Most workers imagine effective career management as a straight-line progressive climb up the corporate ladder. The reality is more nuanced. To rise to the top, often the best “upward” path is not a series of hierarchical promotions to ever-more-prestigious titles and larger paychecks. Instead think of a flow chart that offers more than one route to the pinnacle.

Another way to view this is to recognize that most work no longer consists of isolated tasks that come together at ever-higher levels of managers. Nowadays work is accomplished in processes that span different functions, locales, and sets of expertise. Workers succeed by learning multiple skill sets, and by aligning various team members to complete a project. As an example, CIOs used to need to know programming and maybe networking, but these days a CIO also needs project management skills.

There will always be some corporate hierarchy, but it is considerably flatter than it has been in previous decades as companies continue to cut staff costs. Those who can own a critical process or lead a crucial team are the most likely to move their careers forward in today’s corporation. Here are three ways to stand out as a process owner, team leader, or both:

1. Fix problems

Everyone complains about problems, but who tries to solve them? Even better, who can perceive and develop solutions for problems that either are not obvious now or will become worse over time?

To demonstrate creativity and initiative, nothing works better than solving a current problem or heading off one in the future, especially if your solution saves money.

Look around. What’s not working? Did your company adopt a CRM program that no one is using? Is it weak in onboarding new employees but getting ready to go on a hiring spree thanks to a new contract? Every business has issues. Thoroughly outline how to solve one of those issues at your business and, once your suggestion is ready, share it with your supervisor. It never hurts to make your boss look good by being the manager with the problem-solver on her team.

2. Become a thought leader

Stop thinking of yourself as an employee and start regarding yourself as a thought leader in your industry or field. Offer to write articles or white papers or represent your company by speaking at conferences or trade shows. Put yourself out there. Doing so expands your networking circle and shows top management your leadership in action. Speak up if you believe your ideas or suggestions will help improve your business or industry.

3. Mentor colleagues

Leaders want to help their colleagues succeed because they know what goes around, comes around. Take the time and effort to mentor teammates if they have difficulties with their tasks or skills. When you make just one person better, you make your department and company better, too. Your efforts will be noticed at the highest levels of your company.

Moving up a flattened corporate ladder isn’t rocket science, but it does take a willingness to invest time and energy and some good ideas. Where are yours?

27 May 2013

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