What do you need to do to get ahead at work?

When you want to get ahead at work, it can be challenging to know exactly what to do. Most people think that if you just work harder, then your effort will result in a promotion.

Below is Rebecca’s story in her pursuit to get ahead.

Rebecca had no desire to leave her job, she wanted to get promoted in her current position. In her words, she’d been doing “everything” that was asked of her, but no one noticed her efforts, let alone rewarded them.

Meanwhile, some of her peers were flying past her with promotions and raises.

What was the problem with Rebecca, and how was she going to get ahead?

Rebecca enlisted some help by asking HR to refer a mentor. After a few coaching sessions from her mentor, they identified that Rebecca was not connecting with management. The company she worked for was small and casual, but Rebecca shied away from engaging her senior leadership.

How could Rebecca ever convince her leadership that she cared about the business if she wouldn’t make any effort to interact with them?

The reality is that the people who get promoted are doing more than just getting the work done.  Studies show that how we value an employee’s competence changes according to how much we like or dislike that person.

In other words, being really good at your job isn’t enough.

For an employee to stand out, being likeable is a huge indicator for success. The good news is that the biggest hindrance to likeability is apathy.  The good news is that if you are like Rebecca, you can change how others perceive you simply by making the choice to care about other people.

Here are 7 steps you can implement immediately regardless of your circumstances that will put you back on the promotion path, where you belong:

  1. Take initiative

Volunteer for assignments. Are there any tasks that have been lingering on your boss’ to-do list for a few weeks? A great way to get noticed is by taking on a project that no one wants to tackle, but that has to get done.

  1. Connect with everyone

People who get big things done are people who know people, but the Rebecca’s of the world have a tendency to think that inter-office relationship building is too time-consuming and draining to be worthwhile.

Every aspect of your professional life will improve if you get to know your colleagues and making them feel comfortable getting to know you. This can be challenging if you are introverted. Push through this and connect with people one-by-one. Once you’ve broken the ice, you won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable about initiating a conversation in the elevator.

  1. Participate in the office’s extracurricular activities.

Work hard and enjoy your job too if you want to get ahead at work. Participate in the company’s fundraising walk or bake sale. Whatever your organization is doing, participate and do #2, connect.

For the extroverts that love to socialize and party, when it comes to office events, never put more effort into your social persona than you’re putting into your professional persona.

  1. Accomplish the organization’s goal

Every organization has a bottom line or a mission, and if you’re bringing in new business opportunities, you will always be seen as an asset. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been hired for marketing; it’s all about contributing in a bigger way. This doesn’t mean you need to be a walking billboard for your employer, but you should maintain a keen awareness of the opportunities that surround you, whether you’re in a coffee line or a board meeting.

Whatever your organization’s mission is, make sure you are working toward its achievement.

  1. Be a team player

Look for ways to collaborate and work in harmony. Bring your strengths to projects and assignments. Accept and embrace the diversity of talent within your team. Everyone won’t see things the way you do. That’s ok. Learn to work in diverse teams.

You don’t need to be a martyr of self-sacrifice by staying late every single night to do someone else’s work, but stepping up without expecting any personal benefit will never go unnoticed or unappreciated.

  1. Steer clear of negativity

Negativity is highly toxic. No one really wants to hear it, especially senior leaders. Focus on being helpful and solving problems not causing problems.

  1. Speak up.

Toastmasters is a great way to learn and practice your speaking skills.

Side note: Most of the interviews I’ve been on, the interviewer normally asks me about Toastmasters.  It has given me a leg up.

Make sure you practice speaking well. If you struggle with grammar, improve. Take a class. If you are shy and/or introverted, practice speaking up. Make sure when you speak, you are not covering your mouth by resting your chin on your hand. Sit up straight and project your voice.

Back to Rebecca, over the course of a few months, Rebecca started to realize that having a voice in the workforce is like a muscle that grows stronger with frequent use. With each step forward, her self-consciousness loosened its grip and she became confident about seizing opportunities. She felt empowered to step up, regardless of whether it was to run a meeting or populate the spreadsheet.

The standout employees are the ones who behave like leaders, even when their title is Intern. The irony is that when you’re more focused on the results than the promotion, your title will change faster than you can even imagine. This is how you get ahead at work.

If you don’t believe me, guess who’s now managing her company’s brand new office in London?

That would be—you guessed it—Rebecca!

