How to Get Ahead at Work

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Do you want to get ahead in your organization?

In today’s essay, I’ll tell you how to become a superstar employee. I’ll start by sharing two stories with you about employees who recently displayed excellence in my business.

Last month we held a massive customer appreciation event. On the day of, a customer service agent working the event introduced himself to me. Within our company, he helps customers get started when they sign up to one of our premium products. For example, after someone subscribes to the product, he calls them to explain the product and to make sure they have everything they need to get started.

During our conversation at the event, he told me he had lots of ideas to improve the onboarding process for all of our customers.

He was dedicated to adding value above and beyond his job description. He was always thinking about how he could improve the part of our business he’s responsible for. That is a huge secret to getting ahead.

Here’s a guy who is thinking about how things should be done. He’s coming up with specific plans for improvement and working to execute on those plans, and that’s a big secret. Almost everyone has ideas, and some folks even have great ideas, but it’s the execution on your ideas that matters, whether you are an employee or a business owner.

His story gets better. At one time this employee used to commute 90 minutes each way for his customer service job. That alone shows incredible dedication and drive. It’s not surprising that this same guy is proactively thinking of ways to make our business better.

Here’s your first lesson on how to get ahead at work

You must always be thinking of, and executing on, ideas that can improve whatever it is you’re responsible for. Identify problems and outline how you would fix them. Pitch your ideas to supervisors (both what you want to do and any big ideas you have to improve the company). Always think of how you can create value and always show that you are willing to take action. That’s one way to get ahead…

The second way to get ahead is to do what is asked of you and do it well, especially when it comes to problem solving.

I believe the ability to do this (as simple as it sounds) is the single-best predictor of professional success.

If you solve one problem for your supervisor, they will give you another important issue to work on. If you’re successful with the second problem, you’ll get another. It’s a natural way to gain more responsibility in any organization. But it’s rare…

We recently had an issue with the display dates for certain publications in the member area of our website. We knew about this problem for weeks and I felt it was taking too long to resolve. I was frustrated. I asked someone in IT to troubleshoot the issue. One employee took it upon themselves to evaluate the problem, identify the cause, and organized a team to fix it. And he did all of this within just a few hours.

Again, it sounds simple, do your job and do it well. But while the concept sounds simple, it clearly isn’t. Otherwise everybody would always be doing it well and incidents like this would go unrecognized, rather than being an exception that I had to tell you about it.

It takes a special kind of person to grab hold of problems, quickly get to the crux of the issue, and stick with the problem until it reaches a clear resolution. That last part is the most difficult. Too many people give up too soon when it comes to problem-solving. If you’re willing to show even a modicum of persistence in your work tasks, I’ll bet you will get ahead at work.

And if you’re an especially great problem solver, you’ll find yourself moving up the ranks with unimaginable speed. Your supervisors will rely on you more and more, you’ll become integral to the organization and your authority will grow.  So will your compensation.

[Ed Note: Cooper is the CEO of a 9-figure publishing company, and prefers that we don’t use his full name. He overseas a team of 250 employees, many of them spread out across America in satellite offices. Cooper cut his chops traveling America working for little-known multi-millionaire CEOs, and developed his organizational and coaching skills in one of those popular student franchise businesses. He’s conducted over 1,700 employee interviews and over 3,000 weekly meetings. His wisdom on helping you advance in your career is second to none.]
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  • This is excellent advice, as always from ETR. I would like to add one observation: in order for more experienced employees to open up and give this level of commitment to someone else’s business, it is essential for the employer to create an environment that recognises and rewards dedication beyond the call of duty – such as Cooper has clearly done.

    All to often in corporate organisations, a meritocracy [where individuals are recognised and rewarded according to performance and results] gradually succumbs to a bureaucratic culture where cronyism is rife – and the most talented employees will often scale back their activities to advance the goals of the organisation accordingly.

    • Well said, Rick, thank you!