Take a faster route to the next promotion
IF YOU HAVE done everything possible to perform well in your current job, the next step will inevitably be to aim for recognition and advancement.
But do not get complacent or assume too much. People who excel at what they do are sometimes the last to get promoted. It is the 'too good to lose' syndrome. Managers often loathe to promote or to part with their star players for fear of losing their skills and experience.
The key to overcoming this obstacle is to develop qualities that allow you to add even greater value to the organisation than in the present job. This requires a shift in focus.
To reach your present position, you have probably concentrated on acquiring the technical skills or market knowledge needed to do well in the chosen field. To show you are ready for new challenges, the next goal should be to develop managerial competence.
If this seems a bit premature, remember that some career coaches advise working towards 'the next but one job'. By planning ahead in this way, you will be better prepared for any promotion opportunity that comes up and will not have such a steep learning curve in the new job.
For example, if you are a marketing executive, you should already be observing and learning the supervisory skills and technical knowledge needed to run a team. But do not stop there - take a long-term view and study what the department managers are doing in terms of budgeting, performance appraisals and creating business plans.
Start by developing a clear idea of the skills and competencies needed at different levels of management in your company. You can always discuss this with colleagues or superiors to get a better understanding of who does what. In addition to defining the basic responsibilities and skills needed, consider the day-to-day challenges. This will help you to identify the intangible qualities which enable people to do well in defined roles.
When it comes to learning certain competencies such as influencing or managing relationships, the best teachers are often those around you who have the relevant experience. To take advantage of this, seize any opportunity to get involved in different assignments and thereby gain exposure. In particular, look out for mentoring and the chance to work on projects with other senior staff.
A few standard skills such as budgeting or time management can be picked up from books or the internet but it pays to explore in-house training courses as your first option. Since managers may be less than supportive or unaware of everything on offer, be ready to discuss your requirements and career aspirations with the human resources department.
Also keep asking peers and managers for advice and feedback. You can make progress only by assessing your performance and by finding ways to improve. For example, you may think your sales skills are second to none. However, a colleague could point out that as big contracts are often won through tenders, you need to develop a completely different negotiating skill.
To boost your chances of promotion, also consider acquiring more qualifications. Employers see this as a sign of commitment, drive and potential for development. An MBA or law degree gives individuals high-level business and legal skills, which will always stand them in good stead.
Even so, it is important to realise that promotion often depends on how you present yourself as much as on your skills, knowledge and ability. Therefore, you will need to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Nothing impresses a manager more than a positive, can-do attitude. Importantly, remember to play the role, something which comes naturally from watching the style of people at the top.
Bear in mind that if senior managers know you by name, they will be more interested in your progress. Therefore, take every opportunity to talk to managers in other departments. Let them know what you do and, if possible, what you would like to do. Next time they are looking for someone with potential, they may think of you first.
Finally, do not forget the importance of common sense. For a manager, there is nothing worse than promoting someone who appears to have all the necessary skills and knowledge, only to find that these are not put to practical use. Similarly, ambitious young executives can easily dig a grave for themselves by not realising that some senior colleagues really have seen it all before. In any business, experience counts for a great deal.
So go out and grab every opportunity to learn. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Only after being tested in real-life situations will you understand what works and be equipped to make the pragmatic judgments expected of a manager.
Article sponsored by Gemini Personnel, the trusted name in personnel
Top managerial competencies
Requirements vary between individual businesses but managers should have the following qualities. So when aiming for promotion, look to develop the following skills and traits:
Judgment, decision-making and problem solving
Apply accurate numerical and qualitative analysis to define the root causes of problems and reach clear decisions. Seek and consider alternative options and evaluate costs and benefits before making a decision.
Driving business vision
Look beyond the immediate needs of your job. Understand the bigger picture and create plans which contribute to the overall business strategy. Be familiar with broad business issues including finance, branding, customer service and operations. Help your team to understand these factors.
Business planning and execution
Set clear goals which are designed to meet broad business plans. Define the action to take, anticipate potential obstacles and evaluate progress. Develop time-management skills.
Take time to build rapport and trust, and consult others to gain co-operation. Use positive body language and listen carefully to others, adjusting your approach to meet the needs of all parties.
Learn how to recruit staff using objective measures. Apply formalised methods to appraise and manage staff performance and coach others to improve. Offer support and resources for development. Identify and encourage skilled staff.
Influencing and negotiating
Develop professional presentation skills. Present clear arguments supported by specific reasoning. Explore the views of others to identify objections. Build on ideas to obtain commitment.
Define clear financial and other goals through accurate budgeting and business planning. Set the direction and establish standards, then inspire your team to exceed expectations by communicating the personal and business benefits of success. Monitor business performance and take urgent remedial action if performance falls below expectations.
Understand the importance of the customer, internal or external, to the success of your business. Seek to understand customer needs through proactive research or consultation and develop plans that match these. Look for ways to exceed customer expectations consistently.