This article first appeared in Under30 Careers. The article reads: Our careers are important, but how many of us are willing to invest in ourselves in the same way that we expect companies to invest in us? Instead of being proactive about their own professional development, many employees sit back and wait for HR to tap them on the shoulder for mentoring programs, leadership seminars, even feedback about performance evaluation. The truth is, there can be significant benefits in seeking these things out on your own.
Take, for example, the 180 or 360 survey, which are tools used by companies to gather information about managers and leaders. A 360 survey asks for feedback from people all around you–customers, employees, leaders, and peers– while a 180 survey focuses on one area, such as employees or customers. While HR departments frequently use these tools, they don’t have a monopoly on them. Employees can hire professional development consultants on their own to conduct these surveys, and there can be compelling reasons why this makes sense.
Of course, not everyone feels he can afford the out-of-pocket expense, but this can be a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to your career. If spending money helps you secure a promotion and a pay raise, isn’t that a worthwhile return on your investment? And if you are seeking a new job, it is an expense you can write off on taxes.
If the chips are falling where they may and not where you want them to, then it may be time to invest in outside help to turn your career around. Need more convincing? Check out these 3 examples of how something as simple as a 360 survey can impact career trajectory.
Prepare for the promotion you want.
Bob, a director for the past 5 years, heard that the vice president of his division would retire in a few months. Bob wanted to know how others perceived him so he could position himself as a top candidate for the job. Since he had participated in a leadership development program, Bob was already aware of how a 360 survey could provide detailed information about an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Bob reached outside his company and engaged a consultant to administer the 360 survey and provide a debriefing. Bob then used the feedback to hone his people skills over the next few months and to promote his strengths in the interview.
Change your boss’s perception.
Jackie had been pegged as “difficult to work with” but after working with an executive coach for a year, she significantly improved her people skills. Her colleagues and direct reports noticed the change, but since she didn’t have day-to-day contact with her boss, he didn’t appreciate how much she had grown as a leader. Jackie would never be considered for promotion unless she changed her boss’s perception of her, and to do that, she needed hard data. So Jackie asked her executive coach to conduct a 360 survey, which documented how people’s attitudes toward her had changed. Her boss, impressed with the results, re-evaluated his own perceptions about Jackie and promoted her to head of a new division.
Change the perception of prospective employers.
Sally was a senior director with a company that was in the midst of a major reorganization. When her company decided to eliminate her division, Sally found herself without a job despite being a well-respected and successful manager. Knowing she had to counter the perception about being laid off due to questionable performance, Sally sought out an executive coach and immediately asked for a 360 survey. The detailed report gave her an important tool for distinguishing herself in her job search. Now she could offer prospective employers documentation that she was a casualty of downsizing and not an employee with a poor performance problem.
Can’t afford to hire a consultant? Do it yourself!
Make a list of at least 10 key stakeholders in your current role and ask if they would provide you with some professional feedback. Begin the conversation by saying, “I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with you, and I value your opinion. I’m focused on my own development and want to learn to be more effective in my role (or future role.) Would you share your thoughts on working with me?” Collect feedback through an anonymous survey, an email, or in a face-to-face meeting by asking questions like these:
- In what ways have you seen me contribute to the organization?
- What words would you use to describe working with me?
- What strengths do I bring to the team?
- What are my blind spots?
- Is there anything you would like to see more of from me?
- Anything you would like to see less of from me?
- What else do I need to know or understand about the business, culture, or future?
No matter what people say, avoid becoming defensive or explaining why you did what you did in the past. Just listen to the feedback and then thank those involved for their time.
Summarize the feedback in one report. Look at the themes, and list the stories and examples you heard. Identify your top two weaknesses and the specific actions you will take to address them. Also focus on building the top two competencies that emerged from your list. Keep your leaders aware of the specific actions you take to improve your performance.
Whether you engage the services of a professional or opt for the do-it-yourself approach, break out of the mindset that your career is in the hands of other people. It’s not.
Shawn Kent Hayashi is the business conversation expert who helps executives solve problems within organizations, teams, and work groups. In her new book, Conversations that Get Results and Inspire Collaborations, Hayashi shares her expertise on communication, group dynamics, and team building.