The Upskilling Imperative: Why Accomplishments Alone Won’t Earn You A Promotion
By Darren Shimkus, General Manager, Udemy for Business
Too many employees get promoted based on what they’ve done in the past, not because they have a proven aptitude for the next role. This is especially true when individual contributors move into management positions. My company’s research found overwhelming evidence that people are promoted into management too quickly, and many employees think their supervisors need more manager training.
Getting promotion-ready doesn’t just mean checking off the boxes of what you’ve already accomplished and then waiting to be rewarded for it. You want to be successful in that next role, too, so you can continue to advance. Be purposeful and committed to developing your skill set, especially your human skills, so this promotion is the first of more to come.
Lifelong Learning For The Win
If you think of gaining a new skill only as a means to a very specific end (i.e., getting promoted), your first step should be to adjust your mindset. You need to embrace continuous learning as an integral part of your professional development — today and for the rest of your career.
Here’s why: The world of work is changing fast, with new technologies and increased automation impacting more jobs. A 21st-century career could last as long as 50 years, yet the half-life of a newly learned skill is about five years. If you do the math, you’ll see why we’ll all need to be in a state of continuous learning to keep up with these trends. Already, companies are recognizing that the most valuable employees are those who are efficient and adaptable learners.
But there’s good news, even if you don’t identify as a self-motivated knowledge seeker or didn’t consider yourself a great school student: you can still learn to learn. And if it feels uncomfortable, that’s actually a sign that you’re doing it right.
Which Skills Are The Right Skills?
If you’re on the promotion track, you’ve likely already been told some things that will be expected of you in your new role. But don’t stop with that short list of obvious skills.
It can be enlightening, even surprising, to talk to people already working in comparable roles, both inside and outside your organization, to find out what new skills they’ve needed to develop. Use this conversation to push past those obvious answers and dig into the unexpected aspects of the job and how you can best equip yourself. (You could even discover this promotion won’t actually put you on the career path you truly aspire to.)
Human Skills Will Take You To The Next Level
When you’re an individual contributor, growing in your job is all about gaining new hard skills and developing a deeper expertise in your chosen area. If you’re a visual designer, you can become a more valuable team member by mastering the newest software, learning about web development, and picking up some video editing skills.
Human skills (what many people know as “soft skills”) are important to everyone but become even more important when you transition into management. Yet many organizations wait until an employee reaches management to offer support developing these skills, if they do anything at all. By that point, it’s too late.
As a manager, a good chunk of your day will be spent on people issues. You’ll need to develop emotional intelligence, understand how to give effective feedback, learn to make difficult decisions, and much, much more. So, if you’ve got your sights set on a manager position, I strongly suggest building and practicing your human skills, which will be a valuable asset in any job you ever have. And start learning them now.
Don’t Just Gain Skills — Put Them On Display
It’s one thing to be the graphic designer who upskilled and can tell her manager she now knows how to edit the next company video and code the web page where it will live.
It’s another thing to show the boss how you’ve be working on your human skills because, when you’re adept at these skills, people may not even call it out. When you’re a good listener and problem-solver, coworkers may just assume that’s who you are as a person.
Therefore, you might have to be a little more deliberate in calling attention to your human skills. At my company, we’re lucky to have an internal website where people give kudos to their coworkers on a regular basis. Relationship-building is another important human skill, and this is where you can bring it into play: by finding sponsors in your organization who will speak up on your behalf and make sure the right people are aware of your talents.
Upskilling is obviously a critical component of becoming promotion-ready, but that’s just the beginning. In fact, lifelong learning will be the fuel for all of your future career growth.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on March 6, 2019.