The New Art of Getting Ahead

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“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door ”

~ Milton Berle ~

 You’re good at your job – you have great reviews, get excellent results, and you’re well-liked. Maybe you’re fairly new to your career, or maybe you’ve spent years at the same job without a promotion. Either way, if you if you keep performing, your success will be rewarded…right?

Unfortunately, no. Talent and results alone will not see you succeed. That may seem like a harsh statement after all the hard work you’ve done, but time and again, studies have shown it to be true – good work alone is not enough. You will need to take control and guide your own career in order to attain the success you have worked so hard for.

So what are you going to do? You’ve already done everything in your job description to meet and exceed expectations, so what’s next? In the new art of getting ahead, you’ll need to expand your efforts, and manage the following.

1. Improve your image

First, take stock of your own true strengths and weaknesses, and then compare them to the perception of your skill level in your organization. Ask yourself:

  • Would I consider someone with my perceived skill to be ready to take on the next level challenges at work?
  • What are the gaps in my skills?
  • Am I missing out on opportunities to showcase my talents?
  • Considering my next desired move, what traits would I most like to highlight?

2. Increase your visibility

To get ahead, you have to get noticed. If your upbringing, culture or general personality means you’re someone who is uncomfortable with “tooting your own horn,” don’t despair. While you will have to graciously take credit for the work you’ve done, self-promotion is hardly the only tactic. Consider some of the following to help you make yourself more visible:

  • Identify an advocate who can speak on your behalf – with a senior partner, manager or trusted advisor working to raise your profile, you won’t have to be so aggressive in self-promotion.
  • Take on high-profile assignments – working on projects with a higher visibility will translate to higher visibility for you. Taking on those things your boss or executive deems important will help make sure that your added value is noticed.
  • Leverage opportunities to interact with leaders – seize those chances to rub elbows at meetings, on projects or at volunteer functions with the influential people at your meetings. Engage them in conversation, ask questions and talk to them about your successes.

3. Exert your influence

Finally, leadership requires influence to be successful. People follow leaders they believe in. Influential leaders can build connections across business units, within their teams, and with management above. People – above and below – need to see that you can inspire action and positive change. This is critical and far more potent than any attempt to lead through authority, title or power. Consider your strengths and weaknesses in the areas of:

  • Reputation – Consider your work history and where you’ll need to build more value to create a solid foundation.
  • Skill set – Examine your areas of expertise. Consider the tools you’ll need to succeed.
  • Executive presence – No matter what level you currently lead, when you have executive presence, people are attracted to you as a leader. There are always opportunities to practice that assured sense of self that draws people in.
  • Likeability – Does your leadership motivate others? Practice positive, mindful direction – success comes when others inspired by your presence and want to do their best work on your team.
  • Persuasion – It is a powerful tool to be able to sway others. Persuasive leaders know how to build consensus and see their point of view.

There’s no doubt that it takes a lot to get ahead. Beyond just hard work and solid results, you need the tools at hand to get noticed and attract others to your cause. Practicing these skills will put you in good stead to land that big project or promotion you’ve been seeking.

Want to learn more about getting ahead? Hire Joel Garfinkle to help you develop a step-by-step plan for career advancement.

Talkback: What techniques have you used to change your perception or increase your visibility? Comment below and share your successes in getting ahead.

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Stand Out at Work – #1 Key for Advancement

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“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.”

~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. ~

Jonathan is a valued member of his company – over the past few years, he has become a solid performer and a cheerleader for others his team. His colleagues know they can rely on him and his peers are always eager to have him on their next project. But Jonathan is feeling like the senior managers are never going to take notice of all his hard work. In our coaching sessions, Jonathan and I have worked on a plan to have him stand out and be noticed. Do you need a similar plan? Does this describe you?

You’ve put in your time, built your skillset, proven your value and become a solid, consistent and reliable member of the team. Your colleagues (and maybe your staff) look to you to for advice and leadership – in your group, your opinion matters. Now it’s time to take those next steps that will get you noticed by those above, and to learn how you can get ahead and succeed in your organization.

Consider the following three areas and build the skills you need to stand out and be seen:

1. Learn to Think Like Your Boss

Time spent with those senior to you is precious – learn to make the most of it by tailoring your message to align with their concerns. The information you convey to them in your minutes together should relevant to their interests and priorities whenever possible. Learn what matters to each senior person with which you interact – you will need to know specifically:

  • what they consider important
  • what initiatives they are currently championing, and
  • how they are measuring value and success.

The more relevant you and your messages seem to each person in upper management, the more likely you are to gain their support.

2. Become a strong speaker and presenter

Some people loathe speaking in front of a group; some revel in the spotlight. Wherever you fall on the scale, you will need to build your presenting skills, really hone your speaking style, and put your misgivings aside.

