You’re a self-driven and ambitious manager. You don’t want to stop your growth within your function or role. Your goal is to become a leader.

To do that, what exposure do you need to broaden your horizons and bring you closer to the boardroom? How do you develop an overview of the business and a practical understanding of different functions? How do you prepare yourself for decision making on matters that fall outside your domain?

The answer lies in cross-functional experience, in the form of on-ground working with teams in different fields. Such opportunities exist in most global organizations, and if an organization doesn’t have any, it will create one for you as the management sees the passion you will bring to the role. But either way, you need to drive that critical shift.

How? Here are some fundamental steps.

Speak up. Ask!

We all know that nothing is served on a platter. Yet, we don’t easily ask for a movement to cross-functional roles. Without asking, without projecting, without speaking up, no magic door will open for you. Your manager cannot imagine your aspirations. It may not even occur to him or her until you have a candid conversation. So, ask and you shall find is the primary mantra.

But when is the perfect time to approach the subject?

Now, most organizations schedule a time to discuss career growth such as mid-year or year-end appraisals, or at the beginning of the year when you craft your development plan. That is an obvious time to talk.

But talking about it once will not cut the deal. If there is any other time that is unstructured but effective, don’t hold back. You’re the best judge of when your manager is receptive. Have discussions throughout the year. Persevere but don’t appear desperate. Strike the balance.

Reach out to people in cross-functional roles or teams

There is nothing like hearing it from the horse’s mouth, and organizations today are flatter than ever. So, walk up to leaders. Explain to them that you want to learn the business. Ask for a formal sit-down to understand what happens in different functions. If you’re honest and approach as a learner and not someone who wants to judge or just benefit and vanish, most people are happy to guide others.

Volunteer for cross-functional assignments

Every experience is useful. For example, volunteer for the Budgeting team much before it is set to go live. As you create assets that touch every function, you will meet diverse teams, managers in those functions will notice your ability to collaborate, and you will hone your understanding.

This sets you up as a credible candidate when a cross-functional role opens up.

Be alert. Don’t always wait for someone to carve an opportunity for you

Not all opportunities are laid out. Sometimes they have to be shaped and roles have to be defined.

Stay updated with organizational communications. Observe movements, team mergers, sector developments, and new trends. Read between the lines. Be someone who pitches ideas on the potential need for multi-disciplinary inputs. For example, most organizations set up a team in response to COVID implications, or on the future of organizational culture in the new normal. That was an inorganic push. But there are organic developments too. If you are proactive, you could grab a spot.

Demonstrate willingness to experiment

If you are committed to becoming a leader, be open to changes and consider opportunities that come your way. If this means coming out of your comfort zone and moving to a totally new vertical or a geography change, do not discard the option without evaluating it. If you are an asset to your organization, they will also adjust as per your comfort level. So, go there, evaluate and communicate your constraints, without assuming that it will not work in your favor.

So, go no-holds-barred. Be vocal. Be open-minded. And most importantly, persevere. You never know what will give you that much needed boost to get ahead.

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