‘To get promoted, you have to be the person who won’t rock the boat.” We’ve all heard that phrase, but why, in the modern world, would anyone want to work for an organisation that thinks like this?
Instead, to get the job that you want to put all your energies into, there are key areas you can focus on: expand your networks, take responsibility for problems outside your sphere and tackle the issue of diversity. These will help transform you from ordinary to extraordinary and mean that you are able to deal with the future and not merely the present.
As an HR professional, these steps will not only help secure your own promotion, but help you support colleagues across the organisation with their next step up the ladder.
1 Establish Trust
When it comes down to it, successful organisations are all about relationships. Common Purpose research has found that over half of managers won’t work with people that they don’t already trust (see Further info, Trusting times). So, if you want to move up the career ladder, get better at knowing and learning to trust more people because if you stay in your own little circle, that’s where you will get left.
2 Take a Look Outside
Reassess your networks outside the organisation. Do those external networks consist only of family, friends and those in the same profession? If so, why not get involved in a local organisation? Even if you have been involved with a local organisation for several years, are you still adding value or are you stagnating there? Should you look for another, more challenging organisation to put your energies into, maybe one in a different sector? Find an organisation that will allow you to rejuvenate your networks with new people and new experiences.
3 Expand Your Networks
Develop a broad, diverse network by connecting with as many people as possible from across the organisation and outside it. Learn to navigate across the whole organisation and between different organisations and sectors. Build “turbulent networks” by including people who see the world differently to you and who will challenge as much as support you.
An extensive network will mean that you have a real insight into what is happening throughout the organisation and outside it. This will help you to both spot opportunities where you can make a valuable contribution outside your traditional role and openings for you to initiate original business enterprises. Crucially, a wide horizon will enable you to spot problems such as growing discontent among staff before they become full-scale threats to the organisation.
You can build this network by moving out of your comfort zone at work. Go to a meeting or an event that you, and others who know you, would consider it usually unlikely to attend. Set yourself targets of new ideas to acquire and new contacts to make, and follow them through.
4 Go Beyond Your Job's Remit
Excel at your own job, but also take an interest in problems that you are not responsible for, those that concern the whole organisation and not only your limited sphere.
Don’t be afraid to look at the messy problems as they are the ones that your bosses will be struggling to solve. The HR function is central to the effective functioning of any organisation, and you will be in a good location to see what isn’t working even if it isn’t within your sphere. Volunteer to take responsibility for a problem in another department or a long-standing consumer issue. You might even consider taking on a project without a budget – or even a job title – attached to it.
It is not always easy sticking your head above the parapet and taking responsibility for big problems. You may feel unsure, especially if they are in areas outside your usual area of work. People will question your legitimacy, and inevitably ask ‘What right do you have?’ questions. This may be uncomfortable, but you can get through it by retaining your self-belief in what you have to offer.
Of course there are times to focus on your own priorities but if managers did this all the time, the organisation would never reach its full potential. Remember also that chief executives of most organisations need to have people prepared to join the bits of the organisation up and make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
5 Work with diversityDiversity is usually the responsibility of the HR professional, ensuring that diversity of gender, race and age is promoted. But today’s world is one of a richer diversity, of teams drawn from many different backgrounds, with diverse opinions, attitude and outlook.
This diversity is a source of creativity and problem-solving – and one that your HR role puts you in a position to harness. Doing so will not only benefit your organisation and everyone who works in it but will demonstrate your ability to effectively manage opposition and difference.
Look at your own particular bias (we all have it) and throw yourself into situations where they will be challenged, maybe situations where you are a minority, or a different sort of minority.
6 Be Challenging
This isn’t always easy. Diversity, for example, may prompt disagreement and challenges (in fact, it should do this). These tensions and disagreements can be a great source of inspiration and problem-solving, as a team where everyone thinks the same and agrees with each other is unlikely to turn up lateral ideas for creative projects or new and inventive solutions.
So, show leadership by not trying to avoid the tensions caused by diverse teams. Grasp the opportunities for creativity and innovation that tensions present as they will mark you out as someone who is capable of excellence, not only in yourself but in helping others to achieve it too.
The expert Julia Middleton is the founder and chief executive of Common Purpose • www.commonpurpose.org
Key points• Develop a broad and diverse network by connecting with as many people as possible from across the organisation and outside it.
• Get better at knowing and learning to trust more people.
• Don’t be afraid to look at the messy problems – they are the ones that your bosses will be struggling to solve.
• Learn to harness the benefits of diversity. Do not fear the tensions caused by diverse teams; these can be a source of inspiration.
Further Info• Trusting times – a report into the skills and attitudes of future leaders, Common Purpose, 2007
• Buy Julia Middleton's book Beyond Authority: Leadership in a Changing World at: www.commonpurpose.org/home/books/beyondauthority.aspx