10 Steps to Setting and Achieving Work Goals

Goal setting is a great way to strategically move your career forward. Having work goals and reaching your goals can be challenging, and below are 10 steps to help you better achieve your work goals.

  1. Get clarity on what you are trying to achieve

First things first – understand what you want to pursue. What do you want? It might be a good idea to start with your performance plan or a set of work goals that your manager has for you. If you don’t have this level of support or structure, maybe the first thing is to have a conversation with your manager to find out what you need to focus on.

If you already know what you want, go for it!

  1. Get some help

You might need help to achieve your goal. By understanding your team, you can pull from their strengths to help you to reach your goals. You team might be your staff members, your project team, or just co-workers.

When you understand the people around you, you can ask the right people for the help you need to achieve more. If you are a supervisor, team lead, or a project manager, you especially need the help of your teammates.

  1. Get your supervisor on your side

Maybe your goal is to get on your supervisor’s good side. If that’s the case, attempt to make their job easier. Have a conversation with your manager and ask what you can do to help out. Do what they tell you. Don’t over think it and don’t do what you think will be better. If you want to introduce a new way or whatever you think is better, do what they ask first and then do what you think is better. Then let your boss have a choice between the two products. When in doubt, ask first before you go off and try to predict what your boss wants. Wait until they trust you to try to innovate. 

  1. Focus on what you can control

For every workplace goal, there are factors you can control and factors out of your hands. Be clear on the distinction, and have a plan for what to do if the out-of-your-control factors don’t line up.

In project management, most times project managers are responsible for completing a project, but don’t have total autonomy over the people assigned to their project to get things done. This is a most challenging part of project management. Focusing on things that a project manager can control might be the budget. Things the project manager can’t control might be how quickly team members complete tasks. In this example, the project manage might add extra time in the schedule to allow for team members to complete tasks. Sometimes you got to be strategic on how you accomplish your goals.

  1. Consider your long term career goals

Where do you want to be in 5 years? What would you need to do to get to that position? Do you need to get a certification? Maybe you might need some additional experience. What is your ideal next professional role? Which success stories will make you a suitable and impressive candidate? Figure out what you want to do and begin to make a plan.

  1. Go beyond and think of the big picture

You might have opportunities to do other assignments at work. Think about what you want for your career for the future and take on some of those extra projects if you think it might give you the experience or exposure you need to get to where you want to be.

  1. Visualize as often as possible

See yourself where you want to be. Get a detailed vision. You might create a vision board by adding pictures of things that look like what you want your future to look like. Sometimes you may not know what your typical day will look like in your dream job. But don’t allow that to stop you.

I envisioned getting my project management professional certification. I saw myself passing the rigorous exam and throwing my hands up when I got my score. I saw myself celebrating. While I was studying for the exam, periodically I would close my eyes that think about how I was going to tell my mom. Everything that I saw in my mind, I did.

What can you visualize that will pull you closer to your dream?

Goals are dreams with deadlines – motivational phrase on a vintage blackboard
  1. Get some accountability

If you can get your supervisors support, that would be great. However, if you want to get a new job, your supervisor may or may not be rooting for you. It’s tricky when it comes to new positions and having supervisors support.

Having an accountable person to encourage you and help to keep you on track can make the difference. A mentor could potentially give you the support you need to accomplish your work goals.  

  1. Check-in often

Do you know the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? Well, it’s not enough to just set work goals. How many times have you have resolutions and then forgot about them by Valentine’s Day?

It’s important to review your work goals often. Write them down and put them in a place where you will look at them often.

Schedule times to evaluate how well you are doing in terms of reaching your goals. You can do this monthly or quarterly depending on the work goal.

  1. Align what you do daily with your goals

Do a periodic check on how well your daily to-do list aligns with your big-picture workplace goals. If the two have nothing to do with each other, talk to your manager and take action.

Maybe your work goal is to become bilingual, then your daily to-do-list should include some sort of foreign language classes, foreign language tutorials, practicing the foreign language, etc.

If this is one of your work goals, you won’t just wake up one day completely fluent in a foreign language if you’re not putting in the work.   

  1. Track your progress

It feels great when you can look back over a period of time and see that you are moving toward where you want to be. Tracking your progress will help you to see if you are actually getting closer to your goals or moving away from them.

Goal setting is an art. It takes practice and follow through. It’s wonderful when you can achieve your work goals. The major takeaway is that you want to know what you want, keep it in front of you, visualize achieving it, get support, and track your progress.