When employees wonder what they can do to get a raise or a promotion, they look in the common areas: skills, education, and office politics. They might think:
“I need to learn XYZ skill before I can get a raise.”
“I need to go to business school before I can get promoted.”
“My boss doesn’t like me so I won’t get a bonus.”
While there is some truth to all of that, one factor is even more important: what are you doing that is valuable for someone else?
You have a job to do something valuable for your boss, your company, and your company’s customers. That could be writing reports, creating company financials, writing software programs, or whatever is in your job description. But if you aren’t adding value to someone else’s life, it’s unlikely that you will advance in your career.
The solution then is to identify who you are helping, what is valuable to them, and how you can add even more value to their lives. After you learn how to do something more valuable for someone else, your career path up become obvious.
The first step to becoming more productive at work is to know how your company (and your boss) measures productivity. Each manager has her own idiosyncrasies for how she evaluates her employees’ work.
Some common benchmarks are easily measured:
- How early you show up to work
- How late you stay at work
- How many hours you work a week
- How many meetings you attend
Other benchmarks are more difficult to measure:
- How much profit your work generates for the company
- How much closer the company is to reaching its mission statement because of your work
- How much better your team functions when you are there to help
- How much happier the company’s customers are because of your work
As you can see, the first set doesn’t help your company as directly as the second, but since they’re easy to measure, the first set of metrics is what a lot of manager rely on. If that’s the case, the person who’s at the office the most will be the star employee.
If you are fortunate enough to have a manager who uses the second set of metrics and measures your work based on your actual value to the company’s goals, then it helps to recognize that working until 10pm every night is not the best way to excel at your job. You’ll need to help your company fulfill its mission statement. That’s more difficult for you, but at least promotions will be based on merit.
Before you can go about becoming more productive, and working toward a promotion, you need to know which of these metrics your manager values. The employee who fulfills those metrics is in the running for the next promotion.
Over the years, I’ve noticed one trait that helps employees become successful within a company: being coachable. That is, having the desire to learn new things from other people.
This is especially true for employees who are coming right out of school or joining a new industry. They have a skills gaps between what they used to do and what they must do in their new jobs.
Why is being coachable important?
Your manager can teach you the hard skills you need to do your job: How to use Excel, how to write reports, how people communicate across the company’s departments, etc. But your manager cannot teach you anything if you aren’t willing to learn and be coached.
An employee who actively learns from those around her can always improve her skills and learn to add more value to the company. An employee who is set in her ways won’t improve at all and will stagnate quickly.
Which employee do you think will get more promotions and achieve more in her career?
Many people can do their jobs well. They complete the task their boss asks them to do on time and to specification. They are polite, follow instructions, and do what is asked of them every time. They check all the boxes on the task list their boss gives them and call it a day.
But they aren’t doing the whole job.
A high caliber employee does all of those things and more: She completes all aspects of the job with the company’s goals and clients’ goals in mind.
She anticipates the client’s next request and has an answer ready ahead of time.
She knows Project XYZ is the CEO’s top priority so she makes it her top priority at work.
She knows her project might not get her boss the results he wants, but she has a backup plan prepared that could also help the company reach its goal.
She does the whole job by completing her work with the intent of helping her company reach its goals.
Doing the whole job is a lot more difficult than just showing up and completing your task list. But that is why it is so much more valuable to your company.
One of the best ways to become a top level employee at work is to do the whole job.
Building trust is one of the most important parts of working with other people.
When you want to get hired, the hiring manager needs to trust your ability to do the job well. After all, she is sticking her neck out with her boss and saying that she thinks you are the best candidate for the job. You build that trust that by presenting the knowledge, skills, and previous work experiences to do the job in your resume and during your job interviews.
When you start working with a new boss, he will stop micromanaging you when he trusts that you’ll do good work without him watching everything you do.
If you want more responsibility, your boss will need to trust that you can handle more important projects without taking up too much of his time or hurting the company.
