Don’t Make Success Too Complicated

Is there a magic formula for career success? A set of steps that will guarantee you rapid growth as an employee? A surefire plan for becoming the “golden boy” in your company? Perhaps.

Examine this list and see if you think it covers all the bases:

1. Build your competencies.

2. Learn to work with your boss.

3. Learn to build relationships and visibility.

4. Understand and learn to fit into your organization’s culture.

5. Get business savvy.

That’s the formula that Theodore Pietrzak and Mike Fraum presented in a recent column for the American Society for Training & Development. They describe it as the essential steps in their “Career Success Development Planner.” Like much of what we see online and in print, their advice seems reasonable at a quick glance. But they ignore the most important single activity that any employee can engage in to virtually guarantee a successful career.

As an ETR reader, you already know what that is … Find out how your business makes profits, and become a significant contributor to that activity. If you are a salesman, it’s easy. Work harder, longer, or smarter and sell more products. If you’re in marketing, figure out how you can come up with better products, better pricing, and more effective promotions and advertising campaigns. If you are not working directly in a profit-generation center, it’s a little trickier – but it can be done.

For example, if you are a secretary, streamline administrative processes so sales and marketing executives can spend more time selling and less time administering. If you’re in shipping, work to make the department more efficient so the product moves faster. (This will result in greater customer satisfaction and more repeat business.)

Or if you’re in information technology, write a computer program to “mine” valuable competitive data that you can feed to company sales executives. Be sure to write down everything you do, as well as the effect each one of your efforts has on improving your company’s bottom line. And then let everyone know about it. Notice that none of this has anything to do with the relationships, cultures, etc. that Pietrzak and Fraum describe as “career success” guidelines. That said, even though Pietrzak and Fraum make becoming a corporate success sound much too complicated, they still offer some useful advice.

Let’s take a closer look at their five steps:

1. Build your competencies. Of course, you’ve got to be able to effectively complete your assigned tasks. And polishing up your skills on an ongoing basis can’t hurt. But keep in mind that you may actually be better off learning a completely different skill than the one you have now. How will you know?

If you find that you’ll never be able to strongly contribute to company profits in your current area of expertise, it’s time to find a new skill. It might sound daunting. And it might hurt. But it could end up being the most important decision you’ll ever make. If your horse doesn’t have what it takes to get you to the finish line that you dream about, don’t waste any more time beating it. Replace it with one that’s stronger, faster, and has a track record of winning.

2. Learn to work with your boss. Sounds good. Of course, you want your boss to like you, right? So the natural inclination is to do exactly what he asks, always agree with his ideas, dress like him, talk like him, walk like him. But one thing is certain. He’ll value you much more if you bring him novel ideas, groundbreaking products, and breakthrough profits rather than just “working with him” as some sort of groveling (see “Word to the Wise,” below) “yes man.”

3. Learn to build relationships and visibility. Unless you’re looking to go into politics, relationships should not be developed to improve your visibility. They should be developed to learn practical new business ideas from mentors, colleagues, and even competitors. You can be highly visible as the company’s unofficial “social director,” but that’s not going to do much for your career. When you start to develop and generate powerful marketing and sales ideas of your own, don’t worry – your visibility will take care of itself.

4. Understand and learn to fit into your organization’s culture. Fitting into the corporate culture in terms of dress, social interaction, etc. is a good thing. Unless you’re in some kind of artistic field, you generally don’t want to be viewed as looking and acting like an eccentric oddball. But in most other ways, a fresh approach is what’s needed. You’ll be better off if you bring interesting and different ideas to your company instead of just “fitting in” by repeating the corporate mantra.

5. Get business savvy. Here’s where Pietrzak and Fraum finally get to the point – sort of. In their full article, they advise readers to “List the top numbers on the radar of your organization’s executive team. Identify how your work affects those numbers.” But they stop there. Don’t YOU stop there. Once you identify those numbers, figure out how you’re going to make them shine. Then go out and do it. And soon you’ll be the person with the golden touch.