Climbing the Ladder: Tips for Expediting the Climb

I was interviewed this week by a writer from Forbes and portions of my answers were included in her final article.  Thought my readers might enjoy seeing all my answers.  Given the fact many of these lessons cost significant blood, sweat and tears, wanted to share in hopes of saving others precious time and energy.  Enjoy!

Corporate culture has changed. Employees aren’t expected to stay at one company for their entire career, where they will gradually climb the corporate ladder.  Workers today jump around from company to company and don’t always go “upward” on the ladder—but  I think it’s fair to say that most people working in the corporate world DO want to move up, one way or another. Would you agree with this? Feel free to elaborate.

Yes, I would agree that every person working will typically have the desire to “move up” or perhaps the better way to say it is, they will want to “grow.”  Growth is a natural sign of being alive!  So it is healthy to want to expand, develop, and advance both personally and professionally.

Should employees, especially young ones or those new to the corporate workforce, aspire to climb the proverbial corporate ladder?

Yes, as stated above, it is normal and natural to want to grow and advance.  I would say though, that the bigger objective is to get in touch with your life purpose first, which actually answers the question, “Why — Why am I here?”  (Here on the earth, here at this company, here in this position.)  Once you know WHY, then you can discover WHAT you really want to do and HOW to go about doing it.  The answers become both your anchor and your compass up the proverbial ladder!

What if someone is perfectly content with staying in one position, or at a particular level, for the entirety of their career? 

Granted, someone may stay at a similar level over the course of many years, but I doubt they want to stop growing, developing, expanding their impact and reach.  Why would someone want to spend the majority of their waking hours just getting by?  That mindset is certainly not energizing.  While a title and position might not change, we as individuals will change and as we do, our impact and influence on others and on the job we have, can grow with us, even if not officially on paper.  There were many years when I got “promoted and advanced,” in my career even without the pay or position to show for it!

We know it can take an employee a lifetime to make their way to the top (or close to the top)—but some manage to do it quickly. Do you think it’s difficult for people to climb the corporate ladder quickly today?

I do think the economic environment we are currently facing is tough for quick advancement, unless you work for a start-up or company in a fast growth track (which brings both positives and negatives with it.)  Today’s “corporate ladder” is sometimes referred to as the “corporate lattice” meaning the ability to move horizontally as well as up and down depending on the company’s growth and your own professional aspirations at any given time.  Again, if someone can focus on their own personal purpose and let that be their measurement for growth and satisfaction, they will find greater ability to ride the waves and stay the course regardless of what happens in their job or to those around them.

Please tell me some of the things one can do to fast-track their way up the ladder.

1.  Know your life purpose (see above explanation) which will provide an effective compass and anchor in your career and personal life.

2.  Have a personal board of directors.  This is not an official board but is a structured way to identify WHO you need in your life and WHAT you need from them to navigate to the next places professionally and personally, that you most desire to go.

3.  Do my “1-1-1 Strategy” which is about taking one step, once a week, toward one of your professional dreams.

4.  “Dream beyond the job description,” which simply means not letting yourself be limited by what you are officially assigned to do.  This does not mean ignoring present responsibilities, but it does mean working beyond achievements that are obvious or expected.

5.  Stay keenly aware of broader company goals.  Know which projects are being funded, who is in charge of those projects, what priorities are high and which ones are low.  Align yourself with the people and projects at the highest levels of attention and expectation. This gives you visibility and the chance to shine more quickly.  (Jacquelyn, I can provide some examples here if you’d like.)

6.  Know your boss’ top personal and professional goals, then do all you can to help him/her advance their priorities.  Every leader needs lieutenants and when you serve them their favor toward you will increase and they are likely to pull you in and up to more responsibility and opportunities for quicker advancement.

7.  Keep a list of your achievements, especially those that align with broader company priorities.  Find ways to keep your boss and others informed of these achievements so you are recognized increasingly as someone leading company success beyond your own responsibilities.  This list is helpful especially at annual review time.

8.  Think and act a level above.  This means operating like someone in a position higher than you already are, not losing sight or attention to current responsibilities, but conveying the confidence and intent to be someone who has potential for promotion and leadership.

9. If you work for a public company, listen in on quarterly analyst calls.  This is a great way to hear what top company leaders are saying to Wall Street, and learn about how they think and respond to shareholders interests and concerns.

10.  Become an industry expert.  Read, study, follow industry leaders on social media outlets, attend industry conferences.  This helps you grow beyond your job to know the industry and others in it.  These relationships can open up tremendous possibilities for mentoring and advancement.  Many a junior professional has served side-by-side with, or had access to, an industry luminary during industry conferences or networking events.

11.  Write or speak whenever possible.  Company newsletters, special events, lunch ‘n learns, and training sessions can offer you a spotlight. Once you are “published” or become more visible even in small ways, people will attribute to you greater credibility and talent.

12.  Be a team player and invest in others.  The ability to win friends and influence others is a skill needed increasingly as you move up in any organization.

13.  Express appreciation.  This sounds so simple but I’m amazed how seldom junior professionals articulate their gratitude for opportunities and guidance extended to them by more senior leaders. I learned the value of this one time when I saw our CEO walking through the atrium at lunch. He did not know me but I thanked him for his weekly voice mails that I knew he intended to be informative and encouraging to the workforce.  Not 30 minutes later my boss told me the CEO had asked what my name was and I realized my simple gesture of appreciation had left a positive impression.  From that point forward the CEO called me by name.

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