Let us stipulate that some people can stay with a job for years knowing little more than a few rudimentary skills and the location of the restrooms. If you want to rise above that level, however, there are approaches that can contribute greatly to your success.
The first thing is to know your boss’s expectations and style. What are the priorities and roughly how much time should they consume? What exactly are you expected to do? Is your boss a hands-on type, a call-me-in-six-months-with-a-report type, or somewhere in-between? The day you were hired you enrolled in a class called “Knowing Your Boss.” Make sure you pass it.
Learn what gets people fired. A clear identification of the danger zones will help to reduce stress because you’ll know what to avoid. If you don’t know the boundaries, every place is a potential danger zone. That will keep you up nights.
Know the influential people. Who are the powers behind and above the throne? Which specialists and staffers have serious influence? What are the relationships between your coworkers and between your boss’s coworkers? Who claims which turf? Become an expert coordinator and don’t inadvertently offend people by not soliciting their input.
Find out the local taboos. Some organizations hate conflict. Others encourage it. Some want a certain look or flair. Others are blind to it. Some are highly competitive and others are strongly collegial. Pretend that you are an anthropologist and study the culture.
Hone your skills. You don’t have time? Check out job-related audio tapes at the local library so you can listen on the way in to work. Take short workshops. Read books and articles in your subject area. Build a network of informal advisers, some of whom may be outside of your organization. In the course of 24 months or so, you may achieve the equivalent of a master’s degree.
Curb your tongue. To the greatest extent possible, speak ill of no one and avoid turf wars.
Keep your boss informed of your progress. Don’t assume that your achievements have been noticed. This doesn’t mean that you need to turn into an obnoxious public relations spammer. Just turn in periodic progress reports that concisely address your boss’s concerns.
Be creative. What changes would benefit the organization and its clients? In what way does the current system of procedures and incentives discourage or miss those benefits? Listen carefully to those who are wary of change and don’t rush to label them as dinosaurs. At the same time, don’t shy away from proposing needed changes.
Craft your image. Dress, speak, and reason as a person of substance. In most cases, an image of reliability is more desirable than one of sporadic brilliance.
Foster trust, but don’t be too trusting. There are people who will use your words against you and who seek to learn your vulnerabilities. Discretion is a shield.
Enjoy your work. Not every day will be fun nor will every task, but no one likes being around a sarcastic grump. Being kind, reliable, and reasonable can carry you a very great distance.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.