When a Board of Directors approves the annual budget, they aren’t voting on the numbers in the budget. They are voting on their confidence in the CEO to handle the company’s finances correctly.
Business is all about building trust and maintaining that trust. If you want to advance your career, you will need to act in a way so the people around you trust you.
It’s easy to forget, but everyone around you is a human being.
Your annoying boss. Your company’s demanding customers. Your lazy co-workers. The CEO you’ve never met.
In today’s busy office, it’s easy to get annoyed, be short tempered, and think poorly of the people around you.
But it would be better to remember that all of these people are human beings. They have their own worries, fears, dream, hopes, and goals. Sometimes all it takes is a smile, a kind word, or a minute of your day to make them feel better.
If you treat these people well and understand what they want, they will enjoy working with you and they will reciprocate. Overtime, your office will be a friendlier and more collegiate environment.
Treating each person like a human being might be the most rewarding part of your climb up the ladder.
Many people believe that our careers are zero sum games, where in order to win someone else must lose. That creates hurtful competition among colleagues and coworkers; people who should be working together and helping each other. People adopt a scarcity mindset where in order to get something you want, someone else cannot get the same thing.
But there are other ways for multiple people to reach their goals simultaneously. Economists have a term called grow the pie (highly technical, I know…). If there is a pie and four people, and one person takes half the pie, that only leaves half of the pie for the three remaining people. But what about if the pie grew to be larger. Or there was a second pie. Now everyone can get more pie, perhaps even more than all four people could eat together and everyone is satisfied.
In economics, a Pareto Improvement is when an individual becomes better off without making anyone else worse.
Careers can be similar. You might think that there is only a certain amount of money to give out in raises and bonuses, but what if the company produced even more profits this year. Then there is more money for the pool of funds going towards employee compensation.
Or there might only be one Director position open for people to get promoted to. But what if the company grows. Then there are multiple direction position that need to get filled, likely with internal candidates since the company is doing so well.
Rather than thinking of careers with a scarcity mindset, it’s best to remember that win-win situations are possible. If you work with your coworkers, you can grow the pie. And all of you can reach your career goals.
Several years ago, I met with a Senior Vice President at one of the nation’s largest banks to get his career advice.
Of all the great pieces of advice he gave me, one has stuck out through the years. He said that when someone asks you how you’re doing, respond: “I’m freakin’ awesome!”
It’s certainly over the top which he was aware of, but he’s right. People like to work with people who are positive and excited. Sure sometimes you won’t be doing too well and you might want to just say, “I’m doing okay. What about you?”
But people want to be around people who are positive.
And sharing a positive attitude will help you keep a positive attitude when you get to the office.
Showing up to work excited and happy will help you produce better work which is a prerequisite for getting raises and promotions.
When I graduated from college, one of my classmates was starting a full time job at a Fortune 500 company . When I asked him what his start date was, he very proudly said that he could pick his start date so he picked the Monday before July 4, which fell on a Wednesday that year.
He specifically picked that date so he could get one extra paid vacation day rather than starting after August 1 like most of the new hires and foregoing that one extra paid vacation. He wanted to get as much money from the company while doing the least amount of work he could.
Well, it wasn’t much of a shock when he was laid off two years later.
An attitude that you want to extract as much compensation as possible while doing the least work possible isn’t a great way to advance your career.
Instead, add as much value as possible to your coworkers, boss, and company. In return, they will treat you well and compensate you well.
Not just your company’s customers.
Who are you doing the job for? It’s most likely your boss and your boss’s boss.
Probably also anyone who reports directly to you.
And definitely anyone who is affected by the reports, presentations, and decisions you make.
They all depend on you to do your job well so they can do their jobs well.
Understanding what their goals are, both in work and in life, and making it easier for them to achieve those goals will make your work relationships with them much better.
It’s also a pretty good way to be a team player.