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The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Career? Stop Asking for a Promotion.

Jeff Miller

Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness, Cornerstone OnDemand

This article was originally published on, under Jeff Miller's Forbes Human Resources Council column.

The year’s end is quickly approaching, and with it comes the annual performance review. That means career development will be top of mind for many employees. While I look forward to conversations about performance and feedback, there’s a part of me that dreads them. As a manager, I always expect someone to ask, "When am I going to get promoted?"

I’m tired of this question. First, most of the employees who ask it are pursuing promotions before they are ready. But second, and more importantly, title bumps really shouldn’t be the focus of career development. Employees should spend more time thinking about, and advocating for, their personal and professional growth.

This is especially true in today’s changing workplace: The gig economy, which employs up to one-third of the U.S. workforce, and the rise of technology are transforming how and where we work. These changes have brought entirely new jobs to the market, such as Uber drivers, freelance app developers and social media managers. And in many of these positions, employees are creating their own titles⁠.

Titles are not a true measure of career development, especially in the skills economy that we live in today. Employees need to center their attention on what will actually put them ahead of the curve: personal growth. By putting energy behind things like developing a consistent learning practice or finding a mentor, employees will be able to grow their careers even in a shifting workplace.

Stop Asking About Titles. Starting Asking About Skills

Most often, those asking me about promotion cycles or title bumps happen to be millennials or Gen Zers. In fact, research suggests these generations are more likely to advocate for their own career development and more willing to ask for promotions, raises and the like. Advocating for your career is admirable, but titles and promotions shouldn’t be the goal when thinking about career development. Instead, personal growth and skill sets are far more helpful in the long term than any promotion or accolade.

For example, when employees come up to me and say, "I want this title. How should I get there?" I wonder about their intentions. This question is myopic and lacks a forward-thinking strategy.

I would rather an employee approach me to ask, "This is where I’m trying to take my career; what should I do to meet my goals?" I’m not only much more open to that conversation, but I’m actually more able to help them. I can talk with them about the skill sets they will need to be successful, give them feedback about their progress on those skills and even point them toward resources that will help them get there.

Don’t Wait For Instruction. Take Learning Into Your Own Hands

When it comes to personal career development, the simplest advice I can offer employees is to become lifelong learners. Research shows that employees invested in learning and career development programs were more likely to out-innovate their peers, and their companies achieved greater financial returns, too.

Continuous learning doesn’t mean just taking courses; reading is always a great learning opportunity, and finding a book to help you through a challenge or explore something new can be beneficial. I recently recommended the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss to an employee who told me they were struggling with negotiation skills in the workplace.

Seeking mentorship is another great tactic. Whether through a companywide mentorship program or by simply reaching out to executives you admire, sitting down for conversations with managers or more senior co-workers is an excellent way to keep learning. Often, employees hesitate to reach out because they assume the mentor they have in mind is too busy or not interested. Personally, I’m always pleasantly surprised when an employee randomly reaches out and asks to connect. I don’t mind, and it's an easy way for them to learn and collect advice. Most managers or people in senior leadership I know are happy to share what they’ve learned through their successes and failures.

Strive For Personal Power, Not Positional Power

When thinking about career development, it can be challenging to focus on continual goals over immediate gains, but ultimately, it’s worth it. Long-term career development helps individuals create personal power rather than positional power.

Positional power gives a person authority by way of their standing in an organization’s structure or hierarchy. Personal power, on the other hand, is one’s own ability to influence people and events whether or not they have any formal authority. It is garnered over time through self-improvement, self-awareness and treatment of co-workers and employees. It is reflected in how someone "shows up" to work every day and in the authentic relationships built along the way. Workers who lead with personal power not only tend to have healthier and more trusting long-term relationships, but they are far more likely to galvanize change and inspire others in an organization.

By focusing on promotion cycles rather than long-term career development goals, you can stifle yourself and your future achievements. Sure, you could arrive in a new job with a better title, but you probably won’t have the skill set to do that job well. And, with the changing workplace and economy, titles and promotions are losing their power. Approach your career development with a forward-thinking strategy so you can avoid these pitfalls and, ultimately, meet your career goals.

Header image: Creative Commons

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.

Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

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Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.

Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

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Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock

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