Monday, 7 October 2013

How to get ahead at work - part one

Women at work in 1950sGosh, I feel like I’ve been working forever and I still don’t know much about how to get ahead. The thing is, people will very rarely let slip a titbit of how to win at work. Also, I do find that as a forthright women people tend to want me to be softer, gentler, nicer etc. It’s annoying, but I have to play the game to some extent. I thought I’d distil the few bits and pieces that I’d learned so far in case it might be helpful:

1.       Personally, I’m into dressing reasonably smartly. For some reason, England seems to have pockets of really casual dressing for work. Of course you don’t want to look too dissimilar to everyone else at your level, but be a smarter, well groomed version.

2.       Never ever announce that you’ve got nothing to do. The done thing is to (believably) claim to be really busy and working hard, all the time. If you genuinely don’t have enough to do then discreetly find more work, or offer to help others (without making it look like you’re at a loose end).

3.       Similarly, see if you can manage to be in the office just before your boss most days. It doesn’t matter so much when you leave (though don’t make it 5pm on the dot), but getting in early is seen as a moral virtue. This is a shame as I’m seriously not a morning person!

4.       Do your best to subtly ensure that you make it clear to your boss and senior managers which ideas and achievements are yours or what you’ve contributed to the team effort. Get over feeling like ‘blowing your own trumpet’ is a bad thing. However, being brash and openly attention seeking is not helpful either. It’s a balancing act.

5.       If you want to get something agreed at a meeting – get some allies beforehand. Find out who is going to be at the meeting and see if you can chat to them about your idea and get them to agree. If you can get your boss to work on the idea and present it with you then so much the better. Don’t surprise folks.

6.       Also, think about possible objections and do your homework. If you’ve got a sound, comprehensive business case with believable figures, it’s pretty hard to say no. And even if they do say no, you come out looking good.

7.       Contribute thoughtfully at meetings and when asked for feedback. If you’re an introvert and not great at off the cuff thinking, plan a few things to say and pop them in when applicable. You can get noticed by senior managers with some clever questions or helpful comments.

8.       Communicate professionally (especially by email or in writing). Never email in anger – take time to write a draft, leave it and re-write until it’s not snitty. It’s always best to have tricky conversations in person or at least by phone instead of email. Limit the ‘funny’ links and pics you forward (or don’t).

9.       If someone leaves a phone message or email that asks a question, for the love of all that’s holy, get back to them! There’s nothing worse than having to take time to chase someone who doesn’t get back to you.

10.   Answer the phone quickly, with an appropriate greeting. Leave a detailed voicemail message and ‘out of office’ email so people know when you’ll get back to them or where else they can go for help.

11.   Keep your desk tidy and not too cluttered with personal stuff. Don’t ask me why, but bosses seem to think a tidy desk equals a well organised working life. They’re wrong, but there you go.

12.   Change jobs. The quickest route to the top is via several different companies as suitable positions in your own company probably don’t come up that often. I think it’s easier to promoted in a move to a new organisation that within the same organisation (unless you’re clearly a stellar performer, but even then...). Also, experience in different fields and contexts is helpful.

13.   Keep learning and invest if needed. I’ve done post graduate study part time while working. This qualification has really helped me get more senior jobs. I will no doubt do more study and professional development throughout my career.

14.   Networking is an over-used term but do take opportunities to introduce yourself and chat to relevant people within and outside your organisation. Be friendly and take the initiative. I’m up in the air about the value of LinkedIn, but hop on it every couple of weeks and build a decent circle of contacts just in case.

15.   Praise! Specific, sincere praise is absolute magic. Praise colleagues, subordinates, seniors, volunteers, anyone who has done anything good. Being seen to be positive and appreciative makes you an excellent employee. Being specific is really important i.e. not “That was a great report”, but “You picked out some excellent risk management ideas in your report and there was some great market insight”.

16.   Disagree or challenge carefully. Try to say “yes, and”, instead of “yes, but”. Point out the bits you agree with before challenging other bits. Give suggested solutions. Ask open questions to clarify not to pick holes. Never say, “with all due respect”!

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Other tips you’ve worked out? Check out Part Two here.

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I get really excited when I shout into the void and the void says "hello" back at me. Thanks for your comments!