Locked inside the vault of every human resources department in corporate America is a list of rising stars the corporation wants to groom for leadership. For such women and men, professional development plans are drawn up, reviewed, reassessed, and tweaked at least once a year.
At the heart of these plans is the simple notion of job rotation: moving the fast-trackers from one core function to another, one professional discipline to another, one challenge to another. It's a planned progression through experience. It's also a weeding-out process: some of these anointed candidates will fail, but those who succeed will become the all-around leaders every corporation needs.
If you're not part of your company's formal rotation plan, here's how you can create your own:
Start by locking in the basics. Finance, marketing, and operations are the classic divisions within a corporation, but successful executives today also need experience in strategic planning, human resources, risk management, technology, and international business. If you're weak in any of these areas, plug a hole by taking a course, attending a workshop and seeking out mentors who have expertise to share.
Specialize in your company's driving forces. What is your company's strategic focus? An edge in technology? Dominance in foreign markets? Superiority in product development? Whatever it is, you must master the competencies that generate your company's strategic advantage. Is yours an analytical corporation? Get access to the monthly numbers and learn them cold, so that you know which divisions are growing and which ones are contributing the most to the bottom line. Or perhaps your company is an innovative organization that prizes independent thinking. Seek out opportunities to give your creative abilities a chance to shine.
Create your own development plan. Take advantage of any internal training courses that are available, and make an investment in external development opportunities, too. Then make sure your boss and other influential managers know of your interest and initiative. When the time comes for your performance review, let your boss know of your desire to grow. Ask for her recommendations. If she doesn't offer support or encouragement, perhaps it's time for you to find another employer who will take an interest in the future.