Performance alone won’t get you ahead

I first came across David Thompson on a business trip to London. A book he co-authored, Trust Unwrapped – A story of Ethics, Integrity and Chocolate! was in my room with a sticker on the front reading “Take it. We trust you to pay for this book” and a web address.

The book tells the story of a young executive, who in their quest to reach the top of the corporate ladder, loses sight of the importance of ethics and trust and sees their career unravel. First published in 2008, it foreshadows some of the behaviours that came to light in the immediate wake of the financial crisis - and which have contributed to the public loss of faith in the profession of banking which those of us who work in the industry must now strive to win back.

"To me performing (achieving results) is table stakes but not enough to ensure progress."
Jonathan Harvey, Group general manager, executive development at ANZ

I contacted Thompson (having I might add paid for the book) and found he’d written another, even more compelling for me given my role: Career Helium – How to float past others in your quest to reach the top (presumably acting ethically and with trust and integrity being givens). 

I have regularly drawn on its themes in coaching and guiding people at all stages of their careers and across many different geographies to manage and progress their careers. And I’ve distilled and added my take to these crucial lessons.

Many people have an earnest belief that if they perform well in their job this will be enough to propel their career forward. To me performing (and by this I mean achieving results and doing it in a manner consistent with your organisation's and the general community's core values) is table stakes but not enough to ensure progress.

In other words, you won't get ahead if you don't perform but performance alone won't get you ahead. Rather it is performance plus how you manage a number of other elements that will determine your success. Or as Thompson calls it, “career helium”.

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Understand what's expected of you

It seems obvious but you'd be surprised how many people don't comprehend the layers of expectations on them and therefore think they are delivering. In fact they can be missing critical expectations.

Most people are pretty clear on their role based expectations (e.g. delivering on a sales or productivity target, leading their people well) but there are less-obvious ones too.

For example: universal expectations such as acting in accordance with the company's corporate values and with honesty and integrity. These should be obvious but are often overlooked in the rush to deliver on the very explicit role based expectations.

These universal expectations also tend to reflect the 'how' rather than the 'what' of performance which is an important component of any balanced performance scorecard.

Then there are expectations that are quite specific or niche to your manager and other key stakeholders and which characterise their management 'style'. I'm sure we've all encountered a manager who has a pet hate or likes things done a particular way.

While these can be the enemy of diversity and we should be careful when advocating adherence to them, they are nevertheless real and an awareness of them can often be critical to career progression.

Understand what's important to your boss and help them

Managing your boss is as important as managing your team but is often overlooked.

It sounds political and sometimes people over invest in “managing up” at the expense of managing other key stakeholders but it is an important factor in the career management equation.

Understanding what's important to your boss and the expectations and pressures they have on them is key to helping them be successful. And if you've helped them deliver on their expectations they will generally reciprocate.

Develop and maintain a positive profile

Linked to the point performance alone won't get you promoted, it is crucial people in a position of influence over your career know who you are and what you are doing.

By developing a profile within your organisation you will make yourself visible to those who have the influence to help you progress towards your career goals.

Many people struggle with this concept as they feel it is self-indulgent - and there is no doubt profile building can be overdone. Like everything it is about striking a balance but the number of people in my experience who fail to promote themselves and their achievements far outweighs the number of inglorious self-promoters.

Network to build mutually beneficial relationships

Like profile building, lots of people view networking negatively. The word 'schmoozing' springs to mind.

A slight re-framing of this important activity though and you can see it as connecting and building mutually beneficial relationships which are critical not only to your career success but also to that of the organisation.

When networking though it is important to remember it's not all about you. Healthy relationships involve give and take.

A good question to ask yourself in relation to the person you are looking to connect with is: “what can I do for them?” rather than “what can they do for me?” By putting your agenda to one side like this you will build connections authentically which will help form the basis of mutually beneficial relationships.

Understand the political landscape in your organisation

All organisations have it but few like to discuss it, I am of course referring to 'politics'.

Most people will say they like to avoid the politics in their organisations. Sadly this puts them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to getting ahead in their career.

A small minority of people will immerse themselves in the politics and inevitably they will get burned. Some may appear to get ahead in the short-term but most will come unstuck in the longer-term.

So how should one approach politics? The key is to be aware of and understand the political landscape around you and then manage it by maintaining a sense of perspective, not taking things personally, not sweating stuff that is beyond your control and above all being ethical.

In my experience over many years of helping people manage and develop their careers, as well as attempting to manage my own, I've come to believe managing these elements together with ensuring you perform will materially improve your chances of achieving your career goals in a constructive and sustainable way.

Jonathan Harvey is Group General Manager Executive Development and Resourcing at ANZ.

Photo: Arsineh Houspian.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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