As promised in yesterday’s post about “The Worst Mistakes I’ve Made As An Employee,” I’d like to share with you a few of the key things I think I’ve done well through the years where I’ve worked. These are the decisions or patterns of behavior that I hope have characterized my time as an employee, from the time I got my first job as a 16-year-old small town grocery store clerk making $1.60 an hour to my current role as an online community manager for a Fortune 100 company. I can’t help but think that people who exhibit these behaviors will have good success and satisfaction in their careers as well.
Take on more responsibility than is required. I take no pleasure in doing only what is expected of me in a role. I want to do my best at my work, and that includes acting on the thoughts that come to mind about how to improve processes, get more accomplished, better organize work, and voluntarily tackle things that nobody else seems to have on their radar. Willingly taking on more responsibility than expected helps the business, creates new opportunities, solves problems, expands one’s capabilities, and usually paves a path to officially expanded roles and career advancement.
For example, in the early 1990s I was the associate dean of a small business college, having been promoted to that role from instructor. One of the perennial issues at that college was the operation of the bookstore. It was inefficiently operated, disorganized, and a frustrating experience for students as well as a financial drain for the college. After considering the work I thought it would take to turn it around, I made an offer to the college dean that if he would give me responsibility for operating the bookstore in addition to my current duties, remove the current manager from her position and add half her salary to mine, I would turn it around. He did just that, and I kept my end of the bargain, making it an organized and smoothly operated bookstore that next semester and thereafter.
Similarly, I can’t tell you the number of times that I have inherited (willingly or otherwise) the responsibilities of others when people on my teams have left the company or moved to other departments, leaving fewer of us to do more with less. By accepting and even seeking out greater responsibility with a positive attitude, people learn that I am serious about getting things done. Supervisors learn that they can give me a job to do, leave me alone, and it will get done. If I need their help, I will ask for it. Otherwise, they can assume all is well. I will squeal if and when I reach my reasonable limit, but until then, they can rightly know that I’m on top of my duties.
Put in more time than is required. While the previous suggestion centers around taking on more responsibility, this one is about putting in extra time. I don’t remember how many years it has been since I’ve averaged only 40 hours per week. I tend to average in the low 50s instead of the 40s. Occasionally, I go well beyond that, but I don’t recommend doing so except for rare occasions when there simply is no other alternative, and only then for a very short period of time. It isn’t nice when employers expect extra hours every week from salaried employees, but it is good to be in a situation where you love what you do and willingly give it more time in order to do the best job possible in a reasonable, sustainable amount of time. Not everyone is in a life situation that allows them to give extra hours with no corresponding increase in compensation, but for someone like me whose sons are long gone from home, I have that luxury and am glad to do so.
Ask for what you want. You may not get all you want, but you certainly won’t get what you wish for if you don’t ask for it. There have been two times in the past four years alone when roles were created for me on other teams that would not have been created without me initiating the conversations. In 2009 I called the manager of a different team out of the blue and pitched an idea about the possibility of a new role being created on his team with me filling it. It took a few months to go through all the internal hoops for it to happen, but since the manager liked the idea, he worked with others as needed over several months to make it come to pass. Something similar happened in 2011 when I thought it was necessary for our internal social network to be owned by a different business area, and for me to go along with it to that area to manage it. Again, after a few months and several discussions with key stakeholders working together, it came to fruition. Dream Big. Show the potential benefits of your ideas, and go for them.
Be kind to others. This seems rather basic, but you’d be surprised how often people don’t follow this simple principle. Being rude, self-centered, sharp-tongued, avoiding others, being unresponsive to requests, not returning calls or emails, and generally being a pain in the behind to others just makes you the kind of person coworkers have no desire to be around. Why would anyone want to be that person? Most of us spend more waking hours with our work colleagues than with those who live under own own roof at home. Why wouldn’t you want to have the best relationships possible since you’re going to be spending a huge amount of time together weekly? I want to be thought of as someone who generously gives to others, is OK with occasional interruptions in order to help people out, speaks kindly, encourages others, and who does a reasonably good job of living the Golden Rule, treating others the way I want them to treat me. We teach it to our kids. Why should we be any different as adults?
Trust others. I tend to trust others until they give me a reason not to trust. This approach seems to be better for relationships, easier on the mind and emotions, and benefits everyone involved since trust is usually rewarded with trust returned in your direction. I understand that there are certain roles in businesses which lend themselves to being very cautious, skeptical and perhaps lacking in trust. People in such roles need to do what their positions require without coming off as always distrustful of others. I know I am a person of integrity, so when someone questions that integrity in any way, it is highly offensive. Likewise, I don’t want to appear to question someone else’s integrity unjustifiably. Of course, if you ever give me a reason not to trust you, I will continue to cooperate and work with you as needed, but I will be extremely cautious and you will have to earn that trust back over a long period of time which is outside of your control.
Help others reach their goals. This involves being an encourager to people, taking time to genuinely listen to them, and then taking action to the extent that it is within your ability to assist. Even though I am not currently in a management role, it is very possible for me to help others achieve their goals by providing assistance within the scope of my responsibilities and authority. You do not have to have positional authority to have an effective impact on the organization and individuals within it. Individuals can have significant influence without having a single person formally reporting to them. For those who are in supervisory positions, I consider this one of their primary responsibilities–one characterized by developing others, being a cheerleader, inspiring, encouraging, empowering, guiding, leading, and genuinely celebrating others’ success as they accomplish challenging business objectives and personal career goals.
Looking at the above patterns of behavior that I believe characterize the bulk of my work history, I would summarize them in two simple thoughts: (1) strive to do your very best, and (2) focus on others as much (or more) than you focus on yourself.
So there you have it–my worst mistakes discussed in a previous post, and several positive and helpful patterns of behavior that have contributed significantly to success and satisfaction in my work. I’d love to hear your thoughts about work experiences and patterns that have shaped your career.