Professor Herminia Ibarra Gives 6 Ways to Progress your Career

Career progression may seem like a scary term; something that translates to “pain and agony”, or “failure and defeat”.  It represents that mountain we have yet to climb, or the push-ups we have yet to do in our living room.  But the progression of your career may be one of the most important elements of your mental and physical health.  It may boost you forward into a state of unlimited motivation.

When creating IntelligentHQ’s business directory, we focused on providing specific details on MBA, Executive MBA, Global MBA and Leadership programs that business schools offered.  I was in charge of curating all of the content produced for each of these programs.

One trend I noticed was how the Executive MBA programs almost always focused on expanding global mindsets and networking with other successful executives to create further opportunities.  What do these things have in common?  They ultimately help you progress in your career, and one of the most important elements in this progression is being adaptable to the changes in the global economy and establishing and growing your networks.

Herminia Ibarra of Harvard Business Review shared with us her findings through a group discussion with her executive MBA students.  They decided on six tips that will help you progress in your career.

1.  Stay Alert and Attuned to your Environment

Self-development blossoms from creating opportunities for yourself.  This is derived from a complete understanding of how your organization works and makes revenue, as well as who the key players are in the company.  This will answer the question:  What really matter when you’re being productive?  Does your work directly affect the revenue stream of your company?

It’s easy to view meetings, deadlines and required work as necessary tasks to complete, and don’t get me wrong, they definitely are.  But focusing on just these tasks creates a mindset of “doing enough to get by”.  It’s harder to focus on the activities that don’t have direct results, such as going to lunch with your boss, networking with employees in the company and up with new, innovative ways to complete certain tasks.

Dorie Clark of HBR tells a story of how her friend focused on networking every week by making it her goal to go to lunch with a boss or co-worker at least once a week.  The result was a rapid growth of a network that fueled her career and personal progression.

These types of activities will demonstrate to your bosses and your co-workers that you’re motivated, and not complacent with just “doing your job”.

2.  Create a Schedule that Promotes Progression

Time has proven to be a precious commodity on today’s work environment.  Ibarra references a book titled Scarcity, which points out how our focus may be misdirected when we cram too many tasks into a time frame.  She mentions how some companies allow employees to focus on their own projects for 20% of the work time, but no companies allocate this time for employees to focus on activities that are directed towards the progression of the company as a whole.

3. Get Involved in Projects Outside of your Expertise

Most companies have projects that will involve several different branches and employees with different specialties.  Being aware of these projects and actively involving yourself in them will not only help you gain experience and deepen your skill base, but will also help you engage and network with different departments and gain a better reputation.

One of Ibarra’s students signed up for a project to re-think best leadership practices at his company.  The project served as an outlet for him to demonstrate his critical thinking abilities in influencing the organization to overcome barriers.  Before, he was just performing a set of predefined tasks that were part of his job requirement.  The project ultimately helped him discover his interest in consulting and eventually move into a consulting position two years later.

4. Focus on Strategy

Most people, Ibarra says, don’t take a more strategic approach to their job because they don’t know where to begin or what working strategically really means.  She defines it as asking “what” the company should be doing to progress – i.e. what problems they should be tackling and gaining an idea of what is happening in the global business world.

This can be achieved by being aware of what thought leaders in your particular field are saying,  constantly reading about changing trends and assessing how these changes will impact your organizations market and practices.  If you spend more time figuring out which problems the company should focus on instead of solving problems related solely to your position, you’ll gain a mindset of progressing the company, which will result in a progression of yourself and your career.

5.  Expand your Contribution 

Blogging, teaching and speaking about topics that directly relate to your organization will help you to gain influence and expand your knowledge.  This can be brought directly back into your organization and establish a much more influential role within and outside of your organization.

Ibarra also says that going to professional gathers and meetings with different companies outside of work can only be beneficial.  It can open your eyes to new issues in the industry and result in new connections that could provide you with massive value.  The website allows you to find group meetups related to your industry.  Some of these meetups are conferences, while other are casual and take place at restaurants or bars.  These are great places to start to build your network and create a pattern of actively learning more and more about your field.

6. Delegate your Work

Ibarra says “managers who advance in their careers primarily by excelling at operational work go on doing operational work long after they could delegate those duties to other people”.  She tells a story about how one her students, a CFO of a mid-sized company, looked to other CFOs and GMs in his country to find better efficiencies within his own budget.  This delegation of work brings in new views and ideas and creates more time for him to work on other things.  Yes, it does force you to put your trust in other people, but it also gives you the ultimate say in what will be good for your company.