In part one of this series, we talked about whether you are ready for a promotion or not. As part of understanding if you are ready for the next step, you have to assess your current role and the responsibilities for which you are accountable, and take steps to move toward the future you.
What’s Your Role?
When you look at your job title and description it’s easy enough to say “that’s my role,” or not. However, the job description is a standard set of responsibilities by which to rate people in the same role. In other words, it’s mostly for HR purposes. So, do you know your role? Seems like a silly question, but understanding any differences between what HR has on file and what you actually do is an important step to growth. And not just for you. If your role is “graphic designer” and you are spending a majority of your time on HTML and CSS, then you may need to talk to your manager or HR about what makes you different from your peers who are laying out catalog spreads. This distinction will help your organization fill gaps and hire people for positions that make the most sense. If someone is hired to be a graphic designer but spends their days doing front-end development, the turnover rate has the potential to rise. But, the pitfalls for organizations that do not have role clarity is a topic for another time. We’re here to focus on your career.
Taking a look at what is currently expected of you will help identify next steps. Are you happy with the work you are doing? Hopefully you want to learn more or do more, but are you happy with how you spend your time at work for the most part? If so, then you are on a good path to continue climbing the proverbial ladder. In other words, keep doing what you are doing while finding ways to do it more, better, faster. Look for opportunities to lead projects, mentor others or take on side projects that help build your portfolio. If you don’t see opportunities for any of these things, then ask. Ask your manager. Ask the head of your department. Make friends with someone in another department and ask if they could use your services. While it is really just as easy as asking, the answer isn’t always black-or-white. Your manager has to delicately balance adding more responsibility to your plate while making sure the rest of your work gets done and done well. If you reach out to the head of your department or someone outside of your department to offer creative services, know that this can be seen as going behind your manager’s back or stepping outside the bounds of your role, which may not go over well with some managers. My advice is to be open about your plans. If your goal is growth and it is done for the good of the company, your manager should be able to help you move forward. If not, then understand why. It is up to you to take any chance you can get to learn and grow, and it is important to make sure your manager is on board. He or she will ultimately be the person helping you get to where you want to go.
If you are not happy with what you are tasked with each day, then what is it that makes you unhappy? Are you looking for a new challenge in the job? Do you have the skillset to take on what could potentially make you happier? Or, are you looking for a new challenge that involves learning new skills? There is a lot to unpack in these questions that only you can really answer and understand. With that said, you should be able to work with your manager to see what can be done and how to move forward. This is not always an easy conversation, and depending on your manager, the results may vary. The onus is on you to come prepared with potential solutions.
Go Responsibility Hunting
Richard Branson said it best: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” One way to offer up solutions to move your role and career forward is to look at other jobs. I have personally asked direct reports to go look at what is out there, not because I wanted them to leave, but because it would help their development. While the reception of such a request is mixed, the purpose is to dissect what other companies may offer that our organization—or their current role—does not. I trust the organization is offering enough pay/benefits for this person to stay and I am confident enough in my management style and the relationship to ask someone to look at other jobs. If either of these two items are a problem, that person is probably already looking for a way out.
So, what can come from looking at other jobs? For starters, you will find descriptions that highlight what you want to be doing. I have had a designer talk about wanting to move towards UX. While it wasn’t a part of their current role, we took steps to work UX-like responsibilities in to their routine. It first started with just reaching out to our UX partners from another team. Building these relationships were now a part of this designer’s goals. Then, we started doing impromptu user research and held stakeholder interviews to gather data about what we were working on. This may not seem like a big deal, but understand that was not an expectation. At no time in the past did we have anyone doing this research. Now, if this designer wanted to take the next step and apply for a UX position, she has the experience to add to her resumé and relevant topics to discuss in interviews. These new responsibilities, however, helped pave the way to a more UX-focused role, and ultimately benefited the team tremendously.
To really move your role and career forward, you have to be prepared to answer the following questions. Some organizations build this into an IDP, or Individual Development Plan. If your organization has one, I suggest filling it out.
- What is your 12-month plan?
This question is meant to get you thinking about where you see yourself. It is usually a mix between both you and your current organization. One year is not that long, so do you have a good grasp on where it is you’re headed? Is it where you want to be headed? If your plan is to learn new skills or work towards different responsibilities, what will it take to get there? How will the team/organization benefit?
- Where do you want to be in 36 months?
In 36 months, you now need to start thinking more about yourself. That’s not to say you want to leave your organization, but three years is far enough away that meaningful change can, and should, be seen. Sometimes the role simply isn’t there at your current organization or maybe it needs to be created. Does your 36-month goal align with your 12-month plan? It should. If it doesn’t, you need to re-evaluate what you will be doing over the next year.
- What will you do tomorrow to get it under way?
This question is arguably the most important. If you have some alignment in the first two questions, then you should start crafting next steps. It’s often difficult to look 12 months down the road, let alone 36 months, and not take for granted the number of days left to get it done. Procrastination can stifle your career. So, why wait?
The key to thinking about tomorrow is to make the first step easy to follow through on. Baby steps are still steps. If your goal is to become a Creative Director in three years, your first task is to write an email to a Creative Director. The email can be short and to the point to ask for a meeting to discuss career development and ask them about their path. Build that relationship. Understand what they think it will take.
If you want to shift your career from a copywriter to an analytics-focused position, go talk to a Data Scientist tomorrow. Don’t know someone in that role? Then your task tomorrow is to reach out to the people in your network who can help you get connected to a Data Scientist. Someone out there knows a Data Scientist, go find one.
These are not easy questions to answer. It takes some courage and willingness to go down a path you may not know is the right one. The good thing is that your 12-month plan can change, and thus your 36-month vision can, too. You may meet with that Creative Director or Data Scientist and learn about what they’re doing and come to the realization that that’s not the role you envisioned. You may even become a Creative Director yourself and realize it’s not for you. It’s okay. These questions are not meant to be asked once and that’s it. You should constantly evaluate where you are and see if any course correction is needed. You may start down one path, and through the course of learning new skills or meeting new people, that your path diverges to something completely different. That’s the beauty of career development. My 36-month plan now may not look anything like what I will actually be doing three years from now.
As you start exploring different paths, whether it’s to stay on your current trajectory or making considerable changes, there will be times you have to make difficult decisions. Part 3 of this series will focus on one decision I personally struggled with in my career: going from individual contributor to manager.
*This article was originally written for and posted on LinkedIn. Please feel free to add to the conversation there.