You’re great at your job. All you need to do now is keep going, doing more of what you’re best at, and the promotions will inevitably come.
In reality that’s not true. Following the same track, just driving forward with delivery of more results won’t get you very far at all. Going further depends on switching tracks completely. Becoming the manager of a small team or heading up a business area, means being seen as a different kind of person at work: a leader, someone able to influence other people, who has credibility among their line reports, peers and more senior managers.
The challenge here is that people in the early part of their career, whether they’ve come from university or worked their way up through the organisation, need to start taking charge of their own development if they’re serious about reaching senior positions. So far it’s been a case of looking to their line manager for direction. They’ve set the targets, provided the feedback on progress, then flagged opportunities for training. We can become dependent on this kind of guided framework that makes sure we’re always following the right route. It becomes both reassuring and motivating. At the same time, by getting stuck in this mindset, we’re not thinking the way we need to: how to become self-directing, take back control and make the transition onto the management route.
Working day-to-day in an organisation, people tend to grow a strong sense of hierarchy. We start to believe in a natural order of things, where those who have been with the organisation the longest are rightfully in positions of control, will have a more perfect understanding of what’s happening, and have all the best ideas and solutions.
It feels like the only way to make progress is to depend on what we already know - and what has worked in the past in terms of keeping our line manager happy - taking on more and more work and responsibilities, delivering more and more. And in the meantime it seems right to simply defer to more senior staff. Instead it’s important to learn how to do less. That takes a great deal of confidence, because it’s contrary to everything we’ve seen in our experience so far. It means overcoming a feeling of not really deserving a place in the higher order, the fear that eventually you’re going to be found out as ‘not belonging’.
Not making the transition to management means the risk of being stuck in a functional delivery role. In turn this can lead to a cycle of a lack of motivation, lower levels of performance, and a deterioration in the relationships within a team - not because of a lack of ability, but from inertia. Often people will look to move on to another employer, and then only repeat the experience of high performance, eventually narrowing into frustration and another move. The employer loses talent from its pipeline of potential managers and has to recruit externally - all as a result of the missed opportunity of supporting people through the transition.
First and foremost, making the transition means not just being busy. Adding value is what matters. In practice that requires the ability to think more broadly about the organisation, how your function joins up with and has an impact on other parts of the business; getting out of the silo mentality to think more strategically: how does the external environment - political, technological, social changes - affect the business? what are competitors doing? what are the implications for me, my team and other managers?
The Cranfield programme is designed to provide a practical toolkit to make the transition happen, tools and techniques, and most importantly of all, give you the confidence to use them. One part of the transition package involves gaining the breadth of understanding of how organisations work at a strategic level, the context for strategy-making, using business simulations to demonstrate how your role contributes and impacts on the organisational mechanics; learning how to switch into the strategic-thinking mindset, so it’s a habit, and allows you to anticipate the need for change and be agile in response.
The other is the personal side and soft skills: better understanding of yourself and how you come across to other people; what you need to do to have more of an influence on others, delegate and add value; how to increase your visibility in the organisation and build credibility with your team and the top management; how to be resilient and deal with the power politics that goes along with any work environment.
Making the best of early career development isn’t only about promotion. Critically, though, there is the need to not become caught in circles of delivery, chasing targets - to step back and look at your career direction, whether that’s moving into management or sideways into other functions in the same organisation. Having the control and confidence to make choices is what matters.
To read more about career transitions and three key areas (early career or high potential talent looking for promotion; moving up to become a general manager or head of a business unit; and transitioning to a role as a leader, or organisational director) and how to successfully adapt to these, please download article below.
About the Author
Philippa Thurgur is Director of the Talent Development Programme and is also involved in the design and delivery of the General Management Portfolio of programmes at Cranfield. She has Programme Directed on the Business Growth Programme for several years and worked in Customised Executive Development for over 14 years. Her clients have included; Gazprom, Volvo, MOD, Etisalat Nigeria, Natural History Museum, ghd and Keele University. View full profile.