I just finished reading an article in INFOWORLD that more

and more technology professionals are headed back to school to obtain their MBAs

in order to advance/enhance their careers by better understanding business. In

some circles, the three letters M, B, A are a requirement for a C-level

position, and while I will never say that going back to school is a bad idea (I

received my MBA when Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” was topping the charts), there

are ways to learn your “business” without ever leaving your company’s front

door. In fact, some of these methods might be more effective than getting your

degree–depending on whether you wish to stay with your organization for the

long haul.

The first method is by volunteering to document, in detail,

a department’s business processes. Hey,

you were going to do extra work by going to school anyway, right? So

putting in some extra time in the office for a project like this can be

considered your “homework.” I have never had a department turn down the offer

for someone to do business process documentation for them, but if you encounter

resistance, explain that it is to better understand their business so that you

can help them make better IT decisions.

You need to do this in chunks and set the expectation that

it is going to take awhile (I assume you are undertaking this task alone, as

professional development), and you should start with the top-level management

of the department you choose. Personally, I would choose the department that is

at the core of your organization’s reason for existence and work out from


Get a broad overview from senior management of what they do

and why, and of course, get their permission to interview the rest of their

staff in-depth, ending up at the lowest level in that department. Build your

picture of what they do, and why, from the bottom up, until you have worked

your way back up to senior management.

If done right, not only will you provide a valuable service

to them, you will begin to meet more people in the organization (thus

increasing your visibility), learn their language, and begin to understand how

and why things get done the way they do in your organization. You will also

learn the politics of your organization, which in some ways is your most

important lesson of all. For all of what they can teach you at Carnegie Mellon

or Walden University, politics is mostly learned through experience.

Do this well (while still performing your regular job

duties) and you might be surprised at the knowledge you attain and where that

might take you. After all, opportunity is often three-quarters of the effort of

obtaining new responsibilities and positions.

The article also mentioned five skills for the global
economy that are important:

  1. Distance
  2. Independent
  3. Creativity
  4. Cultural
  5. Foreign
    Language Skills

All of these skills can be garnered through a variety of

methods, besides obtaining your MBA. In fact, obtaining your MBA probably won’t

provide more than 2 or 3 of them. I do think all are important, but also would

like to put my own spin on the last one. I think it is extremely important for

anyone seeking to enhance their career to work on their own ENGLISH language

and COMMUNICATIONS skills. In fact, besides independent thinking in the list

above, I think it is the single most important skill to develop if you seek an

effective career in management. I have written about this before in Soft Skills in a Hard World.

Lastly, I mentioned multiple methods of career improvement

without leaving the comfort of your office (well maybe just for a short time). These

include professional certifications such as in project management, ITIL, ISO, COBIT,

or Certified Public Manager Programs; attending professional development

academies, joining professional organizations–just to name a few.

Our biggest challenge to professional growth and career

advancement/enhancement is usually ourselves and our limited time. Learning new

skills is work and takes commitment. Making that commitment to do the work, whether

you choose formal or informal education, is key. Nothing and no one can stop

you from bettering yourself and advancing your career except YOU. This is truly

a situation where “if there is a will there is a way.” Anything else is just

excuses and/or whining. Tough choices and sacrifices usually accompany the

decision, but the extra work does pay off in the long run — that I am sure of.