Talking about your ambitions with your boss: a scary thought? Perhaps. But this discussion is necessary for anyone who wants to take control of their professional destiny and increase their chances of building a career that reflects who they are. And since we don’t all share the same ambitions, don’t make your boss try to guess yours! Take the lead and go for it.
Expressing your ambitions to your supervisor isn’t just naming a professional objective; it’s implementing a “system” that helps you achieve your goals with their support. And remember that this discussion will be equally beneficial to them, because employee retention is a significant human resources issue in this era of full employment.
“Having a conversation about your career is no longer reserved for upper management”, explains Salwa Salek, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Desjardins. Nowadays, all employees deserve this conversation about their path and professional ambitions. Companies that fail to do this won’t manage very well in the next 20 years…”
So, how can you have this delicate conversation without the boss thinking you’re considering leaving the company, or worse: that you’re dreaming of replacing them? Here are Salwa Salek’s tips.
1. Prepare for a meeting… that pays off!
Since it can be stressful, it’s better to come to the meeting prepared. The first step, says Salwa Salek: have a clear sense of your professional aims. “Ask yourself, what are your three greatest ambitions. Think about where you want to be in 5 years, 3 years, 1 year. Next, figure out what you appreciate more and less about your work now, and what you aspire to in your day-to-day,” she suggests. The idea is to do some soul-searching BEFORE engaging in this type of conversation with your employer. By truly knowing your goals and motivations, you’ll be better able to explain why you want to achieve certain objectives and what advantages they’ll bring to the company.
Above all: visualize yourself at the heart of your team and your organization. An ambitious person who goes it alone falls increasingly out of favour…
2. Get into intrapreneur mode
Be proactive! A good way to express your ambition is to be in solution mode. So, why not make the most of the meeting and share an idea (well thought-out, of course) that could, for example, solve a recurring problem or improve your department’s efficiency?
By proposing solutions, you show your initiative and know-how, as well as your commitment to the organization. In other words: this is an excellent way to prove to your employer that you want to grow with them, not just climb the ladder. “Having a defined role within the company doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself,” Salwa Salek explains. “You have to be bold with certain initiatives when you know you have the necessary skills. Ideally, employees today should adopt the intrapreneur mindset immediately.”
3. Ask for feedback
Discussing your ambition is a great pretext for soliciting feedback on your work. Ask your boss about what skills to develop and knowledge to acquire, to prepare you to take on more responsibilities. Ask them which strengths you should capitalize on and how you can improve in your job, to fast-track your career and grow the organization.
“Soliciting feedback is essential,” Salwa Salek emphasizes. “It can help you position yourself and perhaps even find the right coach or mentor. You also create a different bond, richer than the simple employee-employer relationship.”
4. Set-up meetings with other managers
Being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean climbing, it also means learning more. By being in touch with managers and employees in other departments, you’ll be more open to everyone’s realities, better understand the organization, and possibly add some new strings to your bow.
However, before initiating this kind of meeting, it’s crucial to talk about it with your boss, to avoid sowing needless doubt. Use your discussion about your ambition to tell them about your desire to broaden your horizons and ultimately put your knowledge to good use. In a similar vein, why not ask them to be the intermediary or initiator of these meetings? “A boss who has a finger on the pulse of their employee and knows they’re a high-achiever with strong potential and specific skills, will be on the lookout for opportunities so they can open the right doors for them. In this way, they become their employee’s spokesperson with other managers,” Salwa Salek concludes.