I recently had a manager on my team ask me how I achieved my position in the company. Truthfully, I didn’t set forth on each new project or task with the goal of getting a promotion. Each of my decisions was tactical, aligned with corporate goals and personal goals to improve productivity and make an impact within the organization. But, looking back, I can see a connection, a connection to certain projects that I am especially proud of.
Early in my career, I was a product manager at Toshiba, managing the mid-range workgroup office products and working with our parent company in Japan to launch new products. We gathered customer requirements for product development and led the marketing efforts in the U.S. This was back when copiers just became digital and network connectivity was a whole new world for our industry. Our customers and dealers were concerned about data security and open ports on the network. I was feverishly researching and reading about Department of Defense (DOD) and Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level (EAL) certification so I could get dealers and customer concerns answered. I was forever running back to our technical support lab, whose primary function was to test new products and, in my mind, help to educate me on security features for multifunction printers.
With my newfound knowledge, it seemed logical to document these insights so I could save time and have a response ready when presented with security questions. I put together an MFP security white paper. Having never written a white paper before, luckily there were enough examples online to use as a template. During my performance review that year, my boss praised my initiative and the “first-ever” security white paper for the company and gave me a promotion. It was a catalyst for me to recognize the impact I could make by continuing to learn and extend myself beyond my current responsibilities.
I’m currently reading Herminia Ibarra’s book “Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader,” where she points out that an important aspect to helping people step up to leadership was experience in an internal project outside their usual responsibilities.
Because stepping up to a leadership role requires experience across business functions, these extracurricular assignments give you a bigger picture perspective and expanded connections throughout the organization. They allow you to develop new skills. Not only do you grow your knowledge, but you also increase your visibility.
Visibility is crucial to career advancement. Look at Mary Barra, the chairman and CEO of General Motors and the first woman in that role in the auto industry. Her path at GM began in 1980 when she was a co-op student, continuing through the company to executive leadership and then the corner office. The Wall Street Journal notes that these “roles at nearly every level of the business, from managing a plant to directing HR …, have afforded her a vast network of in-house contacts.”
That visibility is also crucial to creating change in the workplace. Once you have your supporters, anything is possible. As an executive here at Konica Minolta, it has been my privilege to sponsor the Step Forward Program, an inspiring initiative to support women in the workplace. We’ve also held our first Bring Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day at headquarters. The success of these programs is a result of the hard work of the many people on the project teams. My position gave me the ability to give their efforts a platform.
So, this brings me back to that manager’s question. What I finally said was that I was promoted because of my ability to reach outside of my immediate responsibilities, to find a need in the organization, and to fill it.
I think Executive Vice President Sam Errigo said it best during his Step Forward talk on “Navigating Your Future.” He said that to create a successful career path, you must “stand out, stretch a little. There are a lot of people who just do their jobs. Look at all the sales people who make 100%. There are a lot of those people. Choose to stand out.”