Good Thinking

Ideas that influence the way we think.

How to Work Smarter: Three Keys to Career Success

Performance accounts for 10% of career success. Here is the rest of the story.

Today is the big day for Sarah. Having successfully completed several projects in record time, Sarah is certain that when the promotion is announced at work today, she will be a shoo in for the job.

Except that she isn't. Someone else is promoted instead of her, and that someone, in her opinion, has not performed as well as she has.

Sarah now faces what will probably turn out to be the most important crossroads of her career: How she handles this setback. Will she grumble about unfairness or will she use this opportunity to do a bit of information gathering and soul searching?

Unfairness is everywhere, and persistent unfairness in the workplace can be demoralizing to workers and devastating to the bottom line. When workers feel their rewards are not dependent on performance, they usually end up putting in less than 100% effort. But even if Sarah's plight is due to unfairness, there are empowering ways for her to respond to the situation.

Empowering Yourself

Based on the success of his best selling book,  Harvey Coleman recently gave an invited workshop to the Wharton School of Business in which he revealed the secrets to a successful career. Coleman is worth listening to because he's earned his chops. He spent fifteen years in sales at Xerox and IBM, and hit the glass ceiling. Since then, he has worked for or served as a consultant to many Fortune 100 Corporations, governmental agencies, and even Great Britain's House of Lords. He achieved his success after identifying three key factors that determine career success: Performance, image, and exposure – a framework easily remembered as PIE.

# 1: Performance

Sarah focused on performance because she assumed that this was the most important aspect that would determine success in her career. But according to Coleman,while great performance is critical to success, only accounts for 10% of what is needed to succeed. It is a starting point, but it won't take you up the ladder.

#2: Image

According to Coleman, image accounts for 30% of what is needed to succeed at work—it is three times as important as performance. Sarah should be asking herself at this point how she is perceived by bosses and coworkers in her organization. Do people like working with her? Does she appear competent, professional, and ambitious? Or does she perhaps suffer from Imposter Syndrome, burrowing in on perfecting her job performance to prove to herself (as much as others) that she really is up to the job?

#3: Exposure

The third factor is the most critical, according to Coleman, and this exposure. He claims that it accounts for 60% of one's success. Writers and bloggers are well aware that in order to succeed, they must spend far more time promoting their sites and their blog pieces than they spend writing them. No one can read your words if they don't know that they exist—where to find them, and why they matter. That is up to the blogger. The same is true in the workplace. We can't expect our bosses to promote us if they are unaware of us or our contributions to the company's success. Sarah needs to ask herself, Do my bosses and coworkers know me? Have they seen what I've done and how it matters to the organization?

In his blog, Frank Battiston, Business and Operations Manager for Microsoft Canada, puts it this way: 

When I think about management discussions I’ve been part of regarding promotions and succession planning, these typically start with someone in the room putting forth a candidate’s name for consideration. My first thoughts aren’t usually about whether the candidate is any good at performing their job (I assume they are, otherwise why bother putting forth the name?). Instead, I immediately jump to wondering what I know about them (i.e. their exposure):

• Do I know what they’ve done or accomplished?

• Have I interacted with them directly?

• Have I seen them do presentations?

• Have I read things they’ve written?

• Have I heard others talk about them?

• In a nutshell, are they visible?

If I don’t know anything about the person I’ll be inclined to push back, as it seems irresponsible to build the next generation of leaders and role models on complete unknowns.

So here is how to manage your career smarter: Do good work, but make sure people know about it and about you.

Copyright May 3, 2014 Dr. Denise Cummins

Dr. Cummins is a research psychologist, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science, and the author of Good Thinking: Seven Powerful Ideas That Influence the Way We Think.

More information about me can be found on my homepage.

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Denise Dellarosa Cummins, Ph.D., is the author Good Thinking, The Historical Foundations of Cognitive Science, and Evolution of Mind.

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