We spend so much time in our jobs that it’s natural to want to get some tips on how to be successful at work. No matter what your job, chances are you would like to get a promotion, a pay-rise or even a better job. This post passes on 15 tips from the boss’s perspective. After all, it’s the boss who has to make the decision you’re hoping for.
As CEO of a mid-sized firm I had over 200 people reporting to me, and through my Senior Management team. Every hire or fire, promotion and pay decision came across my desk.
These 15 tips on how to be successful at work come straight from the horse’s mouth, a real life CEO. When I first took over as CEO the company had a pretty poor culture and HR issues were at the forefront of my turnaround strategy.
Eventually I delegated more authority to my Senior Managers, but in the early days I oversaw everything very closely. This experience provides a useful insight into why some people get promoted or given more responsibility and more pay – and others get left behind, or asked to leave.
I have distilled this experience into these 15 tips on how to be successful at work and on the job.
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Before we proceed, a little personal history might help to give these tips some perspective. They have been derived from personal and practical experience.
I was a Non-Executive Board Director with this company which had appointed a new CEO (not me). At the time, this CEO tried to implement an internal performance-management program that had received some positive press.
Unfortunately it was an inappropriate program for our needs and failed miserably. The result of this was a shift from profitability to mounting losses and a badly damaged reputation. It was a near-death experience for the company.
The Board asked me to take over as CEO to return the company to profitability, restore its reputation and build a more positive culture.
The failed performance program was derived from a manufacturing assembly-line environment and featured specific tasks and performance monitoring. This was a sort of up-dated 1950’s time and motion approach, totally unsuitable for a human services company. The resultant impact on the company’s culture was devastating, turning it very negative. It also created processes which were at odds with the needs of our customers and service delivery.
Consequently, it was not uncommon for staff to be talking with external people in their towns about the oppressive (and sometimes bullying) management approach. This of course is not only very bad PR, but also very destructive from a customer perspective and the team’s morale. It also diluted our ability to recruit new personnel.
The following 15 tips are distilled from my experience in transforming this culture. Critical in this transformation was the evaluation of prominent team members, and the weeding out of negative influences and the reinstatement of more positive ones who were aligned to a more open and responsive culture.
Tip # 1 – Be Positive
I place attitude above all else. A positive attitude not only gives you the energy and enthusiasm to tackle your job and do it well, it also inspires others and builds a real sense of team spirit that is invaluable.
The influence that a positive person has in inspiring and motivating others cannot be overstated. Good managers are leaders. Leaders lead with inspiration and confidence, and you simply can’t give that to your team if you don’t have a positive attitude.
One of the most difficult things about being a leader is the need to constantly positive and optimistic – even when you don’t feel that way. Your team relies on you to provide the backbone and strength to continue in all circumstances.
Public positivism is essential for any leadership role, as doubts or negative views are compounded within the team, and this has a disproportionate effect on performance and results.
Tip # 2 – Make Productive Suggestions That Solve Problems
One of my favourite sayings is that “unless you have a solution, you don’t have a problem.” It goes to the heart of what I refer to as the “whinge culture”, where people simply like to complain about things not working as they would like. Well guess what – there’s not many things in this world that don’t break, or fail every now and again, or that could be improved on.
A key suggestion for success at work is to propose solutions, not simply whinge about things. What I admire in people (and especially my staff) is the ability to see an issue, think it through and propose a way to improve it. This is problem-solving, and is a key role of management.
Successful companies operate this way. Recognising problems is essential, they cannot be simply dismissed. After that, it is in the realm of the leader to come up with solutions. I valued these people in my team, and put them obove others.
If the proposed solution involved hefty expenditure that couldn’t be met in the short term, it did not make the proposal any less valuable. If it is the correct (or best) solution, it can be assessed and planned for in future budgets.
Tip # 3 – Be a Team Player
Teamwork is an essential component of success in any business endeavour. This is why it is essential that you learn how to collaborate with your peers and colleagues and practice it regularly.
The most important people on the team are those that work to bring the team together, rather than working in isolation. This ranges from the type of problem solving we just discussed, to building efficiency within the team.
