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 Jovis Livin On a Prayer was topping the charts), there
are ways to learn your business without ever leaving your companys 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 thelong haul.
The first method is by volunteering to document, in detail,
a departments 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 youcan 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 organizations reason for existence and work out fromthere.
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 workedyour 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 Mellonor 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 ofobtaining new responsibilities and positions.
The article also mentioned five skills for the global economy that are important:
- Distance Management
- Independent Thinking
- Cultural Sensitivity
- 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 wont
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 aneffective 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 developmentacademies, 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 thedecision, but the extra work does pay off in the long run — that I am sure of.