Giving great presentations will, not surprisingly, lead to being asked to present more often, which puts you front and centre with upper management more often. When you’re seen, you gain credibility along with familiarity, and higher ups start to see you as more of a peer.

Consider seeking out classes or coaching to build up your speaking and presenting skills and prepare you to confidently put your best ideas forward. In the meantime, consider these top tips for a great presentation:

  • Be concise – don’t ramble, and keep your speaking well within the time allotted. Limit the number of slides in your deck, and don’t jam them full of info. If you have to reduce the font below 30pt, it’s probably too much.
  • Don’t Um – whenever you feel tempted to say ‘um’ or ‘ah’, try taking a small breath in to compose yourself and your thoughts. It might feel strange, but the audience probably won’t notice and it will improve the confidence and credibility of your message.
  • Slow down and Make Eye Contact – resist the urge to speed through your presentation, as rushing implies discomfort, lack of experience and disbelief in the ideas being presented. Make eye contact with everyone in the room – not just the decision makers.

3. Align yourself with the Big Picture

Just like aligning with your bosses’ priorities, understanding how you fit within your company’s overall strategic picture is invaluable. When you fully grasp your organization’s values, goals and targets, you are better able to focus your energies on the areas that will really be noticed and rewarded by those above you. Demonstrating that you know what is important and that you are motivated to realizing the company’s strategy can make you seem more of “one of the team” with executives tasked with executing that overall strategy.

Want to hone your presence and presentation skills? Hire Joel Garfinkle to help you develop a step-by-step plan for standing out and getting noticed.

Talkback: What tips do you have for presenting and really connecting with your audience? Comment below and share your successes in getting noticed.

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Challenge your Employees through
Coaching and Mentoring Programs

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“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

~ Robert Frost ~

Dana’s staff is constantly asking her what they need to do to get promoted. Her four direct reports are especially anxious to move ahead in the company. Neither the company nor Dana herself has a definitive mentoring program. She realizes that she needs to make some drastic changes in mentoring her staff in order to help them grow and be offered the opportunities they deserve.

In the absence of a formal corporate mentoring program, Dana takes steps to develop a mentoring program of her own. She meets with her direct reports and together they develop a simple two-part strategy. First, Dana will make new, high profile projects available to all who want them and encourage them to volunteer. Second, she will raise awareness of staff members’ accomplishments by proactively messaging not only her boss and peers but those C-level employees above them.
The four staff members left the meeting with their own personal action steps, and they also knew exactly what Dana planned to do to help them. She coached them on self-promotion techniques, such as copying the boss’s boss on project-related emails and planning appropriate times to speak up in meetings when projects they worked on were being discussed.

The group agreed on a one-month, three-month, and six-month review of the program. By the end of the first month, new projects were put on the table and Dana’s direct reports enthusiastically volunteered for their own projects. In addition, they took on some related lower level projects so they could begin to coach and mentor their own subordinates.

Dana scheduled regular one-on-ones with each of her direct reports and also put together a schedule of informal communications with her boss and other C-level managers to keep them informed about what her staff was doing.

At the three-month milestone, Dana noticed that a high level of enthusiasm had developed among her entire staff. Not only was the day-to-day work being accomplished more efficiently, they were excited about the opportunity to work on new initiatives, and some had even volunteered for cross-training in other departments.

After six months, Dana made a list of the tangible benefits that had resulted from the mentoring program, not only for her staff, but also for herself and the company as a whole. This is what she told her boss:

Benefits to the mentees:

  • Opportunity to take control of their own learning and career advancement.
  • A chance to develop valuable contacts in other parts of the company.
  • Significant improvement in their productivity and enthusiasm.

Benefits to herself as the mentor:

  • She had greatly enhanced her coaching and listening skills by working more closely with her direct reports.
  • She had gained notice and respect of higher-ups in the organization.
  • She felt validated and rewarded by passing on the value of her experience to those coming along behind her.

Benefits to the company:

  • Productivity had greatly improved across the entire work group.
  • Employees who were previously perceived as being “stuck” at their current level were re-energized.
  • Cross-functional teams were developed as Dana’s people spent time in other departments.

Many companies have formal mentoring programs that are of great benefit to their employees. In the absence of such a program, a single individual such as Dana can develop their own, providing significant benefits to the employees involved, the manager, and the company.

Do your people need a mentor? This week list five different ways you could start a mentoring program in your own department.

Talkback: Have you been a successful mentor? Or have you been mentored by someone who made a difference in your career? Share your story here.

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Are you Afraid to Speak Up at Meetings
When you Have Good Ideas?

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“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

~ Coco Chanel ~

Casey is facing a dilemma. She has always considered herself a leader. And she’s always been considered a leader by others. At work, she consistently brings out the best in her people by encouraging them, listening to them, empowering them, and letting them know they are important and that their opinions matter.

