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7 Ways to Fast-Forward Your Career

In a survey of millennial employees, 32 percent stated they were actively seeking a promotion. Are you among those ambitious workers already laying the groundwork for advancing your career? If so, it’s never too soon to put an effective step-by-step strategy to work. Here are seven ways to fast-forward your career.

1. Refer to a Recent Accomplishment

While conscientiousness and competence are baseline requirements for moving up in the corporate world, they aren’t sufficient in themselves. The days when simply putting in your time would guarantee a promotion are long gone, and you need to be able to articulate your value to the company. Dr. Randall Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers, advises keeping a record of what you’ve accomplished and turning those accomplishments into specific numbers. Have you sped up an operation by a certain percentage or increased sales by a measurable dollar amount? Statements like these are the kind of persuasion that managers naturally respect.

2. Stay on the Sunny Side

You’d never expect to be considered seriously for promotion if you chronically showed up late to work, left early or used vulgar language in the office. These behaviors, however, are seen as less problematic by supervisors than having a negative attitude. Fully 62 percent of managers say they’d be reluctant to promote a worker who makes a habit of complaining or spreading negativity. If you have to point out flaws in the system in order to highlight a better approach, it’s crucial to frame your statements in a positive tone. Spreading optimism and good spirits is an important element of expressing your alignment with company culture. Look at the situation through your manager’s eyes: He or she wants to improve productivity, and if you’re in the habit of pointing out all the ways in which things aren’t working, you’ll be identified with that negative stance.

3. Weave Your Social Web

There’s an old saying: “It’s not who you know; it’s who knows you.” This is a key maxim to keep in mind as you aspire to be noticed as a good candidate for promotion. John Corcoran, creator of “Smart Business Revolution” and former White House staff writer, identifies four specific targets for your networking efforts: your boss, your future boss (after the hoped-for promotion), your future peers and an influential peer of your future boss. Building your social network also gives you the foundation for career security because you’ll be positioned to hear about good opportunities wherever they happen to arise.

4. Look the Part

If this tip sounds like it belongs in the Mad Men era, that’s probably an indication that you should rethink your appearance. While office dress standards have relaxed, especially in the software world, where bringing dogs to work and kicking back over ping pong are the new normal, they have definitely not been abandoned. In a CareerBuilder survey, 43 percent of employers state that “shabby” or wrinkled clothing would make them less likely to promote someone, and 27 percent would find it harder to promote someone who dresses “too casually.” Other style disasters noted by managers include “unprofessional or ostentatious facial hair” (24 percent), heavy perfume or cologne (21 percent), and tattoos (27 percent). Your appearance is a visible metric that shows how aware you are of social signals, and that sensitivity is a key quality for leadership positions.

5. Always Be Learning

Whether you enroll in webinars, sign up for outside coursework or seek out mentors within your organization, you should constantly find ways to expand your knowledge. Your career won’t move forward unless you’re actively driving it, and increasing your skill set is how you fuel that advancement. Take action and find ways to engage in the workplace. Provide honest employee feedback to leadership, embrace new conversations with coworkers and share top accomplishments and goals. Furthermore, establishing a mentor relationship within your own company can put you in the sights of people who may have a say in promoting you.

6. Be Active in Recognition

Employees who got promoted received 83 percent more recognition from colleagues and supervisors than employees who continued in their current positions. Furthermore, an Achievers study found that the people chosen for promotion were those with the strongest track records of supporting and appreciating their coworkers. These successfully promoted workers turned out to have offered 3.8 times more recognition to colleagues than had their peers who were passed over for promotions. The ability to make people around you look good is an important leadership quality. This may seem counterintuitive since you want to stand out in your boss’s awareness, but you won’t win any points by running down your teammates. The hallmark of true excellence is the ability to lift up everyone on your team and promote the well-being of the organization as a whole.

7. Promote Your Boss’s Interests

In addition to helping your co-workers shine, it’s also important to figure out what matters most to your boss. Is she anxious about expanding the market? Does he have a big investment in developing a new product line? Listen to what your boss has to say about goals, and then put those goals at the top of your own priority list. Business strategist Larry Myler recommends, “Find out how your boss is judged and how he gets a bonus,” and then help him meet those goals.

Following these promotion tips is a win-win proposition. Even if you don’t get the promotion you first envisioned, you’ll become a prize catch for any manager. In the long run, your career is in your own hands, and you’re the one who moves yourself forward.

To learn more about how to be active in recognition, check out our e-book on how to make recognition an everyday event.

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Leaders Who Drink Their Own Koolaid

“Leaders are surrounded by liars.” Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries

 It really doesn’t amaze me how some leaders come to feel they are a cut above. After all, who can blame them? As they climb the organizational ladder, the probability that they’re getting honest feedback rapidly diminishes. Certainly, those above them may still be candid, but those on the lower rungs, not so much. Few employees will risk calling out their bosses on their bad behavior or inadequate efforts…and this is not good for the leader or the company’s bottom- line.