If you have good ideas, then share them with others. Let your co-workers and bosses benefit from your insights. Occasionally, you might get no credit for this, but over time, the praise you receive here and there will help to improve your profile within the company.
Sharing with others rather than competing with them will do more for your career prospects than trying to hoard good ideas and exclude others. Successful people don’t fear scarcity, but instead they have a worldview of abundance. They see opportunities and are happy to share their knowledge and skills with others, in the expectation that they will in turn become important allies in the future and together they all grow and prosper.
Every boss knows who is contributing the most, both in terms of personal results, but also in building and supporting the team. Playing your role in the team is an important element of being noticed and valued.
Tip # 4 – Be Time Conscious
Another insightful saying is that “Timeliness is next to godliness”. This is certainly true in the workplace.
The culture I walked into was one with numerous meetings. Not only were there too many to be a productive use of time, they weren’t run efficiently. It was standard practice to arrive a few minutes late, spend a few more minutes with coffee-talk amongst colleagues, with the result that most meetings actually started about 15 minutes after the proposed start time.
To combat this, I started every meeting strictly on time, regardless of who had arrived or not arrived. It didn’t take long for the message to be received.
There is a lot to get done in a typical working day, so it is best to maintain a sense of urgency. Bosses appreciate those who demonstrate a commitment to getting things done. Show that you are hard working, attentive, and alert. And show that you won’t become complacent simply because things are going well.
Tip # 5 – Be Invaluable
Assessing individual staff is always on a boss’ mind, as they know that a better company performance as almost guaranteed if you can weed out the negative types and the underperformers. They will be noted on a mental list somewhere.
You want to make sure you are not on this list, because believe me, there always is one!
The best way to avoid the list is to make sure you are always available and that your boss knows you can be relied on. Don’t try to “game” the company by doing as little as possible in return for your paycheck. That is not the way to be successful at work. Go the extra distance and prove that you are willing to make a sacrifice.
One good way to do this is to volunteer for projects – even if they are a bit difficult, or less attractive. This garners respect from those above, and you’ll quickly become recognized as an invaluable asset for the business.
Remember that if it is easy to see how the company could replace you, then your boss probably can too. The more you make yourself indispensible, the better your chances of promotion or a pay-rise, and the less likely that you be replaced.
Tip # 6 – Use Initiative
One of the most annoying things about being in charge is when the people who report to you sit back and wait for instructions. It makes the boss’ job very tiresome if every last detail of how to proceed has to be spelt out. We’re working with adults for crying out loud, not children.
Prioritize your work. Try to determine which projects are “urgent,” which projects are “important,” and which projects are both. And then attack them in the correct order. Remember the Pareto Principle – 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. Focus on the important 20%.
Mastering your job won’t be enough to get you a promotion, but it is without a question the best place to start. So, if you think there is significant room for improvement, then get working to master your job.
At the end of the day, the quality of work that you produce will determine whether your boss thinks that you are barely fit to carry out your current job; or whether you are over-qualified and should be promoted.
Everyone should know what is required, so use initiative to deliver the goods. People who can self-start are appreciated, so make it a habit to take action immediately and accomplish tasks on your own.
If your company doesn’t let this happen – consider moving to another where you can get more job satisfaction and be better able to shine.
Tip # 7 – Look After Your Boss
As a CEO, I truly appreciated the assistance given to me from not only my Senior Managers and fellow Board members, but also people in various roles throughout the organisation. A good company runs a team, and whilst you may have a team leader, it is the collaborative effort that determines success or failure.
People who helped me to look good were never forgotten. My trick was to use bonuses to recognise over performance. Those who had been of most direct use to me tended to get the bigger bonuses.
Successful people know how important it is (and how) to make the boss look good. This is especially true if you can do it in public (e.g. – supportive comments at a Board meeting, or Management Meeting). Your boss will appreciate this; and will want to keep you around.
If there is something important that your boss needs to know, try to be the first to tell them. This builds your personal position and makes you more indispensible.
Most bosses will appreciate it if you are kind and respectful to them, but if you go out of your way to suck up to them, it will usually be perceived poorly. Instead of respecting you, they will see you as someone they cannot trust for a straight answer.
