Last Updated Aug 22, 2011 8:43 AM EDT
The problem is that even though performance, not persona, is what matters most, getting ahead is at least partly based on getting noticed -- and getting noticed means being different.
Here are six ways you can get noticed through actions that make you stand out from the pack.
1. Be known for something worthwhile. Meeting standards, however lofty those standards may be, often won't help you stand out. Go above the norm. Be the supervisor known for turning around struggling employees. Be the manager who gets a higher percentage of employees promoted. Be the business owner who makes a few deliveries a week to personally check in with customers. Pick a worthwhile mission and put in the extra effort required to excel at that mission -- while still meeting all your other responsibilities, of course.
2. Be first... with a purpose. Lots of bosses are the first to arrive. Great -- but what do you do with that time? Organize your thoughts? Get a jump on your email? Instead of taking care of "personal" tasks, do something visibly worthwhile for the organization. Take care of unresolved problems from the day before. Set things up so it's easier for employees to hit the ground running when they arrive. Chip away at an ongoing project that others have ignored. Whatever you choose, do it consistently. Don't just be the person who turns on the lights -- be the person who arrives early and gets things done.
3. Create your own project. Excelling at an assigned project is expected. Excelling at a project you create helps you stand out. The key is to take a risk with a project, and do it on your own time so your company or customer doesn't share that risk. For example, (many) years ago I decided to create a Web-based employee handbook we could put on the company intranet. I worked on it at home, showed it to a few managers, but the HR manager hated it so it died on the spot. I was disappointed but the company wasn't "out" anything -- and partly as a result a few months later I was assigned to a high-visibility, companyâ€"wide process improvement team. The same works for business owners: Experiment with a new process or service with a particular customer in mind. If nothing else they will appreciate the extra effort you put into trying to better meet their needs -- and you'll stand out.
4. Put your money where your mouth is. Lots of people take verbal stands, especially in meetings. Fewer take a stand and volunteer to put effort behind their opinions. Say you think a project has gone off the rails; instead of simply showing everyone how smart you are by pointing out its flaws, volunteer to help fix it. Or if you think an employee deserves another chance, don't just pay lip service -- ask to have him transferred to your area. It's easy to talk about what's wrong, what should be changed, what could be improved... the people who stand out are the ones who do something about it.
5. Show a little of your personal side. Personal interests help other people to identify and remember you, an especially important advantage in large organizations or crowded markets. Just make sure your personal interests don't overshadow professional accomplishments. Being "the guy who ran a marathon" is fine, but being "the guy who is always training and traveling to marathons" is not. Let people know a little about you; a few personal details add color and depth to your professional image.
6. Work your butt off. Nothing -- nothing -- is a substitute for hard work. Look around: How many of your coworkers or competitors are working as hard as they can? Very few, if any. The hardest way to stand out is to out-think and out-work everyone else.
It's also the easiest -- because you'll be the only one trying.
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