Career Fast Track – How can I get on one of those?

A fast track has a surface that allows the participants to move swifter than usual. The term is used in many instances such as horse racing, running and the condition of the field for athletic events. Wikipedia defines it as an informal English phrase meaning “the quickest and most direct route to achievement of a goal, as in competing for professional advancement”. 

Performance times are better under these circumstances. A fast track is also a career path that enables those who gain entrance, to move along the proverbial corporate ladder, at an accelerated pace. In business, the fast track exists for succession planning. Leadership wants to groom the next generation of managers and leaders. The leaders of tomorrow must have the necessary skills.  The top talent must be exposed to a holistic view of the company, competitors, and the challenges of the industry, which this track provides.

The fast track is reserved for the anointed ones, the heir apparent, and the chosen ones.  It is an envied path that many would like to travel. It is like the outside lane (HOV) in cities like Dallas, Texas, where you can move quickly if you are traveling with a passenger. The corporate prodigy is the passenger riding with the sponsor for their career. The track can be customized to hold one person or a field of talented individuals receiving special treatment. 

Organizations may determine there is not enough variety of thought in their leadership pool, so they structure a plan to accelerate the movement of certain individuals within the organization. Fast track status may be awarded to people as part of a diversity initiative with the focus on fairness and adhering to organizational standards of excellence.

One company established a Corporate Program to facilitate the movement of recent college graduates within the company. Aligned to prestigious universities, the plan brought in some of the best and brightest graduates and rotated them through different departments. The strategy ensured that fresh ideas from academia would continuously flow into their company.

How do you gain entrance onto the fast track? The invitation goes to the high fliers and top talent, but how do you become one of those elite players? Everyone wants to be one of those individuals who are routinely exposed to Upper Management and fluidly move through different roles to gain the background and experience to take on higher levels of responsibility. The key tactics are listed below. 

Fast track tactics

  • Phenomenal Performance – Excel short-term on the job and draw attention to your effort, intellect and results
  • Acquire education and expertise – Develop skill sets that are unique and in great demand
  • Connections and relationships – Make contacts with key leaders and obtain their advocacy for your potential and impact on the organization
  • Beyond your control – There may not be anything you can do 

Phenomenal Performance 

Fast break people many times are identified and targeted shortly after they join an organization. Their first impression is phenomenal. They get out of the starting blocks quickly and hit the ground running. They are the one’s whom management very early on says, “We have to keep our eyes on them.” They speak out in meetings; demonstrate leadership and exhibit a fresh perspective in their responses and interactions with peers. Some are new to the organization. Nevertheless, they are courageous and confident enough to challenge and question the status quo. Occasionally, they are recruited by the organization with promises regarding their career mobility. Ideally, most fast trackers are home-grown and developed through the company ranks. 

Education and expertise 

Astute employees may analyze skills and competencies that are not available in their company or in a large enough supply. They are students of the industry and corporate culture. They propose new techniques, best practices from their professional reading and experience. They work above and beyond the call of duty, which includes longer hours. They acquire the skills their research shows are lacking or they identify the need and ask to lead a project team assigned to explore and make recommendations. 

Connections and relationships 

A third strategy involves making the connections to develop the relationships to be one of those fair-haired boys and girls. This will test your political competence. You need a sponsor and an advocate. Boldness and tenacity are required to ask a senior leader to be your mentor. Introduce yourself to those in power and share your ideas for the company and your career.  Another valid technique is to ask someone to contact key personnel on your behalf and arrange a meeting. Know the culture within your organization to gauge the acceptance of your ideas before interacting with Senior Leaders.

Beyond your control

You may not be able to influence your placement on the fast track. A secret committee with secret criteria and a secret handshake may decide its members. They select people to continue the status quo or people who think like the founders of the company. One CEO placed someone as a possible successor who reminded him of himself at an early age. The fast track may be filled with people selected based on preferences and biases. Diversity initiatives may influence the placement of some individuals. These individuals cause less controversy when their talent match or exceed the qualifications of other members on the track.

When vying for FTS (Fast Track Status) use performance evaluations as a great venue to review your work against company objectives. Lobby for positions to advance your career, always strengthen your portfolio and strive to make yourself indispensable. 

Self Assessment

Be objective when reviewing your skill set for possible inclusion on the fast track. You must be objective; otherwise you will resent someone who is more qualified and suitable for the role. Get a second opinion other than your own. Be honest if you discover your talents are significant, but not among the best. Don’t worry, you can be recognized and rewarded by not being on a fast track; since most people are not on a fast track. 

Bear in mind that members on the fast track may be willing to perform and make sacrifices you are not willing to make. I had an employee who felt someone was on a fast track and he resented the promotion they were offered. The job was located in Headquarters many miles away. He felt he was being deprived of the opportunity to compete. I asked him if he was willing to relocate to HQ, he said “no”. It is not reasonable to resent someone who qualifies for a promotion, you either did not want, or were not willing to meet the conditions. He excluded himself by refusing to relocate. The information he distributed about his career aspirations and relocation restrictions denied him access to the fast track. 

If you can’t join them – Align with them 

Wise people align themselves with the anointed ones. They are cordial and cooperative with the golden men and women, in order to form a strategic alliance and gain insight into the company. They realize that someday they may be able to help each other. 

Ironically, many times the favored ones leave the company after they have amassed a stronger resume. This is particularly embarrassing to the leader who fawned all over the fast tracker, only to be used and discarded when they receive a better offer from outside the company. The previous fast tracker may ask you to join them as a part of their team in the new organization. This position could be a promotion and the stimulus your career needed to increase your portfolio, income and broaden your network. 

If you feel the rise of the anointed one will blunt your career and deprive you of promotional opportunities; you must do a few things;

  • Consistently perform at your best
  • Maintain morale – It helps to reduce stress and model behavior
  • Exhibit leadership in the face of adversity  
  • Remain positive – Complaining to your peers is not advisable
  • As you evaluate your options, devise an exit strategy, even if you don’t use it

The fast track is great if you are on it and a source of mystery and suspicion if you are not. Continuous excellent performance over time could pave the way for you to move onto the fast track at a later date, so don’t give up too quickly.  However, you can have a robust career with professional and personal growth without being on the proverbial fast track. Good luck.

Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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