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10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year
If you’ve played your cards right, 2014 gave you everything you wanted—a Christmas bonus, maybe a raise or a promotion? Not exactly?
Well, now you have a reason to take your game to the next level in the coming year. As Jack Dorsey so famously said, “Success is never accidental.” Take your future into your own hands with these 10 steps to push yourself to excel at work in the coming year, based on Stephen Key’s 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Challenge Themselves.
1. Diversify your circle
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The first step in getting different results is trying different things. I’m not saying you have to become “that” guy, but you can start by listening, paying attention, and being receptive to the people around you, regardless of their age or security clearance. Listen to what the kids are saying and listen to what the grandpas are saying. You might learn about an innovative solution to a problem, or an antiquated system that could use your expertise. Diversifying your work circle will widen your scope of influence and expose you to opportunities you won’t see otherwise. Take it from Steve Jobs, who recognized this crucial key to innovation early on:
“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
2. Read and/or listen to podcasts
This year, make it your mission to feed your brain. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Think of business blogs and podcasts as your leafy green vegetables. Check out the Financial Times blogs, the Wall Street Journal, or some of the Company Blogs out there to see who’s doing what, where the best ideas are coming from, and what organizations on the cutting edge are paying attention to. Join a local business book club or check out these podcasts for some ideas on where to start.
3. Ask your clients what problems they need to solve
It was Bill Gates who said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The tools you need just a phone call or e-mail away, because the most perfect feedback loop is one where you can continuously meet (or, even better, anticipate) your clients’ needs. How do you know what they need? Ask them! Every great business is built upon this principle: that excellence is a symbiotic relationship where you are not trying to sell someone on something they don’t need, but responding to their existing needs with tailored solutions. It’s arrogant to assume you know what your clients want. Instead, ask them: what’s missing from their process? What problems have they not been able to solve? What do they like that other companies are doing really well? Once you know what issues are most important to your customers, you’ll know what you need to work on to not only keep their business, but be a partner in their success.
4. Increase your technological knowledge
This goal should be on everyone’s list every quarter, because technology advances so fast that there will never be a time when there isn’t something new we can learn, no matter what field we’re working in. Make it your goal to learn something new this year—how a process works, what a team you’re not on does, or where your suppliers source their materials. Take a bold step into a technology you’ve never studied before. Yes, change can be scary, but if you really want to own it in 2015, you want to be on the leading edge, not on the Luddite side of the bell curve. Start at the most remedial level if you need to, and remember this quote from our old friend Dr. Seuss:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”
5. Work with people who are smarter than you
There’s a certain type of manager who is afraid to work with young, smart, ambitious team members, for fear that they will eventually lose their job to an understudy. The downside to this attitude (which these kinds of managers never think about), is that when everyone beneath you is dumber and lazier than you, they won’t be jockeying for a promotion, but you will be a slave to micromanagement because no one will be pulling their own weight. It’s impossible to delegate, drum up new ideas, or even take a vacation if you’re not supported by intelligent, hard-working people who are good at their jobs. Anyway, a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Get comfortable with surrounding yourself with brilliance, and you’ll shine too.
6. Look around at the people who are successful in your company
Take a good look at the people in your company that you admire or want to be like. Now, take a look at yourself. See any differences? What about the way you dress, or what you do at work? Of course it matters if you’re capable and deserving, but at the higher levels of management, presentation matters a lot. No one who wears board shorts to work or does keg stands at the Christmas party gets put into a client-facing management position. If you really want to get ahead, it might be time to trade that ratty t-shirt in for something a little more polished, and cut back on the outlandish pranks.
7. Make your meetings more effective and productive
First, don’t waste people’s time. Come to a meeting with a purpose. If you use Outlook to schedule your meetings, put the agenda and all the questions you need answered in the invite. While in the meeting, type the answers in as people answer them, rather than taking notes, compiling them, and sending them out later. Don’t leave the meeting without having a thorough understanding of questions answered, to-dos remaining, and task assignments. Make your meetings effective and people won’t feel like they’re losing time out of their day for nothing.
8. Get organized
Let’s face it—your professionalism is somewhat dependent upon what people see when they work with you, and the messier your desk is, the more disorganized you are perceived to be. You may thrive in chaos, but a pile of post-its and empty coffee cups around your computer doesn’t exactly say “Please put me in charge of something important.” The knick-knack overload that makes your workspace so personalized and comforting could be working against you. You have to make an effort to at least look as together as possible if you want to be seen as management material instead of a minion.
9. Establish expectations for the coming year with your supervisor
Look, your supervisor isn’t psychic. If you didn’t get what you want at the end of 2014, you should probably set up a meeting to review not only your performance, but also your expectations for the coming year. As Lee Iacocca once noted, “The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Showing your boss you are committed to results is an important step in demonstrating your value as an employee. Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi has an excellent blog post with suggestions on what to cover in a meeting like this. Once you establish a record of how you’ve performed thus far, what you should be doing better, and where you expect to be in 12 months, you can make a road map of how to get there. Over the next year, all you have to do is show up, deliver what you’ve agreed to (and preferably a little more—see Step 10 below), and check in with your boss quarterly on your progress. A caveat: if your boss is resistant to meeting with you, dismissive of your goals, or refuses to establish expectations, it might time you thought about looking for a different job!
10. Make a habit out of going the extra mile
We’ve all heard this joke: Two men are sitting in a tent, and suddenly realize a bear is approaching it. One man starts putting on his tennis shoes, and the other man says, “Do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Tennis-shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you.” Take a look around. What do you have to outrun to really shine? Your own laziness? Your resistance to change? Because it’s time to accept that your coworkers aren’t your competition—you are. If you want 2015 to be better than 2014, you’re going to have to outrun the “you” of yesterday. Put on your tennis shoes and make a habit out of going the extra mile.
To quote Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The other 20% is up to you—are you just going to show up, or are you going to shine? The choice is yours.
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