IT pros who aspire to a higher position need to lay the groundwork by developing the right relationships, refining their communications skills, and expanding their breadth of knowledge.
Even in difficult economic times, the opportunity for advancement exists. Whether you're a front-line associate aiming for the next level or a senior vice president looking toward the CIO role, certain strategies will help you reach your goals. These steps can't guarantee that you will move up within your organization, but they'll definitely give you a leg up on the competition.
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1: Develop relationships within your organization -- outside IT
It seems like common sense, but this often gets pushed to the side in favor of day-to-day responsibilities that yield immediate results. It is much easier to communicate what you do and why it is important to someone who is used to hearing from you regularly. Make a habit of trying to develop a relationship within a different business division at least once a month.
2: Develop a message
How does what you do, or what your team does, further the efforts of the organization? How does it help the business achieve its bottom-line objectives? You must be able to articulate the value of your position to the organization clearly. This often takes time and effort, but it's crucial. Make the investment.
3: Be open... be available... talk to people
IT can often breed a solo or small team atmosphere. If you are a leader in your organization, be seen. Nothing is worse than a CIO, CTO, EVP, AVP, or even a director who stays behind closed doors and remains silent.
4: Treat your top talent as you treat your boss
If you think you have talked to them enough, go back and talk to them one more time. Trust me: If your top talent is nervous (and they are) and you're not communicating with them, they are looking elsewhere. As times get more challenging, your top talent becomes more valuable. This rings true at every organizational level, from the front lines up. Replacing superstars is not easy.
5: Understand your audience
IT has a language all its own, and those outside IT may have trouble understanding it. In fact, it's never a given that even those within IT, but in a different division, will understand the lingo associated with your specialty. Communicate with your audience in mind.
6: Be consistent
Nothing deflates an organization or a team more than perceived inconsistency in communication or communication style.
7: Be open with Information
The expression "Information is power" holds some truth; however, the idea that hoarding that information will result in more personal power does not. Controlling the flow of information is a losing proposition. Everything you do sends a message, and communications, or lack thereof, sends a clear message. (Hint: not a positive one.)
8: Develop partnerships with other IT divisions
The tendency to end up in silos and spend precious little time networking with other divisions can cost opportunity. It happens in many divisions outside IT as well. Just like in sports, rising stars in different positions often end up leading the entire team because they developed those relationships along the way.
9: Master other domains
When commenting on professionals who are looking to ascend internally, I often hear IT executives cite the need to have experience in more than one space. While "master" might be a strong term, a well-balanced portfolio should not be limited to your 401k.
10: Get a mentor
Mentors are crucial in any business, and in a business where networking is not as common as in other lines of work (sales, marketing), mentoring is a great way to learn. It's also a great way to develop a relationship with an executive you would not normally get to interact or spend significant time with.
Matt Eventoff is the president of Princeton Public Speaking. For more than 15 years, he has served as a communications and messaging strategist for C-level executives in organizations ranging in size from startups to Fortune 100 firms.