In talking to literally hundreds of people about career development and subsequently, positional growth, I have been struck by the expectation of most people that career growth means promotion – it means progress upwards within a department within the company. Many of these people feel that they have offered value to the company through their commitment and hard work and that the company should “recognise this” and thus give them opportunity higher up in the organisational structures.
The above can be called the “chimney draught expectation” – the combustion flue gases inside a chimney are much hotter than the ambient outside air and therefore less dense than the ambient air. That causes the bottom of the vertical column of hot flue gas to have a lower pressure than the pressure at the bottom of a corresponding column of outside air. That higher pressure outside the chimney is the driving force that moves the required combustion air into the combustion zone and also moves the flue gas up and out of the chimney – the expectation that the “heat” caused by the energy applied within my job and my commitment and hard work should automatically move me higher up in the chimney. This expectation is the hope that years of faithful service and being good at what I do qualifies me for promotion and therefore career development.
There seems to be a fundamental misconception here – just being an excellent professional, a good sales person, a competent production engineer or a financial analyst does not necessarily make you a good business person. Ram Charan, in his book “What the CEO wants you to know”, suggests that the most successful business leaders never lose sight of the basics – their intense focus on the fundamentals of business (how the company makes money) is the key to their success. Charan calls this “business acumen”. What’s best for your career, your department or functional role is not necessarily best for the company as a whole. Perhaps promotion is more about whether or not you have the ability to grow the company, top and bottom line, and whether or not you have the needed “business acumen” to be able to do this consistently, aggressively and progressively?
Business leaders with business acumen see the company as a “total business” – they have the ability to see the big business picture, focus their efforts on enhancing the company’s overall performance and energise employees to join them in the mission. Here, meetings become more strategic, less bureaucratic and focused on income generation. Departments, and subsequently employees, have a greater sense of purpose as they are aligned to key business metrics. Functional “silos” and the chimney draught expectation are hopefully eradicated totally as managers focus all in the company around the real business levers.
You can position yourself for purposeful promotion. This will require, I believe, the possession of Ram Charan’s “business acumen” – the understanding of the fundamental principles that govern success in business and the innate ability to grow the business. You will be worth your salt and will probably be promoted if you are about the issues that grow a business and make it sustainable. With this skill, the range of opportunities open to you will expand and you will have positioned yourself for purposeful promotion.