Understand Where You Are and How You Got There, if You Want to Leverage it for Where You Want to Go
Recently as I was travelling in the Midwest, I met a young woman, let’s call her Helen. After I had given a speech on 5 of the Pearls in Expect To Win, she said to me,” I recently got promoted to Vice President and I have no idea why. I didn’t ask for it, I wasn’t openly vying for it and I certainly wasn’t politicking for it. I have no clue why it happened. I just come to work every day, put my head down, and do my job and this happened. I guess I should just keep doing the same thing and the next promotion will happen right?”
My response to Helen? “Helen, you have been extraordinarily blessed in that you had a sponsor who noticed your work and spent capital on you behind closed doors when promotion decisions were being made. The most important thing that you can do now is to identify who that might have been and have the following conversation with him or her: “ I really appreciate your support in my recent promotion. I have been working diligently and trying my best to do an outstanding job for our organization and it is really gratifying to be recognized in this way for my contribution. I would really like to understand however, what were the 2 or 3 things that stood out for you about my performance that made you confident in supporting my candidacy?”
This dialogue will open up a conversation that will allow you to understand what is valued about your performance in the organization, so that you can continue to build upon that. Your next endeavor should be to understand what kinds of challenges that your sponsor would be interested in seeing you prosecute or what skills you need to acquire in order to make it to the next level in the organization. There may be times in your career when you can have great things like this happen for you, but generally you have to be present in your career and manage it carefully if you want to maximize your success. You cannot leave promotions, raises, new opportunities to chance, nor can you expect that just “keeping your head down and doing your work” will get you noticed for more senior positions, particularly as you get more and more senior in the organization and competition is more robust and the key success factors in the decision making exceed the meritocratic factors of hard work and stellar execution. You should always be able to identify what value you believe you bring to your organization and more importantly, what your organization values about you and your skill set. The value that you bring is part of your currency in the organization and it can be spent to move to other positions, to acquire greater responsibility, and to get to the next promotion. If you cannot articulate in 3 sentences or less why you are valuable to your organization, I will challenge you this week to put together those 3 sentences of what you bring to the organization. It will serve you well when you have an unexpected conversation with a senior person in your organization who is trying to get to know you, or when you are presenting your case for your next opportunity.