I hear most often, “I want to grow” and “I want to be promoted.” If an employee wants to stay at their current company, I ask, “What are the company’s business goals and what is your role in fulfilling those goals?” Most of the time I am met with silence, then revelation that they were so focused on what they want for themselves, they never thought about what their company needs.
Companies have short- and long-term goals and employees are their greatest asset to achieving those goals. To advance your career, employees need to align their talent and skills to the company’s business needs to achieve its goals. Companies hire, restructure, and promote employees based on business needs – what skills do you have, or skills can you gain, that will help the company grow, and in turn, help you grow?
Here are five ways to advance your career through the lens of your company’s needs.
1. Gain skills the business needs today and in the future. Hard skills make you a subject matter expert; soft skills help you rise. When is the last time you asked your manager where the company is headed and what skills are going to be needed to help the company achieve its goals? Hopefully, your manager can answer your questions, but even if you don’t have a clear understanding of skills needed in the future, you can still advance soft skills you will need for any role. Which soft skills?
Consider the World Economic Forum’s report that says 50% of all employees globally will need reskilling by 2025. The top ten skills needed are categorized under problem solving, self-management, technology use and development and working with people – three out of four categories are about soft skills. When just looking at the problem-solving category, the skills needed are analytical thinking and innovation, complex problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis, creativity, originality and initiative, and reasoning, problem-solving and ideation. Those alone indicate employees need to demonstrate they are thinking through a problem thoroughly – not just how it impacts their team but all the potential stakeholders in the company. Then employees need to show they can analyze all relevant data, develop potential solutions, and propose those solutions to their managers versus asking managers what they should do. This type of strategic and analytical thinking is critical for long term success and career advancement.
Another more personal skill set revolves around self-management which includes resilience, stress tolerance ,and flexibility. These skills are about how you show up every day. Do you show up intense, stressed, complaining about how much work you have to do or talking about how your personal life is impacting why you haven’t achieved your goals? Or do you show up centered, calm, and ready for the day? Being your authentic self is important, but how that authenticity impacts the workplace and others matters. Our personal lives affect our work life and discussing that with your manager is important, so you manager can hopefully be empathetic to your struggles. That said, your personal life can’t be a long-term burden on the business. Being self-aware enough to know you need more self-care or to find ways to manage your stress if it is showing up negatively in the workplace, or to take time away from the office to manage personal matters is just as critical as achieving the actual work.
2. Assess your work through the value it brings to the business. Bringing value to a company means you are doing something that is helping the company grow its business. Value you are bringing today may need to change in a few years. Consider how to increase your value to your company through your work and how you do your work. Do people gravitate to you as a thought leader? Are you someone who is not only a subject matter expert, but can also influence effectively? Think about the value you bring objectively – is your work of great value or can you bring more value if you did your work differently? You don’t need to be in the upper echelons of a company to bring immense value.
3. Show strategic thinking. Worker bees get stuff done. Strategic thinkers rise. When are you working on a project – do you execute or think strategically about how the project or program can bring more value to the organization if done a different way? I remember at one of my jobs, we were in charge of clearing reality show participants to participate in shows. Every day we’d each receive hundreds of emails from multiple people on each TV production about status of diligence on the participants. We decided to automate the clearances and provide visibility through an online portal so a) producers had real-time status which allowed them to move faster and b) we could focus on more strategic work solving the big problems. How can you bring more business, operational or transformational strategic thinking to your work?
4. Master stakeholder alignment and management in everything you do. You know “what” needs to be accomplished in your job. Stakeholder alignment and management is the “how” you accomplish your work. While this is simplifying it a bit: stakeholder alignment is how to get stakeholders on the same page on any project, process, or strategy. Do you tell people what you are doing, or do you share a proposal and ask for feedback? Do you listen if there are differing opinions and ask questions to deeply understand other’s opinions? Or do you dismiss others and continue to “shove” your ideas down your coworkers’ throats? Creating resonant alignment among stakeholders through inquiry will show your ability to influence without authority. And once stakeholders are aligned, how do you subsequently manage your stakeholders through effective communication and change management best practices? Mastering stakeholder alignment and stakeholder management are critical components to achieving long-term success not only of your projects but also in career advancement.
5. Build strength in others. When you work with others and help them accomplish their goals, your efforts will in turn help you accomplish your goals. Do you complain others don’t know what they’re doing or how to do their job? Or do you help them be effective in their job? Our jobs are not insular. We all connect to others and our work is interconnected. No one can work in a silo. This isn’t about just helping those you manage – look out into your company and think about who you can help be more effective. Can you help them with knowledge? Or can you be a connector and connect them to someone else in the company? Helping them think about their work in a different way with new perspectives? Reaching outside your own work and offering to help, align, strategize or even contribute to someone else’s project or work will not only bring value to the company, but also build a relationship and perhaps, help you work faster in your own job.
Advancing in your career is not about you. It’s about the value you bring to the business. If you look outward more than inward, thinking about the business more than yourself, you are sure to rise.