March 24, 2015, by Jaspar Roos in: How-to's
I remember my graduation day like it was yesterday. I was so excited to finally be done with all the long nights of studying. I was eager to get my foot out of academia and into the real, professional life…and if I never saw another textbook, it was still going to be way too soon. You get the picture – I was done with being a student; Let me be a professional instead!
Looking back, I understand how naïve I was then. Still I’d argue that it also was quite typical attitude for where I was at stage of my personal growth. Along the way, getting from a traineeship to an entry level, to a senior position, I learned something – you won’t move forward or ever get to the top if you don’t develop and challenge yourself. You need to continuously build yourself up.
In business, we have witnessed many times people that do their job just right, delivering satisfying results, and still, they seldom get promoted. It sounds a bit illogical – how come someone who’s performance is at or above the norm not able to grow within the organization? Why is being good at what they do and sticking to their strengths is not enough?
You are where you are because of your talents – the unique combination of strengths and weaknesses that you possess. To grow into the professional self of your dreams – the self you will always aspire for (and hopefully someday become), you need to make yourself indispensable to the organization you are at. How do you do that?
What many young talents do wrong here is focusing on improving their strong skills. It is quite intuitive and also easier (don’t you agree) – after all these are the skills that have brought them this far. To bring some clarity here, imagine you a beginner cyclist. You are cycling a couple of hours every day, do stretching exercises and go to the gym often to build up endurance and muscle memory. But after becoming more experienced those efforts are not sufficient anymore. Eventually, doing more hours of cycling doesn’t make you much better or faster. To get to the next level, you need to bring another element in the equation – start running, swimming or yoga.
Similarly, at work you could become a bit more efficient, enhance your skills in analysis and save the organization a couple of bucks. Still, these are only incremental improvements. But doing more of what you are already good at does not bring much of extra value to the company or change where you stand. To get yourself out of the “good employee” and on to the “leader potential” track you will need to develop complementary skills to the strengths you already have. In other words, you need to start cross-training your professional side.
The added benefit of engaging in a career competences cross-training is the inherent interaction effect. The combination of two activities produces a significantly greater improvement rather than what each of the activities can do on its own. For instance, a UX designer can become more efficient if they improve on their communication skills. Subsequently, enhancing the quality of the dialogue will deliver better understanding of the client’s needs and more satisfying performance. Thus, the company looks good and you are less dispensable (more valuable).
So start today! Make a list of your strengths – the good and the not-so-good ones. Focus on the one’s that will be of interest to your organization, but also to you to pursue, and get on with your tailored professional cross-training routine. And one of the things you can do today is applying for www.futureideas.org. The competition closes March 31, so be quick and get started!
Nota benne: cross-training can have a positive effect on your professional development within the organization you are at only and when the strength you have chosen to further enhance is of value to the company. If you are in sales, chances are that your ability to solve an integral equation won’t be of much help or interest to the CEO.