The startup culture is indeed reigning supreme. Concepts like the shared economy, growth of small businesses fuelled by the increasing technological competence is all contributing towards the rise of startup culture.
More often than not, startups are small organisations with lesser ‘heads’ and a flatter structure. But more importantly, in most startups in general, decisions are made in and by cross-functional teams.
So here’s exactly why this cross-functionality is what I believe to be critically important for every person starting out a career today.
Why do I need to upskill?
I started working relatively early – one of my best career decisions so far. My first experience with the startup culture in all its competent and cross-functional glory happened somewhere midway through my second year of undergrad.
Desperately on the lookout for a summer internship, I landed one as a content writer for an ad and communications’ agency. A week into the internship and I was already being assigned tasks that were considerably distant from the role of a traditional content writer. As overwhelming as that was to an impressionable 18-year old, I decided to power my way through and learn on the job.
And it’s only six-months into my first full-time job that I realised the importance of this powering through.
Because here’s the deal – every small organisation, every startup, will require its employees to operate cross-functionally. Institutionalised corporate organisations may have introduced the ‘dynamic’ work environment, but it’s the younger ones that have truly implied and integrated this ever-changing work culture.
But here’s the good news – while they do expect a vast palette of skills, they don’t expect people starting out to have learnt all of that beforehand. Learning on the job is most certainly the unofficial mantra and it’s yours to take advantage of – both personally and professionally.
How to upskill in your workplace
1. Ask questions & seek help
The most straightforward answer? Ask questions. Building on from my personal experience, I cannot stress this point enough. Ask questions because your employers expect you to have a lot of them.
Going back to the internship story, a week into my content writing internship, I was given the task of creating a quarterly social media plan. Very evidently confused, I asked how to go about it and my employer obliged. She took me through the organisation’s older plans, the brand’s voice, the expectations and helped me create the plan herself. Let’s just say I didn’t need her help after that –barring the approval and edits’ stage, obviously.
So here’s my point –anyone already at the job would probably know more than someone who’s just started. So ask for help. Ask questions. Sit for brainstorming and ideating sessions. Use your skilled workplace to upskill yourself.
2. Take up responsibilities outside your job description
Similarly, I entered my first job as a Jr. Content Writer. A month into writing three long-form articles a week and I learnt that there’s so much more to digital writing than just writing.
Digital and social media marketing go hand-in-hand with basic content writing. Add the digital aspect into the equation and you become more than a content writer – a content creator.
While I found digital marketing to be a tad daunting, I learnt that it perfectly aligns with what I wish to eventually pursue. Being in a particular workspace, having a holistic understanding of how the daily operations of every team are carried out is an incredible help in figuring out your own interest and career alignments as well.
If you’re a social media manager, then the added knowledge of Google AdSense, SEO, SEM and Facebook Ads is a good additional responsibility to pick up. Similarly, if you’re on the tech side of things, and starting out as a coder or a product owner, it always helps to the other.
In any case, it’s important to decipher this alignment. Working in a startup is a good place to figure out this interest and career alignment. Take the opportunity to interact with team members from all departments and see where else can you find a fit for yourself.
Starting out young, it’s important that you don’t box yourself. Don’t define your role and definitely don’t engage only what you are comfortable with. Leave room for growth. Be open to things you’re not yet aware of. Remember, this is the time to make mistakes. This is the only time nobody expects perfection.
Equipped with this added skill that you picked up, you’re now eligible to take up a lot more responsibility that you initially bargained for.
3. Find a mentor
A workplace mentor may be hard to find, but most certainly goes a long way in determining you professional course ahead. A young organisation, more often than not, is buzzing with experienced professionals working to create something new and exciting – this includes not just the brand they’re working for, but also the workforce they are working with.
This new-age work culture is teeming with professionals seeking out fresher methods of working and fresher ideas – use this to your advantage. Find a work mentor that can teach you more than just your job.
Working in a startup culture myself, we have these intermittent content-marketing meetings – which by extension grow into a knowledge transfer workshop. I have learnt so much more by listening to and brainstorming with my seniors in these meetings than any college lecture could.
Interact with them, find out how they operate, their own working style, what you can take from that and how you can do better. There’s no better workplace growth currency than enthusiasm.
Upskilling ensures professional growth in a fickle economy
Drawing from my own experience, I entered my workspace as a mere content writer but I will leave with the ability to handle a social media page, SEO skills and the pragmatic knowledge of Digital Marketing. Think about how all of these added skills will be received by a potential employer who seeks a content person.
The point here is, the economy is whimsical and will always be so. One can never truly be prepared for all the changes and the transitions that the job market can throw your way. So the best way to be equipped with this challenging dynamic (pun intended) is to muster whatever skills you can lay your hands on.
A linear and vertical upskilling path within a single job function will not particularly ensure continuous growth. The more non-linear a career growth, the more skill sets and job descriptions you are the right fit for.
1. Cross-functional upskilling – The path to leadership
Cross-functional skills essentially entail a sense of developing a working knowledge of all areas of business. Starting from the roles and the goals to covering management all up to the needs of the various departments. Not only is this possible, but by extension, necessary at the top levels.
Think of all the leaders at the senior management level. They will have cross-functional skills and a working knowledge of all areas of the business. And that is precisely how they become capable of steering the organisation towards a profitable goal in an all-encompassing manner.
2. Career advancement over career growth
Career growth is most certainly a loaded and multifaceted term. While it implies transitions and shift in responsibilities of varying degrees, a career advancement on the other hand is a growth in skills which can further your professional growth in the same workplace.
A well-rounded knowledge of domains other than your expertise provides incentive for managers to consider individuals for career advancement – because they’re already equipped with the required skills. Moreover, cross-functional skills provide better value to pre-existing talent and chances of innovation and creativity are much higher in this case. This also leads to a better understanding of how each domain functions.
Developing cross-functioning skills can provide a way forward for career advancement – even in the absence of vertical growth. This makes it possible for people to be given additional responsibilities and help them grow in a horizontal way.
3. How upskilling facilitates growth in the workplace
With the workplace growing more and more integrated and all encompassing, skilling in areas other than your expertise has grown on to become incredibly important. Equipped with extra-departmental knowledge, it helps develop managerial and administrative skills. This is precisely the advantage that cross functioning offers.
It facilitates a person to understand multiple viewpoints and engage in respectful communication – one that accounts for the work and value of others’. Corporate leaders and entrepreneurs at any given level may not have the expertise in every field but they’re certainly responsible for managing people with various expertise.
This management requires one to not only have the general understanding of others’ responsibilities but also of the expectation that employees should be setting for themselves. Cross-functioning skills can enable managers to set realistic expectations for their employees.
4. Cross-functionality: The way to build more skilled workforces
Here’s circling back to the startup culture as a building block of the millennial-driven society. We live in a sharing economy and knowledge transfer is a significant aspect of everything that is shared. Cross-functionality makes the process of this knowledge transfer a whole lot easier.
In a cross-functional work culture, innovation is relatively more than the regular workforce and it’s this very knowledge transfer that makes this possible.
Speaking from personal experience, there’s nothing more rewarding than multi-tasking. And acing every responsibility that you’ve been made to be a part of. And as I finish writing this article I’m supposed to attend the content-marketing meeting where we’re supposed to brainstorm content for all our social media handles.
So as I look forward to a lot of brainstorming, a lot of keyword research and a lot of general back-and-forth, here’s your chance to go seek that mentor and start learning a new skill in your workplace!