Many people think that career success is directly correlated to hard work. That if they dig deep, work long hours and show dedication, they will keep getting promoted. After all, it’s what our parents tell us to do.
But have you noticed that hard work doesn’t seem to be enough? Do you see a co-worker who doesn’t work as hard as you getting promoted while you’re slaving away at your desk, churning out one deliverable after another while waiting for your boss and the Senior Leaders to notice you?
Here’s the thing: Forging a career path is as much about strategy as it is about hard work. Perhaps more so. While hard work and competence was enough to succeed in the corporate world in the past, these days it is only a part of the formula. Hard work only gets you a portion of the way there. It’s only one component. You need to incorporate all the components. You need PIE!
Getting to the top of the corporate ladder is a formula:
Career Success = Performance + Image + Exposure.
Imagine a pie with three slices. Each slice by itself is only a part of the pie. You need all three slices in order to enjoy the whole pie.
Hard work by itself may not be enough to be successful in the corporate world but it is definitely the most important. Being a high performer is the foundation of your career success. In order to get noticed, you need to work harder than others, longer than others and get more accomplished than others. It is the essential foundation of success. Hard work will allow your name to bubble through to the top during the all important career planning sessions that all executives have every year to determine who’s worthy of promotions.
High performance separates the best from the mediocre. But then you’re in a group of people who are all high performers. And all of these high performers are competing against you for limited spots. Remember, the corporate org is a pyramid. The higher you go up the corporate ladder, the less number of positions there are.
So how do you distinguish yourself?
Your image around the workplace is an embodiment of your reputation at the office.
The way you are perceived by your co-workers, your boss, your customers and all those around you has a huge impact on your career success. Every interaction you have with those around you, no matter how small, causes them to form an impression of you. In turn, many interactions with many people and their collective impression of you forms the basis of your reputation and the image of you in their head.
Much depends on your reputation. On how you’re perceived by your peers, your employees and most importantly, by those above you.
Are you worthy of a promotion? Are you professional enough? Can you be a good manager? Do you add value to your role and to your company?
Think about the image you’d like to project. The reputation you’d like to build. Think about the way you dress. The way you interact with others. Once you build a reputation, cherish it. Protect it. Do not ever let anything harm your image. It takes years to carefully nurture the image of someone worthy of being promoted. Someone worthy of being a leader within your organization. Companies spend years “grooming” those that they identify as a future leader.
Much depends on your reputation and image. Carefully nurture it and guard it with your life.
This is one of the easiest to miss but has the highest level of impact on your career growth. You need to get exposure to the senior leaders and executives in your company. You need to get noticed by the decision makers.
Here’s what typically happens in large, well run corporations. Every year, after all the employees have submitted their performance review, your manager will sit down with their managers and at least a few more senior leaders and discuss which employees are “high potential” vs. those that are just average. They even discuss which ones are bad and need to be eliminated.
This is where exposure helps you. A high performer with a good reputation will have more support for a promotion from a senior leader if the senior leader knows the employee at some level. When your name comes up for a promotion, then having had that exposure to the senior leader(s), they will recognize you and will be more supportive of promoting you than the next guy who’s just as hard working and has just as much of a good reputation around the office as you do but didn’t get in front of the decision maker.
Now…how do you get that exposure? How do you get in front of the CEO/CFO or even the VPs and Directors?
You do this by taking advantage of every opportunity to present or pitch something. Volunteer for projects that are sponsored by or championed by an executive. Become active at company volunteering events. Many leaders go to these and love to see their employees participating. Do more than just sit at your desk from 8 am to 7pm and then go home. You have to get actively involved in your company so the company can get actively involved with you.
As you think about your current job and where you want to go in the future, remember that as you get higher up on the ladder, it becomes less about how hard you work but more about how you manage your relationships.
Your hard work will be just the launching pad for your career success. Your image and reputation are the wings that sustain your flight. Exposure is the rocket booster strapped to your back that propel you into space.