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21 May

So, you want to get ahead and advance your career.  That’s great, but where do you start?  How do you start?  What do you do? 

People who advance their career rapidly find one of two things occur: they are in the right place at the right time with the right skill sets (pure luck, don’t bet on this one) or, they find a way to stand out from the crowd. 

You stand out from the crowd when you do things no one else does.  You are providing value to your boss and the organization.  You make people above you look good and they will want you to continue doing things that make them look good. 

In order to stand out from the crowd you need to understand the organization in which you work.  What are its main drivers and challenges?  What is it that urgently needs solving or dealt with in some way? 

This will give you an insight into the parts of your work that could impact these areas.  You don’t need to solve these in one go, rather, you need to contribute in a noticeable way. Here are some of the ways you can make a difference and be noticeable. 

This may sound impossible unless you change your thinking. If you think about your work in the conventional manner you may believe one hour will only deliver one hour of outcome.  You must step outside that mode.  Ask yourself - What are we really trying to achieve?  Why and what do we really need to do to achieve this result? Even if you only achieve 2 or 3 times greater productivity you will be well ahead but always aim for ten. 

Questions you may wish to ask to help you change your thinking: 

Is this work necessary, who uses this and why?  
In large organizations, I have seen people do work that nobody really uses or wants. Worse still people do work in one department that is undone in another department.  Over production is another problem.  It might be that considerable effort is expended to produce detailed information very accurately but only a very small portion is of interest.  The better solution is approximate data available quickly at a fraction of the time and cost.  One of the best arguments I have come across in order to evaluate the necessity for work is – Are the recipients willing to pay for it? If they are, then it has value.  I’ve found that if you simply ask people, do they need this work to be done, they will always say yes - if they don’t need to pay.  Afterall, it is something for nothing.  On the other hand, once they need to pay for the work then you quickly find out what is, or is not, important.  Also, they are usually only willing to pay a limited amount.  This will indicate to you how much effort you should put into the work.  This exercise quickly reduces unnecessary work and dramatically increases your productivity. 

Am I the best person to do this work? 

In a recent news article, an employee in the US outsourced all his work to India at a fraction of the cost of his salary.  This allowed him free time to do things he liked to do while at work.  His boss was less than impressed.  I find that this shows great initiative, but it was just poorly executed.  
There may be better people in the organization that can do the work in a fraction of the time and cost that you can.  It could also be ‘outsourced’ at a cheaper rate.  Maybe someone is doing something similar and can add your work at a fraction of the time. You may say that I am just eliminating my job.  This could be true, and it is a legitimate risk when you show initiative, but they may ask you to investigate other areas of work and you will have a whole new role. 

How can this work be automated, or turbo charged with the right tools? 
Technology is advancing at such a pace that much of the routine administration work can be done by RPA (Robotic Process Automation) Bots.  There may be other tools that you can use to collect and compile data and information, for example, the use of Chatbots and these can be linked to other programs and routines.  Banks and insurance companies are leading edge users of these tools. 

Nearly all work finds its origin in the history of the company’s processes based on conditions or situation that may not now apply. The problem is that these are largely unchallenged.  The assumption is always that they work so don’t change them.  Many arguments are used to avoid the challenge.  Risks, compliance core activity.  In truth all procedures and processes should evolve and be challenged regularly. Use the same question as before, what are we trying to achieve and why.  You will find that this is one of the more contentious activities that is likely to upset people.  People who object the most have more than likely a vested interest in the status quo.  If you can understand what this is, you can help them change.   What I have also found over the years is that people rarely accept change for the better, even large improvements.  But they rush for change when they perceive a loss.  Even a small loss induces action.  This is often why a crisis is required for people to change behaviour. 

Generating ideas to solve problems can be challenging, however, there are plenty of books that can assist you go through the process of generating ideas.  The more ideas you can come up with the more likely one or more will be useful and will work.  The real issue with most people is that they will generate a lot of crazy ideas and will be shot down by others in the process.  You cannot let this deter you.  If you can pick a problem and write down 10 ideas to solve the problem, then you are on the road to solving the problem.  The trick then is to write down – not why it won’t work (this is what most people will say), but how you can make it work. When you take this approach, you have a greater chance of getting to the issues and the solution.  The approach should always be to test out the ideas and bring only those that have a good chance of being considered.   

The downside in large organizations is that they are often risk averse and they don’t like failure.  Yet they need to experiment, so you need to couch the testing in the right language.  Having ideas and trying to solve problems will improve your standing.  You only need one success to make your mark.  The alternative is to do nothing which is what everyone else is doing. 

Most people don’t like to do difficult work, therefor t is in our nature to find the easy solution.  When it requires us to really think about things it becomes hard, mentally taxing and unrewarding.  If you can transcend the initially desire to avoid a problem and instead embrace it as a challenge, then solving problems becomes progressively easier.  Helping your colleagues and managers solve their problems will make you the person they seek out for assistance.  When your department or group sees you in this light you are considered of value.  
People with specialized technical expertise fit this role.  If you become an expert in an area of importance to the organization, you will be the ‘go-to’ person. 

In every organization there are jobs that are put into the too hard basket.  They need to be done but nobody wants to do they.  They perceive the risk is too high. Yet the reverse is true.  The logic is that as nobody wants to do it, the expectation of success is very low.  If you don’t succeed at all you only prove that it was a tough job.  You get kudos for trying which is good.  If you succeed, even partly, you get a lot of credit and if you do it well, you will really stand out.  You will start to be the ‘fix-it' person.  Do this more than a few times you will obtain a reputation. 

You might say that it will be difficult, but this is my view, all issues and problems have been solved before by others.  You just need to frame the problem and issues in a way where you can find out who has tackled them before.  It requires leg work and a bit of clear thinking.  Chances are the solution is out there and you just need to find it. 

Many senior executives obtained their big break by doing difficult jobs, and or in difficult locations and doing a good job.  This is what large organizations want and need! 

Always remember you will be measured by the contribution you make.  Most people in most jobs are expendable.  By providing stand out performance you are less likely to be terminated.  You are also most likely to be offered more interesting roles.