Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The New Rules for Getting Promoted...Or At Least Staying Employed

This is the third in a series of five posts, each of which distills one of the presentations I made at the Commonwealth Club this month.

The rules for succeeding in today's workplace have changed. For example, a few years ago, I would have confidently suggested that key to success is asking lots of questions and suggesting new ideas. Now, that could get you fired, oops, "laid off."

Being Low-Maintenance
Of course, inveterate complainers and naysayers are high-maintenance and so disproportionately find themselves on a layoff list. But there are more subtle ways you can be high-maintenance:
  • To appear enthusiastic and to avoid errors, many new employees ask lots of questions but too often, bosses resent the time it takes to answer them. (That happened to me when I was working at a radio station.)
  • Similarly, many employees figure they add value by suggesting lots of new ideas. But each new idea requires time to implement and if the boss doesn't like the idea, s/he thinks less of you. Plus s/he has the uncomfortable chore of explaining why s/he's turning you down.  
In today's trying times, bosses usually don't need  more ideas; they need more doers. So in many of today's workplaces, it is wise to look for opportunities to make life easier for your boss and coworkers. If you have some bandwidth, you might ask boss and coworkers something like, "I have a little room on my plate. Is there anything I can do to make your life easier?" 
Are you valuing work enough? 

If you think you don't have any bandwidth left, you might ask yourself if that's true or if you're insufficiently valuing work? Too many employees still try to get away with doing as little as possible. That's ironic in that it not only makes them layoff-prone, they're likely to feel their life is less meaningful. Over the 4,000 career coaching clients I've worked with plus my friends and colleagues, it's clear to me that, on average, people who work long hours, for whom productivity at work is key to their identity, are more content with how they're living their life than are people who try to get away with doing the minimum.

Become a Go-To Guy/Girl.  It's fun to dabble--to learn a little about lots of things, but in today's workplace, those ubiquitous Jacks and Jills of all trades, masters of none are more likely to be on the layoff list. Pick something key to your employer and stay focused on mastering it so you become the invaluable go-to guy or girl.

Are you a procrastinator? 

In school you could get away with waiting until the last second and still get a good grade, but there's less grade inflation in many of today's workplaces. Shoddy work is a fast track to the layoff list. I've written a lot on overcoming procrastination. (Click on "procrastination" in the label cloud on the right side of this blog.) Here I'll simply remind you of the cliched but potent advice: If you're overwhelmed by the prospect of doing a task, remember it doesn't need to be perfect and break it down into baby steps. Don't know how? Ask someone.

Ask for a pay cut?

A few years ago, I helped many of my clients strategize for a pay raise. But today, with good jobs few and job seekers many, and with employers more carefully evaluating employees' cost-benefit versus an automated solution or hiring a worker in a low-cost country, it's often wise to not push for a raise. It may even be wise to ask for a pay cut so in that next "reorg," you don't stick out as expensive.

Fire quickly; hire slowly

If you're a manager, your employability can hinge as much on your supervisees' performance as on your own. And generally, remediating your weak employees is a poor use of your time--It's hard even for a psychotherapist working with a low-performing client for years to fundamentally change him or her So, if brief efforts to remediate a weak employee fail, cut your losses and try to counsel him or her out: "I think you'd be a better fit with X sort of job. I'll try to help you find it." Iff that doesn't work, if possible, terminate the employee.

When hiring, don't rely on ads. Too many job seekers are using all manner of subterfuge to make themselves appear better than they are. It's wiser to tell everyone you respect that you're looking to hire an excellent person for (insert job description.) They'll more validly screen applicants. In job interviews, mainly put candidates in simulations of the work they'll be doing rather than asking coachable questions such as, "Tell me about a challenge you faced."

A Gallup poll of 60,000 top managers found that they generally do follow that rule: fire quickly; hire slowly.

Beg for honest feedback
In these stressful times, bosses are more reluctant than ever to give negative feedback--They figure it will just demotivate you. So they just shine you on and include you on the next layoff list.

But lack of feedback can be a career killer. So ask your boss and perhaps others for candid feedback. Try something like, "As any good professional, I want to keep growing. So might I ask for some candid feedback on what you see as my strengths and areas for growth?" Don't want to ask directly? Talent Checkup enables you to ask questions of 3 to 8 people. To preserve their anonymity, you'll receive an email only of the aggregated results.

It hurts me to be issuing all this tough love but I'd rather see you work a little harder and smarter than face the daunting search for a new job.

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