Lately, however, Casey has become The Reluctant Leader. She feels she is not being noticed for all her hard work and accomplishments. Yet she doesn’t feel comfortable bragging, talking about how great she is, or publicly calling attention to all her accomplishments. 

In recent meetings and encounters with her boss and other C-level employees, she is consciously choosing not to speak up when she knows she should. She wonders if she’s just come down with a temporary case of shyness, or if this has the potential to become a real problem. In discussing it with me, Casey lists these reasons for her reluctance:

  • I’m afraid of stepping on peoples’ toes
  • I feel like people know my strengths and they should ask for my input
  • Sometimes I feel like punishing people for not listening to me by letting them struggle and find the answers on their own
  • I even think sometimes that I have the wrong answer and don’t want to embarrass myself by speaking up.

As Casey’s coach, I concluded that she had probably become a bit too comfortable in her comfort zone. Sometimes it’s easy to figure that “once a leader, always a leader,” so you quit trying to raise your visibility with the bosses. I offered Casey this checklist of ideas to jump start the raising of her profile.

  1. Volunteer for a high visibility project. Look for something that has serious consequences at the senior management level, or that has been perceived to be challenging or risky by others. Focus on something with real results, including bottom line impact.
  1. Find cross – departmental opportunities that will expand both your horizons and your visibility. If you work in accounting, look for a project in sales, marketing, or communications. If you work in sales, look for ways to get a thorough understanding of the support functions in the company. It will make you a better sales manager and your superiors will notice your initiative.
  1. If you have a bright idea or an answer to some recurring problem, look for the right occasion to speak up, preferably in a meeting where top brass are present. Volunteer to make it happen too—don’t just leave it on the table.

Don’t wait until you feel comfortable to start changing your approach. Nobody’s perfect, and even if you implement all these action items, you’ll make mistakes along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. Just dust yourself off and keep talking.

Casey implemented all these ideas over the next month, and found that her reluctance to speak up all but disappeared and she was once again the leader she thought herself to be. 

Make a list of where and how you could implement each of these ideas. Then start implementing them this week.

Talkback: Have you successfully raised your visibility at work? What ideas worked for you? Share your experience here.

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How to Ask for and Get a Promotion
The Promotion Process Through Visibility

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“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”

~ Margaret Cho ~

Rosie has been with her company for a little less than a year. Last month she had a very positive performance review with Jake, her immediate boss. During the review, Rosie told Jake that she felt she could handle a bigger workload, and Jake seemed to agree, but nothing happened.

Yesterday Rosie found out that Jan, a co-worker with the same job title she has, was promoted—and it’s been only a year since her last promotion. Rosie knows Jan earned it, but now she’s wondering how to ask for a similar opportunity to prove herself. Rosie wonders if she should have been more aggressive in her review with Jake and in following up afterward. Of course Jan’s promotion is unrelated to Rosie’s performance, but now Rosie wants to ask for larger-scale projects and more important work without seeming like she’s jealous or resentful of Jan.

If, like Rosie, you’re feeling stifled at work and would like to take on more responsibility and get promoted, Step One is to share your aspirations openly and specifically with your boss. Don’t be shy. Ask your boss exactly what you need to do to get promoted. The more clarity you have on the specific steps you should take, the easier it will be for you to take action and achieve your goals. Over the next three to six months, schedule time every two to four weeks to discuss your progress.
Here are some of the questions Rosie asked Jake:

  • How does the promotion process work?
  • What do I need to be doing over the next three to six months to get promoted?
  • What kind of data or information can I provide you to document my progress?
  • What larger-scale projects can I own right now?
  • Do I need to increase my visibility with other decision-makers to improve my chances for promotion?

When it comes to visibility with other company leaders, especially C-level managers, Jake had some specific suggestions for Rosie. In addition to taking on larger scale projects, Jake suggested Rosie look for projects outside her own specific area, particularly projects that were being neglected or that no one wanted to do. Completing an “orphaned” project successfully is a great way to gain visibility. Jake also suggested that Rosie look for one or more advocates, either inside or outside the company who would be willing to speak up on her behalf. An advocate can easily raise your profile with your boss’s boss and other high level executives by publicizing your successes.

Rosie took Jake’s advice and developed her game plan. She volunteered to head up the company’s web site revamp—a project that had been languishing for a year for lack of leadership. She completed it successfully in less than three months, and both Jake and her recently recruited advocate made sure everyone—including the company president—knew what she had done. It was no surprise that Rosie got that coveted promotion at her next performance review.

If you’ve been passed over for a promotion, or even if you’d just like to take on more challenges where you are, now is the time to act. Develop a list of five actions you could take immediately to improve your visibility. Then schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss them.

Talkback: Have you successfully improved your visibility in your company? How did you do it? Share your experience here.

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