporate HR role and that question stumped me for days!
I don’t tend to do too much development activities in my HR space anymore. Mainly because a lot of what’s on offer is crap and because my success is not determined anymore by my HR knowledge. It’s determined by my ability to build strong working relationships and trust, by my ability to get the right information for the right situation and make good recommendations, and to support and develop leaders.
But I still make sure I do personal development. I attend conferences or events to stretch my thinking and I continue to learn/take part in creative pursuits like photography and travel. I feel like I do better in my job when I’m well rounded.
4. Apply for that internal role
Even if you don’t think you will get it. This probably sounds like stupid advice but if the role is in your line of work and it’s something you want to do in the future you will get visibility if you apply. If your organisation and HR department are reasonable you might get put through the process so you get experience and exposure and if you don’t get the job hopefully you will get some feedback on what you need to develop and maybe how to develop. You will have also raised your profile and shown people you are interested in progressing.
This won’t work if you are working in a call centre and want to be the next CEO (that’s too big of a jump) but if you are on the phones and the next role in the hierarchy is a team leader, then that makes sense!
5. Build your internal network
While organisations have structured succession plans and talent review you can’t underestimate how your internal networks will work for you and your career. One company I worked for, in my view, provided great career opportunities for people but the employee survey said otherwise. The results showed that people thought there was a lack of career opportunities. I worked on a career project at that company which aimed at helping people understand their career preferences and so on. Now that I look back, I think for most people it was hard to navigate the organisation (it had around 4,000 employees at the time) and people didn’t know how to network and get the support and sponsorship to get that next role. Instead some would leave as that seemed easier.
How do you do this? It’s similar to external networking but in some ways easier. You have access to informal relationships, databases with all the employees (usually through the email system), organisational charts (to identify people you might want to connect with) and a human resources team who could potentially connect you to the right people). Use it! Ask people for meetings, take them for a coffee, explain what you are looking for and listen to advice. Be brave. What do you have to lose?
6. Build your external network
So I wrote a whole post about this. External networks are really important not just for connecting for next career steps but for keeping in touch with what is happening in the market and for having people who can give advice and help outside your organisation.
Building your external network is not about going for crappy drinks and exchanging business cards. It's about developing meaningful and lasting connections.
7. Know where you want to be BUT do a great job in the now
I worked with a great leader in one of my recent jobs. He had an engaging style and energy and wanted to progress badly. He was well liked and impressed more senior managers when they met him. BUT he hadn’t delivered anything. And it could be justified that the constantly changing environment meant it was very hard to deliver. BUT we know that really good leaders still manage to navigate even the toughest environments and still deliver.
So what happened? He bailed me up after a business dinner because he wanted to talk about his development. He wanted to know how he could become the next head of business. Feeling a bit weary of his exuberant ambition and probably because we were both a few red wines into the evening, my advice was very simple. Just do your job and do it really well. And I was able to give examples of how others in the business had done this. Put their heads down and worked hard, and the promotions had come to them. Their hard work and achievements couldn’t be ignored!
What has worked for you? When did you take a change and be brave? How did it work out?