The overall impression you make as an employee is critical and has a tremendous influence on how quickly you will get promoted. This is especially true if you’re just starting a career or beginning in a new or expanded role. To make a positive impression, you have to do much more than simply delivering on job duties and meeting minimum expectations. You’ve got to build and leverage core assets, including credibility, reliability, likability, and influence, while creating a track record of success. And that’s not possible unless you maintain an intentional focus on shaping a personal brand that stands out in the workplace.
Here are six keys to getting noticed and accelerating your career. Take these ideas to heart and put them into practice to increase your impact as a member or your team. Your boss will be looking for opportunities to expand your role and help support your growth as a true driving force in the company.
Pursue Excellence: Do this consistently and for its own sake. Employees who embody excellence get noticed. They put their best efforts into everything they do, and strive to produce results at the highest level and of the highest quality — no matter what it is that they’re doing, and no matter whether they’ll get credit or not.
The last part of that previous statement is a crucial point. Too many people, especially early in their careers, only put their full efforts into exciting and sexy projects, or those job duties that will be noticed and lauded. Managers want to promote and give opportunities to employees who apply the same standard of excellence to preparing copies for a meeting as they do to managing a high-profile special event.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
Embody Professionalism: Even though the workforce in general is becoming more casual and flexible, don’t underestimate your ability to leave a unique and strong impression by the way you present yourself.
As David Maister says in his book True Professionalism,“Professional is not a label you give yourself – it’s a description you hope others will apply to you.”
It’s been proven that how we dress, for instance, not only affects how we think, act and feel about ourselves, but how we’re viewed by others. Especially for the Silent Generation and Baby Boomer cohorts, a higher value is placed on formality. So think about your appearance in the context of your workplace, bringing a neat, clean, and perhaps slightly more formal or stylish look than the rest of your coworkers. It’s one way for you to stand out in the crowd and subconsciously communicate that you take your work and your role very seriously. Getting beyond dress, however,
I encourage you to consider professionalism in terms of some of these other elements: Be on time; Avoid gossip-talking; Ensure your emails and daily communications don’t contain careless typos; Be diplomatic and clear in communication; Be respectful to your colleagues and superiors (courtesy and etiquette go a long way); Keep your promises, or be proactive in communicating shifts to the terms of your promises as soon as they change.
Leverage Next-Step Thinking: Engaging in next-step thinking presents huge opportunities for you to make positive impressions and be seen as someone your boss wants to advance. There are very few employees who put this type of thinking into action regularly. It takes increased effort and an eye for the broader context. If you practice next-step thinking, it means you not only do what is asked, but you anticipate the next step in a process, and understand the bigger picture and underlying goals at play.
Here are three ways you can take action: a) anticipate the next step and carry it out (this is risky in some cases); b) anticipate the next step and present options for how to proceed; or c) anticipate the next step and present research, best practices and background information in order to evaluate and discuss possible options for how to proceed. All of those actions are equally valid. The one you choose depends on the particular situation and the dynamic that exists between you and your boss. If you want to be a next-step thinker, navigate through this balance of being proactive and taking action while ensuring you’re on the same page with your boss along the way.
Take Risks: Star performers are willing to step outside their comfort zones to grow their own skills and experience while stepping up to the plate for the sake of the team. We’re all innately risk-averse. Staying in a comfortable box only thwarts growth and makes it all too easy to stagnate — and not get noticed. If you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of a group, volunteer to give the report at the next team meeting. If you’re nervous about a particular project, volunteer to lead it. In fact, as this Forbes article about taking risks reports, many people in their forties and beyond say that if they could do their career over again, they’d take more risks, settle less and speak up more often.
Build Relationships: As Richard Branson says, “Success in business is all about people, people, people.”And it’s not just about the colleagues, vendors or clients in your direct circles. The larger your footprint of positive relationships, the more successful you’ll be, and the wider will be your influence.
When you build relationships across departments and constituencies, you get noticed by others throughout the company, which improves your overall brand. Your boss will not only hear positive things about you from others, he/she will see that you have influence beyond your department. That will make you a great candidate to lead strategic, high-level projects that involve buy-in and participation from others outside your team. Sounds simple, but as we all know, relationships can be complicated and messy.
Remember a few key tools in your relationship-building toolbox: a) be empathetic; b) listen actively and with curiosity about what matters to the other person; c) look for connections in order to establish common ground; and d) be honest and direct, without emotional charge.
Hustle Hard but Stay Humble: There are few things that get noticed more in an employee than ‘hustle.’ When you hustle, you have a strong work ethic, lots of enthusiasm, a willingness to go above and beyond, and a hunger to do more and make a bigger impact. That takes a higher level of commitment and energy. So, figure out what really lights you up about the work you’re doing. Get grounded in that daily in order to authentically stay energized and to be in a position to hustle. Amidst this proactive stance, remember to stay humble. Keep yourself open, actively listen to others, and be willing to accept and internalize feedback from your boss and/or coworkers. People will want to work with you when you collaborate and are part of a group process. Also, don’t be too quick to take all the credit for individual successes, but defer to the collective efforts of the team.
- Making a positive impression as an employee is critical to your success and advancement, and it goes beyond delivering on job duties and meeting expectations.
- You need to intentionally shape a personal brand that stands out while building credibility, reliability, likability, and influence.
- Focus on internalizing and putting into practice six keys to accelerating your career: pursue excellence; embody professionalism; leverage next-step thinking; take risks; build relationships; hustle hard but stay humble.
Try This Out
- Set a goal of creating a deeper relationship with three colleagues from other departments or constituencies within your organization over the next month. Invite them to lunch, solicit their feedback on a project, or ask them to tell you more about what they do in their role.
- Ask your boss or colleagues what ‘hustle’ looks like to them.
- Look for one action a week that will push you out of your own comfort zone and stretch your skills or experience.
- Leverage next-step thinking in one of your projects. Then notice what happens and what reaction you get.
- Take note of what the standard of professionalism looks like in your company, and brainstorm how you can stand out by kicking your own professionalism up a notch.