So, you are early in your career and you are trying to meet all of the expectations of your employer, trying to develop that “balance between work and life”, and are trying to figure out what next. This is a big juggling act. You finally feel confident enough in your current position to make contributions and are starting to gain that much needed credibility. Yet, you have that nagging question – am I doing the right things?
How you answer that question depends on a number of different criteria:
- Your personal definition of success
- Your vision of your future
- The organization’s culture
- The organization’s values
If you are like most young professionals, you may not have a clear picture of your definition of success or a vision of your future. But, by now you may have a clear picture of the jobs or positions you don’t want. For example: you may be in product development but you hate to do the marketing studies – may be your skill set is analyzing the data from the marketing studies and putting together a strategy to meet the needs identified. Or, you may be in the finance department and find that you thoroughly enjoy the budgeting process complete with sales projections and supply sensitivities, but absolutely don’t like trying to figure out cost centers and internal book keeping.
Generally, when people think about their careers and where they want to go – it is easier for them to say what they don’t want to do. Maybe CEO is not where you want to be with all of the issues surrounding liability, time at work, meetings, stock holder presentations, etc. Or, maybe you know that you want to have a more conventional day position that allows you time off for the other things that you enjoy. By knowing what you don’t like, you begin to form a picture of what you do want. So, the first two criteria are really in your own court and you need to take some time to analyze these aspects.
The other two criteria are dependent upon your work environment – how does your employer measure success and what does your employer look for in its employees? As human beings, we are designed to pick up on cultural clues. Think about it – why did they used to call IBM Big Blue? Or, have you ever looked at the professional “uniform”? Take a look around your place of work and you can probably tell what department a person works in just by the clothes that they are wearing. It is part of the culture.
Culture is also communicated through the review process. Here you are supposed to have a discussion with your superior about how your performance has been during the past review period and what improvements you might be able to make in the future. This is key to the skills that you are going to have to develop as your employer has value for these. But, these are not the only skills that you have to have. You know this because even if you meet all the expectations put down during the review process – there is something that is rewarded and valued that is the difference between you and your peers. These are the things that your Boss never tells you or your Boss may even discourage you from doing. Here are some key items:
Networking – both inside and outside your company. Some individuals think that this is a waste of your time or an example of inefficiency. Yet, networking provides you with the contacts that help you get things done. Networking supports innovation, helps to promote communication, and may ultimately be your parachute if something goes wrong such as a buy out, or lay off. Your network is important to building your skills and reputation. Use your professional societies and community organizations to build your professional network. Ironically, what is initially seen as a waste of time may become a rewarded asset.
Participating in professional or community organizations. Some organizations this is highly encouraged, but in others you may get the question – “Why are you spending time on that, how is it going to benefit the organization?” Here are the benefits even if the organization has nothing to do with your company’s business. One – you can learn a number of different leadership skills in a safe environment. If the project doesn’t quite work out within the community organization, say that fund raiser only raised half of what you expected, what are the consequences? You get out and try something different. Two – you get to interact with people, thus learning a number of different communication styles. Individuals in companies tend to start having “like me syndrome”, they talk the same, they think the same, and they approach problems in the same manner. You need to have a bit of spice, a different view point, a different way of thinking, and different perspectives to reach good solutions. And finally, working with in your professional or community organizations you improve your network and credibility.
Helping and mentoring others. Everyone has something that they can do well. You might be a whiz at creating spreadsheets or presentations. You may know the short cuts on the phone system. Or, you may have just the right reference at your finger tips to save a colleague hours and hours of searching. Sharing these skills are essential to building team. By sharing where you can, you are developing intangible skills that are also resulting in tangible results for the organization. You help to promote efficiency and you are building credibility along the way. Again your Boss may view it as inefficiency in the short run or a slight delay in getting your work accomplished. But, down the road you will find that you have built a solid foundation for your future projects without being aware of it at the time.
These three activities aren’t measured. They aren’t documented on a review or goal sheet. But, without them you will not achieve your vision of where you want to be nor will you have a safety net in the event that something bad occurs.