Tuesday, July 2, 2019

How to Excel at Work and Outclass the (Internal) Competition

-- Intended for New College Graduates --

As you look at the corporate ladder, you realize that your peers are your primary competitors while your boss happens to be the secondary. As you establish that maxim, you understand the need for a set of creative and consistent strategies to narrow the competition down – gradually. Of course, the smart and ambitious folks recognize this winning path quite early in their career, clearly defining their intermediate and long-term goals and steadfastly working on and fine-tuning the strategies. In the process, they also learn to remain unwaveringly focused, making navigational changes as and when demanded by today’s fast-evolving corporate environments.

And, that’s how they win – just a matter of time! Meanwhile, the competition remains busy on Monday morning quarterbacking, falling behind, often far behind. Obviously, the goals vary even amongst the winners, but the strategies they follow (to achieve those goals) tend to be similar, fairly similar. So, what do the winners have in common?

   1. They Never Underestimate or Lose Sight of the Big Picture – While they discharge their daily duties extremely diligently and efficiently, they are always in the know as to the positioning and importance of their work relative to the big picture (i.e., how their departmental work directly and indirectly contributes to the corporate goal). This skill comes naturally to all visionary leaders. On the other hand, the competing start-up folks who get bogged down, however ethically to their daily work only, end up becoming successful operational technicians, rather than enterprise-level solution providers. While the new management trainees are generally (hired and) trained together, this fork becomes increasingly apparent and visible to the bosses, quite early on. They easily stand out to the smart bosses as their questions and concerns are generally the big picture-oriented.

   2. They Rarely Develop a Rigid 9-to-5 Work Mindset – From the get-go, they learn to condition their work mindset and ethics on the heels of the other successful corporate leaders so they rarely nurture the conventional 9-to-5 habit; instead, they enjoy taking full ownership of their work, thus letting the work dictate their daily hours, irrespective of any allowable paid comp or overtime. In other words, the winners always know how to take total ownership of their work, while the rest tends to succumb to a structure of pre-defined rules and some superficial responsibilities. Needless to say, the smart bosses also foresee the budding leaders in the folks who believe in taking total ownership of all assigned projects and are always eager to take on new challenges.

   3. They Know how to Get into the Groove of Aiming High – Winners understand the value of time so they prefer working lunches with the smart bosses rather than lunching out with the peers. They recognize and appreciate the fact that the vast majority of smart bosses rarely have the extended time to enjoy outside lunches. Therefore, the idea of the working lunch makes more sense to both as they build better professional chemistry. Since the budding winners also realize that even during a working lunch they are being watched and evaluated as if it were a staff meeting, they learn to come totally prepared and stick to the most important issues and concerns related to the project(s) being discussed.                

   4. They Know how to Build a Brand to Make their Work Stand out – It’s in the DNA of all winners to reject plain vanilla work. Instead, whatever they do, they try to excel and outrival the competition by building their own brand. Over a short period of time, the smart bosses start to recognize and appreciate the additional effort. Even in a group project, their brand becomes clear and present. The branding not only gives them an instant recognition and enhances their image, but also protects their work from being inappropriately used or abused by others. Such brands also help bosses as they can easily present that class of work to their higher-ups without having to spend days on preparing a special report for a short one-off meeting. Linking brands are easier and time-saving as they are formed by the same feather.       

   5. They Develop the Moral fiber to always help Staff, Peers and Bosses – Winners know their help is always needed not only by their staff or peers, but by their bosses as well, making them some of the most highly sought after employees in their departments. But it’s never a negative or an annoying issue for them. They take it very positively from the beginning of their career and constantly build upon them, so much so that it becomes part of their work ethics, even as they move up the ladder. Developing this moral fabric is inherent in visionary leaders. In fact, the great CEOs are generally easily approachable. Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, used to maintain an open door policy so employees could walk in and talk to him without prior appointments.   

   6. They always Know when and how to Walk away from the Herd – Their basic professional attributes – ability to critically think, solving enterprise-level challenges, staying intensely focused through the work stages and the determination to reach the finish line – are so different from the general competition that they start challenging the status quo and conventional (group) thinking as they settle into the job. The fact that the winners understand the importance of the big picture immensely helps them to articulate inherently better and more convincing cases, as well as enterprise-level or, at least, broad-based solutions. Of course, they also realize that the only way they can promote better ideas and solutions is by walking away from the group from time to time, and they are generally unafraid to do so, as it’s always for the greater good, not for personal championship.

   7. They Develop Strong Personality to Fend off Bully Bosses – Given an unrestricted domain of authority (due to weak superiors) bully bosses often resort to reign of terror, especially targeting the smartest (who make the vile look inferior!) and walking down on the curve. While the winners are generally some of the most polite and pleasant personalities, they also realize that developing a strong personality is equally important and they tend to nurture that trait in themselves from the school days, leading into the corporate life. Oftentimes, in order to make an initial assessment of the environment many new graduates from the top schools insist on personal meetings (job interviews aren’t enough) with the future peers and bosses before accepting an offer. By the same token, they also understand the importance of an exit strategy when the environment remains polluted beyond repair.  

   8. They Take Advantage of Leadership and Management Opportunities – While the competition remains iffy (makes and rationalizes excuses) of taking advantage of proper leadership or management opportunities, the winners not only recognize them but they confidently line up at the gate as well. They know it quite well that the early attempts to climb the ladder – even when the outcome is a foregone conclusion – are critical. The winners never balk at meaningful opportunities as they know the ladder turns into a pyramid, getting narrower and narrower as the climb continues. This is the inflection point where the major league gets separated from the minor league, so to say. The winners go on to become the EVPs, FVPs and CEOs, while the old competitors wish them good luck.

   9. They Learn the Do’s and Don’ts Early on and Practice them throughout their Corporate Life – It is generally beneath their dignity to even talk about their personal performance or achievements, let alone bragging about them. This is a practice that becomes their fail-safe second nature. Likewise, while they are extremely respectful of all races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, orientations, etc., they always avoid all unnecessary talks or discussions on such issues. They develop the habit of evaluating everything based solely on merit resulting in net positives, meaning for them to spend any time on any discussions they make sure that the positives far outweigh the negatives, a priori. They enjoy their work to the brim, thus always looking forward to Monday mornings. In the process, they learn to avoid all negative stimuli, distancing themselves from all negative personalities (as much as possible) and meaningless social talks around the water cooler (they will simply smile and walk away). Last but not least, as they start out, they practice discipline to a point they do not waste time wondering where to start; for example, they often get into the habit of writing self-addressed work summaries on Friday afternoons so they do not waste time on Monday mornings wondering where to start.  

Dear folks – The early start is absolutely critical. Please do not procrastinate and while your career away. Aim High.

Good Luck!

Sid Som, MBA, MIM
President, Homequant, Inc.

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