10 tips to turbocharge your career progression without doing an MBA
Have you often wondered how some people seem to progress quite quickly through organisations and you want to know what they are doing that you are not? Having spent more than a decade working with Global 500 organisations in Talent Assessment and Leadership Development roles both internally and externally, these are some of the conclusions I made as to what you can do to fast-track your career without studying for an MBA:
1. Demonstrate that you have mastered fully your current role and have energy, enthusiasm and commitment to take on more. If you are running at 110% capacity and it shows, you will be almost certainly be overlooked for promotion, which leads on to tip 2…
2. Learn to delegate effectively and as you do so you will be grooming a potential successor to yourself. Some organisations have an explicit rule that you have to bring on someone from your team before you can move up. Leaders develop leaders and when you get to a top management role, you will be doing more of this, so it is never too soon to start. If you have a reputation for developing effective skills, talent will be drawn to you so you are creating a virtuous circle and a long term internal network.
3. Try and get experience outside your functional expertise early in your career, it opens up possibilities later on. So many people I have interviewed stayed in the safety of their function to get to become Head of it and then hit a promotional ceiling. A Sales role can be quite accessible for many other disciplines and is invaluable for appreciating how a business grows with and through its customers/clients. Go for a stretching move rather than an impossible one that requires technical knowledge you may not possess.
4. Understand the financials if you are outside this discipline. How to make a convincing business case for what you want to do strategically is critical to winning over senior management. And when you finally get to a C-suite role you may be doing this for external investors and analysts. Numbers are your friend if you work with them but will always catch you out if you have not done your homework. Build relationships with your in-house finance people, they want your organisation to succeed as you do and there can be mutual benefits in getting their perspective earlier rather than later. Too many projects get shot down because the numbers are either unattractive or unrealistic.
5. Find yourself a mentor, informally if you can, someone who has more and different experiences and will see things through a different set of lenses. They may be able to help you with alternative approaches and improve the quality of your thinking. A really honest one will help to make the best choices for you, especially if you ever get to the point of considering whether you need to move out to move on.
6. Take calculated risks and try not to play too safe all the time. Doing something different that is a visible success will get you noticed, and if it fails, learn from it quickly. Learning from failure becomes more expensive in every sense, the more senior you are.
7. Keep your digital knowledge sharp, it may not be necessary to know all the detail but it is vital to know what the trends are and how they affect your organisation. Digital channels have transformed many organisations and will continue to do so.
8. Build relationships outside your organisation, the really successful people I have evaluated always had good contacts in competitor organisations, they knew what they were doing and what impact that had on their business. Competitor information is invaluable if you are in an external facing role. You have to be able to articulate your competitive differentiators.
9. Seize on any international assignment opportunities especially earlier in your career; living and working abroad and ideally learning a new language, enriches you not only professionally but personally as well.
Really understanding and succeeding in a different culture means that you have grown immeasurably. You learn that the levers to make things happen are different from your home culture and if you are successful in new contexts, you become permanently more flexible and adaptable in your mind-set and approach to challenges.
10. Think about the future as well as present - What are the skills and management experience you need for your next move and how do you acquire them? Whatever worked for you up to this moment might even be harmful in a different role. Two of the most difficult career moves to make are from first line management to managing managers, and from managing a function to managing an integrated business unit. For both, a different style is needed as you let go of what you did previously and learn new behaviours to meet the new demands. This is not easy but absolutely essential to make it work both for you and those you are responsible for, ambition has to be tempered with humility.