Tip # 8 – Act the Part
When I was considering who to promote or reward, it’s not always purely work performance and contribution. When considering whether to promote someone to a leadership position, I wanted to know that they would be accepted and followed by other team members.
There are a number of traits that most bosses like myself consider:
Honesty is important. I wanted to k now I could trust the people reporting to me. If they were misleading me, I wouldn’t really know what was happening, and be less able to do my job properly. The same goes for those reporting to the individual. Being honest with your co-workers and your boss means that they can trust you and come to you for advice in the future.
Avoiding negative conflicts is another trait that comes to mind. There’s a good chance that you’ll end up locking horns with a few people from time to time. This is not only largely unavoidable, it is often useful to clarify issues or resolve problems.
The dispute is not the issue, but rather the way the conflict is handled. If you take these disputes personally and make them larger than they need to be, it demonstrates that you might not be suitable leadership material.
When it comes to petty, intra-office disputes, always be the one to take the high road. Don’t focus on getting revenge or supporting an argument that is clearly wrong. Instead, just admit fault and move on with your life.
When it comes to contradicting your boss or a co-worker, you might decide that it is not a good idea to stand up for yourself, but instead to back-down. However, if you have good reason to believe you are right, you should stick up for yourself as long as it is reasonable and respectful. Ultimately, your co-workers and boss will respect you more for it.
Empathy for others is a critical element of any group situation – work or social. You know how important it is when others make it clear they understand and sympathise with you. It makes you feel wanted and cared for. And so it goes in reverse. Being supportive and caring towards others will improve your status within the company. It will show people that they can come to you if others do not understand their position.
Look the Part
Another important part of getting promotions is dressing for the part. For instance, if you dress down compared to everyone else in the office, it is less likley you will have the respect of your peers. This of course is very situationally dependant.
However, it is true that f you don’t look presentable on a daily basis that may factor into your boss’s decision not to promote you. So dress for success.
Stability is an important quality for leaders, especially if given a lot of responsibility. If you appear to be unstable, it suggests that you could make bad decisions that jeopardize your team’s performance, or even the entire business. For this reason, you should push very hard to demonstrate your stability to the managers above you.
Acting appropriately is another no-no. Making jokes is a popular social strategy which can endear others to you. However, making offensive or inappropriate jokes can permanently eliminate you from the running for upper management jobs. Next time you go to make a joke, think twice about your audience; and don’t do it if you think it might offend someone.
The same commentary goes for sexist or racist comments, or those that are in any way personally demeaning to an individual. Good managers simply don’t do this.
Tip # 9 – Emulate Your Superiors & Successful Co-Workers
As a CEO, I knew I had a handful of really talented and reliable people reporting to me. I spent time talking with these Senior Managers about how they could groom some of their people for future leadership roles.
These managers had achieved success due to their skills and the way they conducted themselves. If you want to be promoted you can do worse than use them as role models.
Pay attention to co-workers who are especially good at their jobs. What is it that enables them to be so efficient? And what is it that elicits so much praise from upper management? Learn from this, copy their qualities and you should see similar results.
All of the above tips on how to be successful at work will position you as a candidate for consideration, but there is some positioning work that helps to put you in the frame for promotion, or pay-rise.
Tip # 10 – Be More Visible, Practice Self-Promotion
Being seen is part of the game; so don’t be afraid of a little self-promotion. Get others to notice you and to appreciate what you do within the company (but don’t go overboard – it can do more harm than good).
Presentations are a vital part of communicating ideas to employees and business partners. If you are the one to give a presentation, you are more visible and valuable. Many people have a fear of public speaking or giving presentations, so this strategy not only makes you more visible, it builds your positioning as a potential leader.
Volunteer to take on a public role – e.g. industry presentations, working parties and the like. This demonstrates your broader abilities to communicate and network – both important skills for a leadership position. Not only does this build your profile internally, it gives you industry connections and reputation, should you consider a change.
Volunteer at charity events, help co-workers who are in need, and generally be available and helpful. As your profile improves within the company, so will your chances of getting promoted.
Don’t sit passively at meetings. Instead, take charge and make comments. Be prepared and have useful comments ready. Listen and be involved in the discussion. This will help you to get recognized, and show your true worth.
