“You are only as good as the people around you”: five career development lessons
From finding new opportunities to learn, to surrounding yourself with a supportive network of colleagues – Pooja Narang, Chief Controls Officer for Barclays Global Service Centre, India, shares five things she’s learned about career development in her 14 years at the bank and her advice for junior colleagues taking on new roles.
It takes a leap of faith to consider moving into new and unexplored territories at work. You need to be confident about your existing skill set and inquisitive about opportunities. But, when Pooja Narang started at Barclays as Company Secretary, she was keen to find ways to develop professionally and take on challenges.
“When the Barclays role came up, I applied because it was an organisation that I really wanted to work for. I joined as an assistant vice president, but I was very clear in my interview that I didn’t want to restrict my career,” Narang, who is based in Noida, India, remembers. “I wanted to do more, and thankfully, the management team was open to that.”
Since then, she has steadily expanded her remit, and almost 14 years later, Narang is now Chief Controls Officer (CCO) for Barclays Global Service Centre, India. She partners with the business to advise on risk management and provide ‘check and challenge’ processes.
So, what are the biggest lessons she’s learned about career development since she joined – and what advice would she share with colleagues who are starting out?
I was very clear in my Barclays interview that I didn’t want to restrict my career.
Chief Controls Officer, Barclays Global Service Centre, India
1. Be proactive
Timing was crucial in allowing Narang to expand her responsibilities and prepare her to take on her current role. “I was very fortunate because when I joined, we were setting up several new teams and that enabled me to learn and explore,” she explains.
At the same time, she says she needed to put herself forwards for those opportunities. “I was really grateful that the management team considered me to be a suitable fit for taking on an additional role – but I don’t think this move would have been possible if I wasn’t open to developing myself.”
In order to progress at work, that desire to develop is key. “Opportunities to learn can be found all over,” she explains. “You don’t only need apps, formal training courses or study materials to educate you. If you are willing, I think any interaction can teach you new skills.”
2. Look beyond your day job
If you want to develop new strengths, it may be worth looking beyond the ‘nine-to-five’. Narang says that getting involved with a range of Barclays groups and initiatives has broadened her outlook, helped her to understand what drives others and enhanced her interpersonal skills.
This has included co-leading the Chief Controls Office’s segment of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion employee resource group, and heading up a Noida-based volunteer network aimed at centralising citizenship efforts under a common umbrella to maximise their impact on the community.
“These experiences make you think beyond the responsibilities of your daily role, help you to build up relationships and give you a more diverse perspective on things,” she says. “When you surround yourself with different people, you develop your ‘soft’ skills. You never know what opportunity you might get through working with them.”
I’m just so grateful that everything happened at the right time.
Chief Controls Officer, Barclays Global Service Centre, India
3. Build a supportive network
“You are only as good as those around you,” Narang says. “I lead teams of up to 400 people, and I believe that we must always keep them at the centre of whatever we’re doing.”
Investing time in these relationships is key, and ultimately, has a positive impact on the way teams and businesses operate: “With the right people and attitude, you can achieve anything you want to achieve.”
There are a whole host of ways that you can get to know others across the business. “Every couple of weeks, I put on a ‘social sphere’. Within this, colleagues can nominate themselves to join group discussions where we talk about what is happening in our personal lives and how we can support one another,” she explains.
“I also have an ‘open house’ policy which allows colleagues in my team to reach out discreetly if they want to talk to me about something. They can walk into my office and speak their minds.”
Whatever the approach, Narang adds that it is essential to focus on honest and authentic communication and express a willingness to help others grow: “People will connect with you when you are open and transparent about things.”
4. Speak up if you don’t know something
"If you don’t know something, don’t pretend that you do,” Narang says. “It’s okay if you don’t because there will be plenty of chances to learn.”
She recalls an experience where she had to quickly get to grips with a new piece of software: “I’m not a very technical person – but I was able to learn from the colleagues around me and improve my knowledge.”
She has been able to bring these new skills to other aspects of her work too. “Even though I’m not an expert, I can now speak this technical language – which has allowed me to be better informed when I’m taking part in discussions.”
You can learn at any age – and raising your hand to request help is vital. “If you are able to develop your skills and become better at something, it is a win-win situation – not just for the individual, but for the organisation too.”
5. Learn from your mistakes
When asked about her advice for new talent, Narang says it’s important to recognise that development is a continuous process – which means that not everything will always go to plan the first time around.
“If you don't learn from mistakes, you’re not going to grow, right? Mistakes can be a good thing – just make sure that you learn from your own errors, as well as the ones made by others,” she explains. "When a mistake is repeated – that’s when it becomes a blunder.”
She believes the bank’s working culture has been central to being able to do this: “Barclays is an organisation that anyone would want to work for because it allows people to perform the way they want to. Management trusts colleagues, giving them the space to learn and providing opportunities to speak up.”
“I’m so grateful that everything happened at the right time”
Looking back on what she’s learned since she joined the bank, Narang finds it difficult to single out one moment that stands out: “I believe that a series of small highlights have made more of a difference to my career than a few big highlights,” she says.
“Every small step is a learning opportunity. I’m just so grateful that everything happened at the right time. Barclays’ investment in training and learning opportunities, and a supportive set of colleagues, have all helped me to get where I am.
“Now, I just want to learn more, grow more, explore more areas in the bank – and see how else I can develop myself professionally.”
Need to know
Pooja Narang graduated from the Institute of Company Secretaries of India in 2001 and earned her distance MBA at Symbiosis University, India. Receiving her risk management certification from the Institute of Risk Management, UK, she worked for organisations in information and digital technology as well as investment solutions before joining Barclays in 2008. She is currently the Chief Controls Officer for Barclays Global Service Centre, India, and Global Head of Control Reporting and Data Management. She is based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.