I was left a message on my voicemail by a friend in a state of panic. All I could hear him say was, “I’ve been given a poison chalice and need a bit of advice”. I know his boss was an avid reader of middle ages history, but I couldn’t imagine he had resorted to such a gruesome dismissal strategy!
Before I called him back, I thought about my experiences and recent conversations with some final year students on the advantages of being out of their comfort zone.
Whether you’re feeling pressurised to take on a new task, or role, or you’re wondering how you can strengthen your promotion prospects, you might be interested in the following article on the importance of stepping out your comfort zone.
To prepare for the call with my friend, I created a visual to explain how you can build capability and create more career opportunities.
Most of you will be a technical or subject matter expert in your chosen field or function. At some point, you generally reach a ceiling where you have mastered your craft and are very comfortable in your role. You might be exposed to the odd challenge that utilises your life and business skills, however, your greatest set of skills might be under utilised, and never given the chance to develop and shine. When leadership and management teams look at succession planning, potential promotion candidates and stars within the organisation, they talk about performance driven results by employees with a high level of life and business skills – I know some call these soft skills, but I always thought of these as essential life skills.
Out of comfort zone zero (OCZ0) – The bottom blue block represents where you might find yourself now, with still the potential to increase your Technical/SME skills. The red and brown blocks represent the Life and Business skills (LAB) you’re building in the same role. You will notice these are slightly lower in this zone, as most of your role is based around your core Technical/SME skills with a high degree of repetitive technical and transactional tasks. While you develop and utilise some LAB skills, that are essential for you to flourish in this zone, you might limit your opportunity to further develop these by not stretching out of your comfort zone. People can happily live in this zone and make the odd stretch into OCZ1 to pick up extra skills and abilities that help them deliver a superior performance in their role. However, you might start to get frustrated and limit your chance for higher level opportunities because people will only see you as a great performer at this level.
The right side of the diagram illustrates the levels of stretch to step, you might want to take, outside your normal comfort zone. If you’re pursing a specific role, building skills & abilities to maximise future opportunities, seeking more job enrichment or think you’ve being handed the poison chalice, there are huge benefits to stepping out of your comfort zone area. Whether you want to slightly stretch, or completely step out your comfort zone, the more transferable skills – especially LAB – you develop, the more opportunities you will have within and outside your functional area.
OCZ1 – The first is more of a stretch, rather than big step, but worth it if you want to excel in your role, state a case for promotion and exceed your annual objectives. Those new tasks and responsibilities will enhance and develop your problem solving, deadline management and communication skills. A great way to boost your confidence and start the process of thinking beyond your role.
OCZ2 – Gaining experience from working with different functions gives you the opportunity to really develop yourself. Learning from peers & non peers on how they utilise their LAB skills and developing a deeper self-awareness. Utilising your technical skills on project teams, building business relationships and managing conflict, will be challenging at first, but soon become very rewarding. Taking on a higher-level position in your function or supervisory role, will call on you to quickly develop and utilise more LAB skills. This zone can be a make or break for some people. Mastering your approach to listening, learning, and self-awareness will help you build lasting LAB skills. These will also give you confidence to develop your own style and build trust across the organisation. The list of LAB skills is endless, but attentive listening, effective engagement, collaboration and influencing teams, are just some of the examples that will help you shine in your role.
A zone that will give you lots of potential to develop skills and deliver a high performance, while building yourself a great reputation across multiple teams and fellow employees.
OCZ3 – People who have developed a growth mindset, believing that they can develop their skills and abilities through learning, dedication, determination and consistent improvement, generally land in this zone. It can feel like the biggest of all steps managing another function, however, the capabilities you have built up so far will serve you well. This zone will call for you to utilise and develop your leadership skills. You will have the challenge of understanding how your leadership and management skills need to coexist. The excitement of empowering your teams to solve problems and become more accountable, while knowing that over directing and not providing the right level of support, can demoralise the team in a heartbeat.
The experiences you gain and the advanced level of LAB skills you will develop, will easily rise above the highest mountain of leadership & management books you could ever read.
Having the chance to inspire others, develop a sense of purpose and values across the organisation, while still having the opportunity to develop yourself, will bring so much reward and more wider career opportunities.
So, my advice to my friend was to see this as an opportunity to develop and make himself more marketable. Take control of the situation and write down his set of transferable skills that would help him in the role. Understand the skills he wanted to gain from the experience and make sure he knew how to develop and utilise them.
Now you’ve all familiarised yourself with the model, I’m looking for a volunteer from the top of OCZ3 to give him that follow up call!
Gary Cox 20th May 2021
Authors note – The roles, tasks and life & business skills are not an exhaustive list. The principle of the model is to show the importance of, not only building LAB skills by stretching yourself within your normal functional role, but outside of it as well.
If you’re planning to step out of your comfort zone and want someone to work with you to help proactively develop business & life skills to enhance your performance, feel free to contact me by phone or email.