A few years ago, I attended a meeting at a major company where executives discussed the idea of offering a new service line. An assessment study was needed, but none of the managers at the meeting stepped forward to take it on. They all had full plates and, as this was something exploratory, they weren't eager for more work, especially when there was no guarantee of a reward.
After the meeting, an operations manager I'll call Gary approached the senior manager and offered to look into the new service. "OK, give it your best shot," the senior manager replied.
There was method to Gary's madness. He thought that if he did a good job of researching the new service, he might be able to run it.
Gary was very thorough. He did library and Internet research and discovered a great deal about the service and its market. When he reported back to the group, everyone in the room realized that he was the logical person to run the new line because he knew so much about it. He ended up being promoted to head the new service.
As it turned out, Gary was good at developing business and built the service into a new business area. Even though his background was in operations, he showed such thoroughness at understanding the market that the company gave him more responsibility. The last I knew, he was running a $38 million division.
The Preferred Choice
In today's tight job market, moving to another company to get ahead is difficult. Large and small firms have reduced the size of their work forces. Others have imposed hiring freezes. When companies do fill openings, they frequently consider internal candidates like Gary first because they know the culture and can hit the ground running. Moreover, companies don't need to pay search fees to get them.
So how can you capitalize on internal career opportunities with your employer? To start, ask yourself, "Is there anyone I might like to work for here who could benefit from my background and experience?"
Notice how the question is worded. It isn't: "Is there someone within the company who can help me?" Help generally is hard to come by. Most executives want to know what you can do for them.
Strategize, be positive and think in terms of what you can offer that will contribute to the value of your potential new boss's group. This is an important distinction because, when you're looking for a job within your current company, you stand the best chance of finding receptive listeners if you operate from the perspective of what you can do for them.
To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your company can do for you. Ask what you can do for your company.
Here are two more questions that might point you in the right direction:
Can you package your skills so the potential new boss will see how they fit his or her needs? Don't be shy! Don't downplay yourself or your skills. Be bold! List those skills and be proud.
Can you find out about any new projects that a different division, department or subsidiary is planning that would require someone with your background? Can you identify a new venture being planned in your own department, office or division?
Don't know the answers? Then do some research. Call your contacts, spies and friends to find out what's on the agenda. These people can be helpful guides, positioning you for the opportunity.
Remember, also, to look on the Internet. It's amazing how much information you can unearth with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks.
Again, don't be shy. All too often we don't explore opportunities in front of us. We think someone else in the company is looking after us and will make us aware of new opportunities. That isn't the way it is in the real world. Most companies do a poor job of succession and human-resource strategy planning.
I can't tell you how many times people have said to me, "I wonder why I wasn't considered for the position so-and-so got." They often wonder, "How come I wasn't even asked if I wanted the job?" You have to be aggressive, assertive and eager for opportunities, because you're the one who will make them happen -- not someone who's looking out for you.
Contribute, Don't Complain
Determining how to contribute to a business, rather than complaining about lost opportunities, could benefit many employees. This requires:
Understanding your company's long-range goals. Where is it going? What is management saying? Glean as much information as you can from the company mission statement, newsletter, annual report, public Web site and employee intranet, and then think of ways you can contribute to "the big picture."
Thinking like an entrepreneur, not an employee. What would you do if you were running the company? In today's lean environment, with companies doing more with less, more opportunities exist for employees to take on special projects that can accelerate their careers.
Turning your boss into an ally. Some people might say, "I have so much to do that my boss won't let me take on any additional tasks." If that's the case, make a small investment of your own time. Do research and scope out the project while at home and then take your proposal to your boss. Tell him or her, "I've spent some of my own time on this, even though you told me not to. My work hasn't slacked off. I'd like to be able to finish it here at work." If your proposal is good, your boss might free you to complete it -- on company time. Employers like employees who show initiative and creativity.
Above all, have fun. Look at your special project as a learning experience. Even if you don't receive a promotion, you've gained exposure in the organization while developing new skills and demonstrating a positive approach -- a rare attitude in today's workplace.
In time, you could become the next Gary. -- Mr. Morin is chairman and chief executive officer of WJM Associates Inc., an executive and organizational development firm in New York.