Honing Your Critical Business Skills
If You Can Figure Out What You Like To Do You Are Almost There!
To start this exercise, we must first consider exactly where we are and then, where we want to go. Without those two important pieces of information we don't need to go any further in any quest to make things any better - we are already where we are going!
Not unlike the story in Alice in Wonderland meeting the Cheshire Cat when she asks which way she needs to go - and the cat asks,"Well, where are you trying to get to?" Her response was basically I don't know - so he says "O.k. then, either road will get you there." I'm sure you have heard this story over and over in any goal setting conference or company meeting but why don't we heed the important message of the story?
It really doesn't matter where you are in business - mail room to CEO's office, unless you can define what you want to do, where you want to go, what you like to do, then you will never do it. However, if you can define all of these items, you can make money, refine the answers with a path and make more money, and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves that move you down the right path at the right time, make a lot more money.
We all have skills, with some that are particularly better than others. Personally, I have to make myself attend to accounting and finance procedures where other people think this is great fun and very exciting. My inclination is toward my strengths of sales, marketing, new business development and training. My employees and associates that like the accounting and finance areas - would rather die than have to go on a cold sales call. To develop a marketing plan would be a real problem for some - with the possible exception of the financial forecasting portion of the plan, would be the same thing.
Once Defined, Refine!
Regardless of the specific area of a business you work in, once you have found your sweet spot you must act to keep your role advantageous to the company and essential for success. Too many times people get to a level within an organization due to the person or persons in front of them either leaving the company, dying or being promoted out of the way. They get moved up until they finally reach their highest level of incompetence. Don't let this happen to you. Develop your focus on what you need to know. This can take form in a number of ways.
In today's business climate it varies much greater between businesses as to how much money is available in-house to provide for training and upgrading their workforce. It may be advantageous to the middle-manager or first rung manager to consider doing some of the work on their own, not asking management for money for corporate training courses or educational opportunities outside of the office. Time, however, may be something that is easier to negotiate. When money is really tight for a company, and they want to keep an employee happy and growing, they may not be able to give you scholarship money to attend a workshop out of town - but they may agree to allow you the time away from the office if you want to pay for it.
Years ago I had decided there were too many decisions being made in the industry I worked in that were decisions made through "the good ol' boy network" and not using supported business practices. I decided it would be a great idea to go back and get my MBA, which I did over a fairly short period of time and a lot of hard work. I paid for it myself, almost like another mortgage. But I own it for myself now. It is something that goes with me when I offer my services to work for someone.
When you have identified the area you want to stay within, at least broadly (say accounting or finance or forecasting - maybe sales or marketing), evaluate those people that are at the top in that role within your company and others companies. Read trade publications when you can find them that discuss industry problems from the perspective of what it is you are concerned with. Look for seminars and educational opportunities that may give you some insight from another perspective. If yours is a fairly small company where your absents makes a big difference, coordinate your training with your superior.
Share Your Intent - Or Not?
I have worked for more than one boss who really had a problem with the fact that I usually already knew more people at a higher level in our industry than they did. For that I almost always paid some kind of price instead of it being an asset it would end up being a liability with these ego driven people. They didn't particularly like the idea of me knowing more people than they did or doing the job they used to do at least as well as they did or better. It seemed to be very tough for these troubled people to encourage me to be even better - I think they were genuinely afraid for their own jobs. It can happen.
I'm saying to be aware of how your boss sees your interest in being better at what you do. A good boss will want to promote as many people from his tutelage to positions higher in the company to insure his own role. One such manager I knew and worked with was always identifying strengths of his sales force and moving them up through the ranks in areas of great importance. By the time Karl was nearing retirement, a large number of the people he had promoted up through the ranks were upper management. Karl was given choice territories to manage, choice employees to hire and grow. He was the man you wanted to work for.
If you boss or manager is supportive like Karl, then when you have the opportunity set down with them and develop a formal plan of action. Put dates with it, activities intended to attend or work through. Ask for assignments internally to expand your knowledge - and your worth to the company. If your boss doesn't see you as a threat, you are likely to be allowed to move broader and stronger.