Friday, April 17, 2009

Secrets to Success

Years ago, I wrote some advice to the people who worked for me.

I happened to dig this old advice out recently when I was scavenging for presentation ideas. It occurred to me that our current economy makes these ideas seem almost relevant.

So, for what it's worth, here are my Secrets to Success.

What Should I Do to Succeed?

Let's get right down to specifics. You want the respect of others? You like your job and you want to keep doing it? You want recognition and a shot at those really cool opportunities? You want the raises and promotions you so richly deserve? There are no real secrets involved; I'm going to tell you exactly how to do it.

1. Choose your role models carefully.
Watch who is succeeding, who has respect, who is getting recognition and then emulate them. You can also learn a great deal from avoiding the stupid things done by those you do not wish to emulate.
2. Be friendly.
Arrogance is annoying, sullenness is tiring, being mean gets meanness right back - usually to an elevated degree. Hey, people like to help their friends. Build a network of contacts throughout the company and industry, and nurture that network by being friendly.
3. Take responsibility for your actions.
Have some insight into what you can and cannot do. Be honest with yourself and forgive yourself if you make a mistake. But if it's your mistake, acknowledge it, learn from it and work hard to prevent repeating it.
4. If someone else makes a mistake, forgive them.
It's not as if we've never made one!
5. Take pride in your work.
Your work has your name on it, my friend, it's as much 'you' as anything can get! Review what you've done before you send it out. Take some time with it; make certain that it is a quality product. Get people to think of quality when they see your name.
6. Watch out for surprises.
The only good surprise is when the news is good. Don't surprise anyone with bad news; convey the informational message as soon as you're sure of what's happening.
7. Whatever you can do yourself. . . do yourself.
Don't try to get others to do the nasty work or the boring work, if it's your work, then do it, nasty or boring as it might be.
8. Be loyal.
Be loyal even if it seems at the moment not to be in your best interest. Always be loyal, it gets noticed, it gets remembered and it gets repaid.
9. Follow up.
And then follow up again. A phone call today may save eighty hours of rework later. Think of it as an investment.
10. Watch for patterns.
Wake up! Heighten your awareness. Watch what's going on around you. There are patterns in the events at work, patterns in what people do, in the whole atmosphere around you. Watch and learn from all of it and react accordingly. Wake up!
11. Fix it and then fix it for good.
When something is broken, fix it and forget about doing any blaming. Then fix the process or whatever it was that allowed the mistake to occur in the first place. Shame on us if we have to fix the same mistake twice. Shame!
12. Do more than what is expected.
Whoa! Did I say 'more'? Oh, yes! You have a due date for your project? Beat it! Beat it by a mile! Do the documentation early. Follow up with the team leader. Automate the tool. Figure out a way to do it faster. Improve communication. Suggest new ways of doing things. Surprise your project leader in that positive way I mentioned earlier. Surprise your manager. Surprise yourself! When you finish your work early, go ask for more! Do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd. Strive for people to associate you with terms like "exceptional", "professional", "high quality" and "energetic"? Good heavens. . . think of the alternative!
13. Volunteer for the tough ones.
You want to stand out from the crowd? Then stand out! Go in to your manager and ask for trouble!
14. Act like it's your company.
Make your decisions based on the presumption that everything you do affects your bottom line. Guess what? It does!
15. Never give up.
So you do all this and things don't move as quickly as you want. That's right, they probably won't. You have to build a track record that's different than your previous modus operandi. People need to see consistency. That takes time, but don't give up! Following these rules will work.

Are There Any Things I Shouldn't Do?

Of course, and you already know what they are. Here are a few examples.

1. Don't abuse the flextime privilege.
You made a deal with your manager to start work at seven AM? So be in at seven AM! Even if nobody else is in at seven, don't be late.
2. Don't abuse your working hours.
Don't come in on time and then go down and have breakfast. Have your breakfast at home or come in early to have breakfast. Work during working hours.
3. I finished my work for today, so I'm going home.
You finished your work? Excellent! Go ask for more! See numbers 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 listed above.
4. Don't abuse the lunch break.
Long lunch? Have some errands to run? Make up the time; it's your company!
5. Take care of serious issues that run late.
Serious issues sometimes extend past the end of the work shift. You know when you need to stay and complete the task, but when it's 'iffy', then ask for guidance. If you have commitments that require you to leave, make sure you provide turnover to someone qualified. Don't abandon a problem.
6. Provide warnings for things that will be late.
Don't keep it to yourself. Provide early warning, the earlier the better. The earlier the warning, the more chance for forgiveness.
7. Don't get defensive.
If someone provides you feedback, suggestions or council, listen to them. Honest feedback is a treasured gift.
8. Don't hold back that great idea.
If you have an idea for a technical improvement, process change or new invention - anything - bring it up. Submit it as a company suggestion. There's no down side to making suggestions. Even if they aren't accepted today, their time may come tomorrow.
9. Don't hold back comments to your peers.
If you see someone harming their own career by their actions or inactions, tell them. And hope like crazy that they would do the same for you.
10. Don't fool yourself into thinking nobody notices.
Everything gets noticed! Everything: extra effort, lateness, loyalty, long lunches, high energy, laziness, professionalism and unprofessionalism. You can tell yourself nobody notices, but they do! Everything gets noticed!