Tip # 11 – Signal Your Readiness to Your Superiors
Let your boss know that you are keen to advance. The most probable chance for this is during the annual (or semi-annual) review process, but it can be at any time.
Any good boss is keen to advance their people, it ensures a better team. This in turn creates better group performance, as the calibre of the team rises. But opportunities may not present themselves within the company (often it is not possible in a smaller organisation).
In this instance, any good boss will be glad to support you find a leadership role elsewhere in the industry. I found that developing people beyond our ability to promote them provided a very positive support group within the industry. This also helped enormously in our recruitment as we developed a reputation as a good place to work.
Once you have let your boss know about your desire for further advancement, you can jointly put together a plan to further develop your skills – through special training, or expanded job responsibilities.
When it comes to getting a promotion at work, few things are more important than timing. Being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things is vital. And so you should pay careful attention to your timing, to when you actively put your hand up.
If you advance too quickly – before you are really ready, you may fail. This will do untold damage to your career, so it is better to be patient and thoughtful about your career.
Make sure that someone else can do your job. Whilst you want to be indispensible, you don’t want it be at the cost of a promotional opportunity. If the no one else can do your job, then you cannot be replaced; and therefore cannot get promoted.
Tip # 12 – Listen for Opportunities
Always stay alert for important information about promotions and job openings. When these come up, you may find an advantage in being able to move quickly. This can improve your chances of getting promoted, especially in a larger organisation.
It is always worthwhile to make a friend in human resources. Next time there is a job opening in the works, you will be one of the first people to find out about it. They may even be in your corner pushing for your chance.
If you work in a larger company, there can be several opportunities for promotion – even if it means in a slightly different part of the company.
Keep an up-to-date resume that highlights your skills as much as your roles. Skills are often transferable to different roles. Don’t just passively wait for a promotion, but apply for within company jobs, and don’t be afraid of pushing for them.
Tip # 13 – Consider Why You Want the Promotion
Being prepared is important. For instance, next time you’re in the elevator with your boss or with a higher-up, you will want to be prepared if your boss asks you something about a new job opening or a possible promotion. Have reasons ready for why you want the promotion and why you would fit well in the position.
Getting a promotion can be a difficult process. This is why it is important that you spend some time thinking about and rationalizing why you are worthy of a promotion. When the going gets tough, you’ll have reasons that you can use to reinforce your choice.
One strategy is to find jobs outside of your company that look promising. It might give you some leverage for a pay-rise or promotion, but be careful. It might be taken positively, but it might be seen as disloyal and self-serving. If I thought someone was trying to blackmail me into a raise or a promotion, I might go along with it in the short run, but would not forget. The result could be that in the longer term it limited that that person’s opportunities.
Conversely, you might be better off with a job elsewhere. It may be a more senior role, or one with better advancement opportunities. Or maybe it might just pay a bit better, or have better benefits. A thoughtful consideration of all factors is worth it.
Tip # 14 – Invest in Your Career
Just like any other investment, an investment in your career could pay off considerably down the line. If you think you are currently missing the education or the training you need to move forward, then put some money aside to invest in your career.
Consider going back to school if additional skills or knowledge will help move you up the ladder. Any improvement in your resume will pay dividends down the line and is never wasted.
Maybe you think a change in direction is called for – test the waters and figure out what it is that you want to do, or have an aptitude for; and then try again with a different career path.
Tip # 15 – Learn New Things or New Skills
The more you learn about your job and your company – the more valuable you will be. Not only does this apply to your current employer, but also to other employers. Recognise how important and valuable on-the-job training and experience is, and make the most of the opportunities your workplace provide.
If there is an opportunity to developing new skills, this will not hurt your career prospects. On the other hand, if you don’t develop new skills, then you cannot expect that your boss will suddenly believe that you are capable of taking on a new job with different requirements.
In the same vein, scrappiness is an important trait of successful people. No matter how badly the road to success treats them, they take their lumps and then return to the path. Ultimately, they prevail because they refuse to do anything else.
In conclusion, I hope that these 15 tips to be successful at work will give you the tools and motivation to get the promotion or raise that you are hoping for. There is no reason you cannot plan out a successful career without giving up your inner values, or feeling like an imposter.