How to Succeed at Your Next Job

I hope you didn’t lose a job you loved, but as the unemployment rate soars, the odds are getting better that you’ll have an easier time succeeding at your next job than whatever you were doing before the apocalypse. Here are my top tips:

  1. Get the lay of the land so you know where the bodies are buried.

Okay, unless you’re running a cemetery, you do realize I’m speaking symbolically, right? For as much as you know about whatever you were hired to do, understanding how things get done can be even more critical to your success. It’s the things we don’t know that we don’t know that derail us, so figure out who does know and ask them to brief you on what you should know. (Alert: You don’t want the person who tells you on day one that they know everything. Ask the quiet person who’s been there a long, long time, regardless of their job title.)

  1. Learn who to go to for getting annoying problems fixed (unless this is actually your job) and get to know them before you need them.

Think tech support here, or the like. Even if you are technically self-sufficient under most conditions, it’s almost guaranteed that your new organization uses some idiosyncratic setting or work-around that you’ve never seen. Since people who fix things generally get much less (if any) respect than those whose jobs involve strategic planning and the like, giving a little pre-respect by, perhaps, introducing yourself and asking if there is anything you need to know if something goes wrong. Being friendly and assuming people really want to help goes a long way.

  1. Read up on what’s coming down the pike, especially the things you had no idea were in the fast lane.

This is not easy. Well actually, none of these are, but this one is particularly challenging the higher up in the organization you get, simply because not only don’t you know what you don’t know, but you also don’t know who you don’t know. And it’s usually a who that gets you to the what. One way around the dilemma is to pay attention to the people around you who talk about things you’ve never heard of. They just might be the ones who have that special sixth sense that lets them see the things others miss.

  1. Find out where the controllers are. (Hint: they aren’t just in finance.)

To be successful at any job, you need stuff. What kind of stuff depends on what, exactly, you do. And that stuff comes from someplace, where someone guards the door to make sure that the right stuff ends up in the right place. (They also are connected somehow to the source of more stuff. They just monitor it as it comes in and goes out.) Now you might be thinking, hey, I’m the Chief Marketing Officer, not the head of production, so what stuff are you talking about. And I’m here to answer you in one word: money. Because that’s what your budget is about. And just because you ask for more, doesn’t mean you’re getting it. So, first figure out what stuff you need and make sure the person who monitors distribution of your stuff likes you. Because when there isn’t enough stuff to go around, who do you think is going to get some? And why? Because that user of stuff figured out how to get a smile from the person who monitors their stuff.

  1. Get organized before someone organizes you out the door.

Organization is basically about making sure all the things that were supposed to get done actually did. Unless this is your job, there’s a good chance that you don’t like doing it. And there’s a huge pitfall. Because, secretly, when you don’t like doing something, your mind may tell you something like, ‘hey, how important can that be?’ And that’s a slippery slope, because if you start feeling that way, anyone around you who likes doing it will feel your disdain of what to them is a meaningful contribution. And that’s just not the kind of respect that’s going to get you to your goal. So, either you’re the organizer or you get to love and respect the one who’s on your team. Your choice. Choose wisely.

  1. Figure out how to make your actions visible.

Most organizations have metrics based on things that can be counted. This is easy if you are in sales, where you might get rated on how many cold calls you make per day, or how much you upsell, or the number of new customers you generate. But what if your job involves mostly thinking about things or planning something that’s in the future? After all, no one ever gave a CFO a promotion for having bigger spreadsheets. So this is a big challenge because you want to minimize the chances of someone minimizing what your real contribution is.

  1. Get to know the people who understand the strategy and then figure out how it needs to be executed.

Unless you were hired to do this, someone else may be planning your next work assignment. Do you know who they are? Do you know how to have a great relationship with them? Do you know that if you don’t have a great relationship with them, you might find yourself on the outside of the next plan? One example is the way that marketing often interacts with sales. In general, marketing plans while sales executes. If your product gets planned out the door, you just might follow.

  1. Connect with the person or people who drive what you were hired to execute. Understand what drives them and how you can give them that comforting feeling that you are totally on board.

There’s nothing worse than being given huge responsibility and not having the right people to each do their part. Willingly. Obediently, even, or at least in a manner that makes it seem that way. Not because they want you to be a robot, but because they don’t want you to be a doorstop. Think ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way’ – where they want to lead so you get to follow or get out of the way. (Hopefully, if you are like this yourself, you have a big enough job. If you don’t, learn all you can because if it all goes well, you will some day.)

  1. Finally, know who the vision comes from and how it gets transmitted to the world.

There’s a special kind of ‘supply chain’ in every organization. In severely dysfunctional ones, it’s likely to be the rumor mill, and something you want to stay far away from. But in most, just like in the rest of life, there are people who seem to know everyone and can connect you to anything you need to know. The important thing is that they also carry the big vision, because they have a pipeline to the top – either directly or through someone, or a supply chain of someones. And, they also know people at the bottom, middle, and far extensions of the organization, which makes them very, very good to know. And, all you need to do to get their help is to smile, be nice, and help them in return.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that this to-do list is telling you to pay attention to the other people who you can either ignore, annoy, disrespect, or… get on board with you. And, note: those people who are the easiest for you to alienate are the ones who you don’t see as value producers. I’m not blaming you for that, only pointing out a very interesting thing about humans.

We see the world in our own way. Whether or not we choose to try to see – and understand – the world as other people see it has an enormous effect on our success. Or failure.

Good luck!


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