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07/10/2013

Six Ways to Grow Your Job

In today’s resource-constrained environment, many of us are delivering 120% on the current demands of our job—but devoting little time to developing ourselves further or positioning ourselves for a future move. The business environment changes quickly and sometimes unpredictably and, if we don’t shift along with it, we risk becoming irrelevant.

If you’re ambitious but your job offers you limited opportunities for exploration and growth, what can you do to develop new skills? Below are six tips that can help you.

1. Stay alert and attuned to your environment. Those who want to develop themselves must create opportunities. That means coming to understand how your organization works, how it makes money, and who its key people are. This is an obvious prerequisite to figuring out how you might shift your own work in the direction of what really matters. We mostly don’t do it because of habit and inertia.  Tuning in to the
outside is unstructured work—networking, walking the halls, going to lunch—we don’t even know where to begin. Value it as much as the required meetings and email duty. The payoff will come in the longer run.

2. Create slack in your schedule. New ways of working require a precious and scarce resource—time.  As the wonderful new book Scarcity points out, when we’re stretched to hilt, it’s hard to ask “Am I focusing on the right things?”  Some companies have allowed employees some time to work on their own projects, but practically no company helps leaders free up their time to work on the frontier of their jobs.  Instead, once people have leadership responsibilities, their calendar gets crammed with more and more meetings and trips. A simple advice is to keep the time to evolve your work.”

3. Sign up for a project outside your main area. All companies have projects that cut across lines of business, hierarchical levels, and functional specialties. Find out what they are, and maybe more importantly, who’s involved. Getting experience across business lines is a better choice than further deepening your skill base within a functional silo. The new skills, big-picture perspective, extra-group connections and ideas about future moves that projects can bring are well worth the investment. 

4.  Make strategy your day job, no matter what your title is. Most people would like to take a more strategic approach to their work but don’t do so because they don’t know what doing strategy really means. Planning (and executing) is about “how” you do what has been mandated.  Strategy is about asking “what” we should be doing—figuring out what problems the company should be tackling, sensing what is happening in the world and learning how to apply it to your business. Find and follow the opinion leaders in your domain, read up on the classics, brush up on your reading. Spend less time solving problems and more time defining which problems the group should be solving.

5. Expand your contribution from the outside in. When a new project is simply not available, look for roles outside your group or organization that allow you to learn and practice new skills and raise your profile. Teach, speak or blog on topics relating to your interests.
Go to professional gatherings and meet with people from different companies. And, if there isn’t something out there that meets your needs, create your own.

 6. Learn to delegate once and for all. Managers who advance in their careers primarily by excelling at operational work go on doing operational work long after they could delegate those duties to other people.
Many of us try to position ourselves for the next assignment asking ourselves, “How can I do what I do better?” that we leave little time to ask, “What else might I do?”  Only when we grow our jobs, do we stand a good chance to get the next one. 

Adapted from Harvard Business Review. 

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