Is Your Job Training You for ‘Next Best Role’?

Is Your Job Training You for ‘Next Best Role’?

Everyone has a “next best role” – the position they’re preparing to take on, which will energize, elevate and challenge them to grow. But too often, young women aren’t pushed to visualize that next role, and are instead stagnating in a position that will quickly become demotivating, or they will inadvertently slow down their career potential.

Real career fulfillment means envisioning your next best role. And making it happen requires an employer who’s willing to share that vision with you and create opportunities. Take a personal example: I never thought I would end up in human resources. A few years out of college I was working in research and development, putting my nutrition and food chemistry background to use in the way I had assumed I would in college. I liked the work, but there was something missing. Like many young women, I saw my job as the next step on a path I had started years previously and was passively waiting for my boss to bring me opportunities when he felt I was ready to advance.

I might have been happy in that role forever if our HR head hadn’t recognized my talent in leadership and people development and asked me whether I’d ever considered human resources. When he said those words, a light turned on inside me. The more we talked, the more I realized he was right: there was a better opportunity for me to grow. I had the chance to accelerate my career doing something I am passionate about and had never realized it myself – or maybe I never allowed myself to think boldly about opportunities outside of R&D? Either way, it took an astute leader who courageously created an opportunity for me.

 I dream that every young woman has the privilege of working for an employer that truly wants her to succeed. Here are a few signs that your work environment is giving you the opportunities that will fast-forward your growth and fulfill you in the long-run:

1. You talk frequently about what drives and excites you. If you ask your manager what you’re good at and passionate about, they should be able to give an answer that rings true to you. If they can’t, take the opportunity to tell them. This isn’t just a relationship-building tool, it’s critical to partnering with your manager to find your next best role.

 For example, imagine that you’re in a sales role at your company. When you sell products to customers, you often notice that they’re designed or marketed in a way that’s confusing to the customer. You ache to be able to fix this, and you think you’d have some good thoughts on how to do it. If you never have that conversation, your innovative ideas won’t benefit the company, and you won’t feel totally fulfilled. If your manager knows about your passion and supports you, you can harness that creative energy to open up new opportunities at work.

Make it a goal to have a conversation every month about something you find particularly inspiring. An employer who wants to see you succeed will be excited to start that dialogue.

2. Your work encourages your “side hustle.” When we think about entrepreneurship, we might think about external ventures like creating a business on Etsy or designing an app, but why wouldn’t entrepreneurship be a tangible part of a corporate job as well? We know that owning and developing “passion projects” makes for more engaged, excited employees so create the space to allow entrepreneurship at work.

Supporting entrepreneurship in the workplace can take a couple of forms. In some instances, your employer might carve out space in the workday for you to pursue side initiatives, like heading up the wellness program or driving community efforts sponsored by your company. In others cases, your employer might recognize that you have a thriving side project or business, and allow you to work flexibly to pursue your goals.

3. You can pursue roles that aren’t exactly what you signed up for. Feeling trapped in a position can be very disengaging and demotivating. Perhaps you feel like you’re not in the exact role you want to be, but you believe your years of education and experience have appropriately landed you in your current position, and you don’t feel qualified to do anything else.

Employees should be empowered to explore a wide range of roles beyond their current position. At a large company like Wrigley and Mars, we encourage our Associates to move across functions, business segments, and even physically relocate to countries to experience different opportunities. But even at a small company, it should be possible to mold your current position – such as taking over more creative assignments or project management tasks.

Here’s where I believe women, in particular, are disadvantaged. For many women, we aren’t conditioned to put ourselves out there and raise our hands for roles that are even slightly removed from what we believe our education and experience has qualified us to do. I work really hard to remove this negativity from my thinking. Believe in your work, build your case and raise your hand.

The traditional metaphor advancing your career is following a “career path,” but realize this path is not one way, or straight, or without stops signs and detours. I don’t need my career to be going consistently upwards. As long as I’m driving to a new area that excites and challenges me, I’m having a blast. A great approach is to  get curious about what others in your organization do, what they love, as well as what they feel is missing. You might find yourself inspired by a particular position or experience and feel encouraged to pursue an opportunity that is beyond your wildest dreams or create an opportunity that doesn’t yet exist.

Many people are working in roles that aren’t contributing to their overall happiness. It’s an easy thing to do. After all, money is crucial and we only have so much time. But if every young woman took more time to think about what truly motivates her, and asked for an employer that did the same, we would end up with more fulfilled, engaged, productive teams – and happier employees.

Get bold about your “next best role.” You may be surprised where you end up.


Sandra Collier

Sandra Collier is the Vice President of Human Resources for Wrigley Americas and has worked for Wrigley and Mars for more than 10 years.

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