Getting to the next level in your career sometimes seems like a marathon. It can take two or three or more years to advance even one level.
This is why so many of us operate in our daily jobs without a winning strategy. It’s actually much easier to focus on short-term results and to fixate on the minutiae of our routines. We gravitate towards this path of least resistance because it feels better.
But in my experience you actually have to play the long game to make your career take off fast. It sounds counterintuitive but it’s true. The good news is you can start immediately.
Here are a set of tasks you can implement on Monday morning that will profoundly improve your career prospects and won’t take several years to see a return on your investment.
You’d be surprised how many managers and young executives don’t have a target promotion or promotions in mind at all times. And for the few that do, they often aren’t creative enough in the possible promotions they might be able to get.
I’ve never been handed a promotion in my entire career–it’s very rare. So if you’re sitting around waiting for someone to appreciate your work so much that they present you with a promotion, you are making a mistake.
The promotion plan starts with identifying your promotion targets. Usually there are between one and three possible promotions you can be working towards at any given time. I would recommend you think creatively about this and extend your set of targets beyond your current department or business unit.
The influencer plan is a vital tool for every active career-management strategy. This is one of those tools that when I talk about it, everyone nods and agrees at its obvious usefulness. But then very few people go through the motions of actually writing one down.
Don’t make this mistake. Take 10 minutes today and jot down a list of everyone in your company who has an influence over your career. This can include your boss, his or her boss, some key peers, and people from other departments who depend on your work. Even certain customers or business partners can find their way on this list if they can affect your upward mobility. Err on the side of having too many influencers and be creative about how you assess who can influence your success or failure.
The learning calendar is a tool I use to force myself to actually work on broadening my skill set. Without it, I find it too easy to deprioritize this vital aspect of my career plan. It is not enough to build deeper expertise in a single subject matter area either. Being a specialist doesn’t lead to career advancement–career security perhaps–but definitely not advancement.
Document your learning curriculum at least a month at time. I like to start by selecting three themes for the quarter and focus in on one per month. At least two of the three learning themes will be outside my established area of expertise.
By building this broader set of skills and creating an image of competency around several areas of expertise you’ll get shortlisted for more promotion opportunities, which ultimately will translate to advancement for you.
Periods of organizational turmoil are your best opportunity for career advancement. It’s in these moments that the big moves in your career will be made. The opportunities for advancement are at their ripest and your competitors are often at their worst.
I find it helpful to document my game plan when I see big changes coming. The process of actually writing my plan down helps to remind me how important it is to be consciously executing purposeful tactics during these periods versus reacting emotionally.
One good example, the management change, is almost universally mishandled by staff who fight against what has already taken place in some naïve hope their discontent can actually reverse time. In this case, when your peers are all gossiping and griping about the evil new boss, you should be actively networking with him or her and finding ways to be helpful in the transition.
To get ahead, your superiors need to be able to imagine you at the next level. One of the best ways to do it is to be seen mentoring and helping your peers in the organization.
I look for the opportunities when most people hold their peers accountable or criticize them. Instead of holding them accountable, I offer my help and support. This takes a lot of emotional control because often the best situations for helping people are ones where someone’s incompetence has impaired your ability to get a project executed or task completed.
Make a list of a few peers and one or two subordinates who routinely struggle to execute their work effectively. The people on this list are the ones all the other managers complain about: The ones who hold up projects and submit work late or with low quality. Instead of making life hard on them like everyone else does, you’re going to find specific opportunities to make life easier for them. Then you’re going to make sure everyone knows you did it.
—Brendan Reid (@brendanmreid) is an accomplished business consultant and marketing executive who has built a career by breaking with corporate convention. He is currently a senior executive at a high-growth technology firm. He is author of [i]Stealing the Corner Office (Career Press, May 2014).[/i]