As we approach the middle of the 21st century’s second decade, the career development ladder and associated paradigms have been flipped upside down in many ways. The internet and technology tools have helped expand people’s knowledge and awareness of self-development seminars and career enhancing programs. These are available locally, virtually and sometimes globally. So, how does this impact today’s multi-generation workforce?
Over the next 10-15 years, the Baby Boomer Generation will fully exit the workforce. Generation X employees have assumed and will continue to move into the highest levels of leadership, from the Fortune 1000 to family owned businesses. Millennials are entering the workforce rapidly and will be pushing both generations ahead of them in the years and decades to come.
Millennials: this generation is well known for asking questions and possessing a boldness that prior generations may not have exhibited as early in their career (or as frequently). Personally, I am always impressed with a younger professional when they pose challenging questions and/or offer new insights that more experienced staff or leadership simply may not ever considered. Both Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers can learn from their less experienced counterparts in this regard.
Regardless of whether you are a new college graduate, a mid-careerist or approaching retirement, what should you do in the near term (next 24 months) to improve your career trajectory?
For some, the best way to accelerate your career progression is to complete an unfinished degree or begin an advanced degree. Based on your field of expertise, that could mean a new certification (or renewing one that might have lapsed). Finally, this could be a growth assignment with your firm in a foreign country if you work for a large, multi-national conglomerate.
No matter your situation, I would like to provide a few thoughts about a simple, yet profound acronym to provide clear guidance on how to succeed at a higher rate in Corporate America: E^2 = Excellence and Exposure.
Excellence – most of us strive to exceed the standard requirements in our daily jobs. When the spotlight is brightest and the pressure is really on, the majority of us will surprise ourselves and go above and beyond. However, there are times when we may not receive the accolades we were expecting. Remember, your boss and your company’s leadership assessments matter the most. Be sure to clearly understand expectations and check-in regularly, especially on those extended projects and strategic initiatives. If you do not receive that desired promotion, do you react professionally, ask questions on your shortcomings and do you devise a plan to ensure you win next time?
As the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden remarked in 2009 in his book: “Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success” with regards to time:“I valued it, gave it respect and tried to make each minute a masterpiece.”That is so powerful!With so many distractions to our time (Social Media, Smart Phones, endless obligations), how do we better manage each and every minute of each day?With Coach Wooden’s laser focus on planning and process, you can look back and see how exemplary his results were:10 National Championships in 12 years and winners of 88 straight games.Incredible results without a doubt; but never forget the hard work and sweat equity UCLA’s teams had during those dynasty years.
Exposure – “it’s all in who you know.” True in many ways. The critical piece in my opinion is the inverse of this saying: “it’s all in who knows you.” Building relationships with leaders in your industry and in your respective companies is absolutely vital. Organizations are successful when they provide opportunities for their key talent, (as well as their high potentials) to grow, develop and learn new skills and expand existing abilities. Do not wait for that next training class or trade show offering Continuing Education Credits. Raise your hand and go for it!
I heard this story recently. Someone was attending a large meeting (around 100 people) and the facilitator asked for someone to join him up front as a role player. The crowd hesitated; finally, my friend raised her hand and moved quickly to the front of the crowd. After the meeting adjourned, her future boss pulled her aside and discussed a career opportunity. Just a few weeks later, my friend started her new job with this employer. As the mission of the Star Trek Enterprise stated so eloquently: “To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before.”
Be bold and courageous in business; you never know what good thing may come your way!
Allow me to offer some guiding principles we share with candidates that work with our firm, whether in Executive Search or Outplacement. “Put yourself in a position to succeed.” In the context of career development, here are four items to keep in mind.
- Develop a plan in concert with your own goals and aspirations, along with the input and guidance of your immediate manager and his/her manager. Do not forget to include your spouse in these discussions!
- Every quarter, take a look at your plan. Some would argue this is too often. Do what works best for you. Many factors here to consider. As a major proponent of self-awareness and evaluation, I would recommend more frequently as opposed to less often.
- Be active in your industry and local community. Network with others that speak your language. Take a leadership role in a non-profit (as a volunteer or a board member). Enhance your skills, both in the workplace and during your off-duty time.
- Be deliberate and intentional with mentors (at your company and outside). Be humble and ask others for ideas, guidance and feedback. Again, frequency counts; annual reviews are fantastic but should be a formality because of the regular communication and dialogue you have with your managers.Combining Excellence and Exposure will make a positive impact. Making extraordinary daily effort in all that you do will pay off, either with your current or future employer. Put in the time, network internally and externally, challenge yourself and be ready for a new opportunity. A strategic career development plan, executed with precision, will lead to career acceleration. Good luck to you!