This is your first day with your new employer. The new employee orientation went well but you were surprised that the company did not have a buddy system in place. You share your surprise with the HR department. It would have been nice, you note, if they had assigned a buddy to show you the ropes during your initial weeks.
After a couple of days at the office, you ask your manager when you will be trained on the department’s policies and procedures. You are shocked when you are told that no such training is available and that you should learn as you go.
Not too long after, you inquire about tuition reimbursement since you intend to take a job-related course. You are aghast when you are informed that eligibility kicks off only after 12 months of employment. You decide not to take the course and share your frustration with your co-workers.
Sometime later, you apply for an open vacancy through the company’s internal mobility program. However, you don’t make it through the initial screening and receive a polite note thanking you for your interest. “How can it be?” you think, “Not even an interview?”
You are not a happy camper. After all, what’s wrong with this company? No buddy system? No on-the-job training? Tuition reimbursement only after one year? No invitation for an interview? How can you possibly succeed in this company if they are unwilling to give you the tools you need to grow?
By the time the employee engagement survey arrives you are ready to sharpen your imaginary pencil and “let them have it”.
Let’s pause for a moment. What is wrong with this picture? It is symptomatic of individuals who predicate their professional growth far too heavily on others, or circumstances, or chance, but not themselves.
PLEASE STOP IT.
This is the wrong approach. Your individual effort is far more influential on your career growth prospects than all the others combined. The alternative approaches won’t take you far enough. If you want to change the dynamics, here are a few items to help you along the way.
There are three elements of competence which are of enormous interest to your employer.
Problem-Solving. Your ability to identify workable solutions to the challenges – immediate to long-term – your company faces on its path to profitable and sustainable growth.
Innovation. Your ability to optimize, to make the “current thing” a “better thing”. Michael Eisner, former Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, put it simply, “There’s no good idea that cannot be improved on.”
Integration. Your ability to “connect the dots”. Companies are complex entities and one of the most formidable challenges they face on a daily basis is what I call “disjointedness”, that is, the risk of managing critical business processes in an unintegrated fashion. Your value as an employee will grow significantly to the extent that you are able to resolve problems, bring new ideas, and compellingly articulate how they fit into the company’s overall business strategy.
It’s ok to say “I don’t know”. It’s better to admit what you don’t know than to offer vague answers. Don’t insult people’s intelligence. Instead, inquire, research and get back to them.
Deliver what your promise. Simply put, this means that you do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it.
Be honest. Being honest implies a conscious decision not to lie, steal or deceive under any circumstances. Honesty builds strength of character which leads to trustworthiness. The great German philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller said it well, “Honesty prospers in every condition of life.”
Take responsibility for your actions. If you make a mistake, don’t point fingers at bad circumstances or other people. Instead, own it, correct it, and turn the page. “The buck stops here” is a good motto to live by.
Your digital footprint. The internet provides a fabulous platform to maximize human connections.
- Search, select, and be actively engaged with individuals, groups, and organizations that are closely aligned with your career aspirations
- Regularly post articles (your own or shared) which are relevant to your audience
- Search for professionals whose careers mirror your goals and establish a connection. LinkedIn has a helpful article on this – “4 Tips for Reaching Out to Someone You Admire on LinkedIn”
- Word of caution – be careful who you associate yourself with and what you write in cyberspace. Remember, everything is searchable and your choices have consequences.
Volunteering. Define a smart community outreach strategy. Reach out to organizations dedicated to causes you care about. Talk to them to understand their critical needs and propose a project where you can deploy your top skills to help address that need. Invite others to join you, deliver, and share the outcome.
- Seek feedback from your manager, peers, subordinates and others who can help you validate your strengths and identify blind spots
- Reach out to decision-makers and opinion-leaders in your organization. Carve out a moment to talk to them about their career paths and experience with the company
- Ask for an opportunity to join special projects or assignments
- Send out a congratulatory note to newly promoted employees and seek an opportunity to meet them
Mentoring. Select professionals whose career paths converge with your professional goals and invite them to be your mentor. I would advise you to seek both an internal and external mentor. Check HBR’s article “What Mentors Wish Their Mentees Knew” for helpful insights.
Companies are not motionless entities. They operate in fast-paced and highly evolving environments, where change is a constant. Things such as market expansion or retraction, restructures, acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, alliances, strategic realignments, new investments or divestitures are quite frequent and are primarily dictated by changing customer needs. Your ability to adapt to constant change will be of great importance to your career prospects.
Upgrade your skills. Focus on the continuous development of your education. Keep your knowledge & skills fresh and updated.
Embrace the unknown. Companies benefit from employees who are open to new ideas and show the flexibility and quickness of mind to switch gears and tackle unexpected problems, new demands or unforeseen outcomes.
Be open to new opportunities. Organizational changes may bring with it additional responsibilities to your current role or a new role altogether. Being open to new opportunities will add to your knowledge & experience portfolio and thus increase your marketability.
What do the principles of Competence, Credibility, Connections, and Change have in common? They are predicated on self-direction. Your own contribution to your career growth is far greater than otherwise imagined. In fact, your ability to reach your career goals will goal as far as your determination will take you.
Remember the words of Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Fred Machado is the founder and CEO of ExcelTrek.