The Slippery Slope

The usual case is that remarks from those working beneath a leader tend towards the positive. Flattery, ego stroking or careful wording – whatever an employee feels is necessary to keep their job – is the route most take. Whether it be due to a socially ingrained deference to authority or out of fear of risking one’s job, most leaders simply do not get the feedback they need to become great at enlisting the best from their people. It’s easy to understand how, over time, a leader can completely lose touch with what people are really thinking.

Know Anyone Like This?

Senior leaders who have evolved double standards abound. For example, they might expect their team to return their phone calls or emails promptly, while they themselves no longer feel compelled to do the same. They may also come to expect much from others in the way of effort but they themselves don’t feel the need to break much of a sweat.

Due to the lack of honest upward-focused feedback, a leader may also have expectations disconnected from the reality of available resources. I’ve observed many situations where overworked, but committed employees, give it their all but still fall short of their boss’s requests. All this because no one wants to appear a ‘complainer’ or of somehow ‘not being up to the task’ by pointing out resource shortcomings.

All this is both de-motivating and de-moralizing for employees. If people don’t feel that their boss is behaving with mutual respect and accountability, they’ll eventually head for the hills.

The Elephant in the Room

Of all the reasons people leave companies, having a leader who they have a poor relationship with them tops the list. According to Gallup, 50% of employees who quit cite their immediate manager as the reason.

While someone may initially be drawn towards a particular company because of the compensation, mission or growth opportunities, they most often leave because they don’t have a good relationship with their boss and not because of the pull of better offers elsewhere.

It soon becomes very clear why leaders need to get honest feedback along the way. Not only is it necessary to retain their top talent, but to do otherwise is to throw money out the door.

Losing good employees costs time, talent and money. The stakes are fairly high when replacing a team member. The total cost of replacing an employee can be anywhere from thousands of dollars to 1.5 – 2x their annual salary. It involves much more than placing a new ad.

The real cost of losing an employee includes these impacts:

  • The cost of recruiting including the advertising, interviewing, screening and hiring.
  • The cost of onboarding a new hire including training and time from their new manager can be Over the course of 2-3 years a business may have to invest 10-20 percent of a new hire’s salary, or more, for training.
  • Lost productivity – it may take a new hire 1 – 2 years to get up to the speed and efficiency of an existing employee.
  • Lost engagement and cultural impact – other team members who see high turnover tend to disengage and lose their will to give their all. Both productivity and customer service can take a dive. Morale can also easily slide downwards…quickly.

The elephant in the room is the fact that many companies simply do not have programs in place to train their leaders in the primary foundation of leadership: knowing how to get the best from others.

Give Leaders Support…The Kind They Really Need

All too often leaders are thrust into their new positions with minimal support. They are not given the training or feedback that it takes to engage and get the best thinking from their team…and this is bad for business. This baptism by fire scenario pushes new leaders to fall back on what they’ve seen modeled or may understand as ‘leadership’.

One need only cast a brief glance towards the uncivil discourse within our political realm to see extraordinarily harmful examples of bullying and coercive leadership. But bad examples are everywhere. There are many examples of ‘command and control’ leadership styles throughout industry. This is why all leaders, both new and experienced, deserve and require training in how to do it differently.

Companies need to teach and coach their leaders to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees. They should hold leaders accountable, track their progress, and ensure they continuously focus on engaging their teams. A leader’s ability to engage their teams should be part of their formal performance review process.

Research also makes clear that direct supervisors are the main components underlying how much discretionary effort employees deliver to their jobs. An engaged employee puts their heart and shoulders into their work because they want to. This is where all of the magic happens. It is this extra effort that makes the difference between acceptable productivity and stellar productivity, a mediocre product and a superb one, adequate customer service and outstanding customer service.

Where does it start?

Perhaps the most important piece in all of this is to realize that it may start with you. Take time to reflect on your own behaviors. Are you part of the problem or the solution?

If you are a leader that has elevated yourself above your team, it may mean that you are drunk on your own kool-aid. This behavior is not helping to engage your team, produce the results you want, or work through the issues that you need to face.

Being a cut above is not helping anyone. Plus, kool-aid really is for kids.

Do you want to learn more about employee engagement? Check out this recent analyst insights paper: “2018 Employee Engagement Survey: HR Professionals Share Their Advice for a More Engaged Workforce.”

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About the Author
Doug BrockwayDoug never colored within the lines as a child and believes in the healing power of dark chocolate. Despite being allergic to neck ties, he’s passionate about business. A Certified Executive Coach with global experience, he teaches leading edge approaches that help organizations create cultures that drive engagement, productivity and innovation, giving leaders and teams the skills and experience to contribute to the business in high impact ways. More information about his firm can be found at www.brockwayservices.com.