If your career looks anything like mine, you’ve spent more than your fair share of time watching other people around you get promoted while you stay put. It can feel sometimes like you’re stuck in career quicksand. And, If you’re like me, I’m willing to bet that you occasionally (often?) look around the table during company meetings and scratch your head at some of the people that seem to be rising up the corporate ladder ahead of you.
It hurts, I know. For smart, ambitious managers and aspiring executives, there is very little that’s more painful than watching your peers jump ahead of you – especially when you’re sure they’re less talented than you are. To make matters worse, major promotions seem to be increasingly scarce these days as our organizational structures get flatter and flatter, which means you have fewer opportunities than ever to make big advances in your career.
As managers, we too often fool ourselves into thinking the company will eventually recognize and reward our hard work and reliability, and as a result we adopt overly passive career strategies. We mistakenly assume that people are paying attention to our dependable work and value it enough to promote us.
Unfortunately, that’s not the reality of the environment we work in. To actually get ahead in a company these days you need to actively differentiate yourself from your peers. You have to find creative ways to separate yourself from the pack that go well beyond the fundamentals of working hard and being reliable – you have to outplay them to win.
Here are three of the most effective strategies for differentiating yourself at work. They aren’t predicated on intelligence or talent or hard work to be successful either. You don’t need a special degree to learn these tactics. You can implement them tomorrow. They worked for me, and I think they can work for you, too.
1. Separate From The Herd
It’s very comforting and often therapeutic to gripe and gossip with peers at work. I see people do it all the time. We are naturally drawn to this behavior especially in times of change and uncertainty. You should never do it. We also tend to network exclusively with people at our own level or below in the company because it’s comfortable and easy. It’s a waste of time.
To actually get ahead in a company, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Gravitating to the herd has the opposite effect. Next time when you feel tempted to gossip or gripe with your fellow peers, don’t do it. Instead, make a list of key influencers over your career success and focus your networking efforts on them.
2. Find Bigger Problems To Solve
When it comes to career advancement, small wins and reliable performance do not put a winning score on the board. Managers who play a game based on reliability tend to become known only for their mistakes. Mistakes, unlike small wins, reverberate across the company – they get noticed. So, when mistakes inevitably happen, the reliable manager hasn’t put up enough points to make up for them.
It pays to pursue a big win strategy, even at the expense of making more small mistakes. Big wins are memorable, they build attention outside your department, and they’re like bait for promotions. Find a process to improve or a special project to take on even if it falls outside your core objectives. These are the things people will notice and promote you for.
3. Embrace The Changes Everyone Else Hates
Because human beings are naturally opposed to change, the greatest moments for career advancement very often come in times of uncertainty and disruption. During these periods, like in an acquisition or management shake-up, the opportunities for promotion are at their greatest and your competition are at their worst. While your peers are rebelling to change and worrying what the future may hold, you need to be executing your advancement strategy. Being positive and strategic when everyone around you is negative and defensive will elevate you above your competition.
Promotions are scarce. It can take years for the right opportunity to present itself. You need differentiate yourself from your competition to maximize your chances for success when they finally come around. Add these three strategies into your game plan and watch your career take off.
This post was originally published at an earlier date.
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