Getting Ahead in a Corporate Environment
Shyness in the corporate world can be a major disability. Because the business world is so competitive, you have to be able not only to make connections with co-workers and people in other companies, but you also have to be assertive enough to step up and say what you want. Dealing with office politics, superiors, competitors, suppliers and even customers require us to break out of our shell and find a way to be more assertive.
In business, there are really only two directions. Some people find success by producing great work in relative seclusion, but they are the exception, not the rule. In most cases, you have to promote your talents, ideas and work to be noticed. If you aren’t moving ahead in business, you are probably falling behind. There is no static middle ground, no true job security. The most successful people see themselves as a marketable commodity and view themselves as the CEO of a business that is selling their skills. What this means is that you have to take responsibility for your future, for your own security and stop seeing your company or current job as your safety net. You may be employed, but ultimately, your ability to earn a living is up to you. If you want to make the most of your career, whether you want to stay with your current employer or if you need to move on to an employer with more room for growth, the point is the work to get your career moving is up to you.
We’ll take a look at three ways to make the most of your current and future employment. Of course, our specific focus will be on helping you overcome your shyness so that you can get ahead in the corporate world. We’ll look at how you can demonstrate value to decision makers in your company (or other companies). We’ll look at the best ways to navigate office politics without pushing you too far outside of your comfort zone, but giving you the best chance to get ahead. We’ll also talk about ways to get noticed and avoiding the trap of being invisible in the work place. The good news is you can develop a more outgoing personality progressively, not all at once. And while you are developing there are things you can do that will further your career. So let’s get started!
In most career fields there is no shortage of workers. Even in most technical professions there are more workers than jobs. Partly because so many people deny their passions and try to live up to someone else’s expectations or they feel that what they love isn’t “vocational” and they’re trying to get a “real job.” What this means is that your training and even your work record or experience, isn’t really enough to make you stand out. When managers or hiring professionals are looking for human capital, they do look at credentials, but it’s achievements that make people shine. You have to be able to demonstrate that you can do more than just accomplish work related tasks; you have to show why you bring value to the company if you want to get ahead.
This is an issue for most shy people who would rather just do their work, keep their heads down and not stand out in any way. Sometimes a person can find a job that allows them to simply focus on the work, but in most cases, you have to deal with people, new factors and outside relationships to please your employer. So how does a shy person demonstrate their value?
Value comes when a person gets something of greater worth than what they pay for that thing. In business, value comes for an employer or manager when the work they get from an employee is worth more than the wage or salary they are paying that employee. In most cases you are already providing your employer value, but if you aren’t demonstrating that value, it may be going unnoticed which will mean you will be over looked for promotions, raises and special assignments. Demonstrating value can be as simple as including the difference you’ve made since taking on a specific task. If you’ve increased productivity, raised revenue, brought in new business or saved the organization money (really any statistic that can be measured) you can demonstrate your value in an email or memo. You don’t necessarily have to make a big deal about it or even speak to your supervisor in person. Let’s say you are applying for a promotion or raise, you might just send along a message requesting that you be considered and include your statistical data. In most cases a written message isn’t enough, but it is certainly a good start and a way to get your value noticed.
Another way to demonstrate your value to is take on a job others don’t want. If it is something no one really wants to do, you won’t have to argue or prove yourself to get the assignment. Again, you might be able to send along an email, or simply raise your hand in a meeting. Once you have the unwanted job or position, work hard and make sure that what you are doing is above and beyond your supervisor’s expectations. When a person is willing to do the lowest job and do it well, it proves their commitment to the company and their ability in their field.
Eventually, you will have to speak up, perhaps in an employee review, or when making a request. People need to see you as an invaluable part of their team, department or company. You need to be able to discuss your skills, accomplishments and knowledge. If you have trouble talking about yourself, practice. Look at yourself in the mirror and go over your accomplishments. Buy a friend dinner and ask them to help you practice talking about your contribution to your company. Do whatever it takes to let people know that you are a big part of your company or department’s success.
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, office politics are a part of life. There is always someone working some angle. It’s like being part of a civilized version of the reality show “Survivor.” You have to learn to out work, out wit and out last your competition. Hopefully, you have a good working dynamic in your office. If so, you simply need to do your best to connect with the other people on your team. Even if you bring great value to your team, if the other members don’t like you they’ll sabotage your efforts and make your work life miserable. On the other hand, it only takes a little effort to let people know you like them and appreciate them. People know you’re shy, and most of the time they feel for you. Just reach out, work on small goals of talking to them about something, even for just one minute every day, and you’ll soon be a loved and accepted part of the team. On the other hand, if your office is cut throat and competitive you need a more aggressive strategy.
Find the person or group within your work place with which either you feel that you could connect with the most, or you could bring the most value to. The last thing you need to do in the war of office politics is to try and please everyone, you’ll just be miserable and seen as a tool that everyone will use but no one will claim as their own. You don’t want to just try and keep your head down and go unnoticed either. If you have any hopes of advancing your career, you’ll need to build your reputation among your peers and demonstrate your social skills to your superiors. Find a group and make friends, think of it as an alliance. Use your talents and skills as currency and don’t back down when the people you’re connected with are facing difficulties. You don’t have to be the most socially outgoing person to bring value and show loyalty.
If you are in a difficult work environment, keep your shields up all the time. You need to see your workplace as a hostile environment and realize that some people feel that business isn’t personal, even when it feels like it is. Don’t be anyone’s punching bag, and don’t take attacks personally. It’s a job and there is life beyond the office, so do your best, but if it is stressing you out, look for another place to work where you can develop your social skills in a safer environment.
Getting Noticed to Get Ahead
The basic premise of this book is that you can’t get ahead in your career without building relationships and showing that you have social skills. You need to be known and seen in your job, not just as a person who gets their work done, but as a person who brings value to their work. Again, there are lots of people who can do what you are doing, but no one else can do your work in the special way you do. So use your talents and passions to make your work the best it can be.
Getting noticed is oftentimes more about being in the right place at the right time, connecting with the right people and taking advantage of opportunities. Let’s look at each one of these things from a strategic point of view to see how you can learn to make them happen, get noticed and get ahead in your career.
First, you really do have to learn to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes this is pure luck, but if you will use your observation skills you’ll probably be able to pick up a few clues that will help you be in the right places at strategic times. For instance, if your manager happens to get his morning coffee in the break room every day around 9:30, you might start making yourself a cup about the same time everyday. You’d be surprised how someone seeing you doing something as simple as getting a cup of coffee, will keep you on their mind and make them think of you when they are looking for someone to step up and take on a new task. Of course, being friendly with your superior is a key to getting noticed. We’ll talk specifically about dealing with your boss in the next chapter, but here’s a rule to hang onto – talk about life. People all have interests outside of work and talking about things that interest you makes you real to the people around you. If all you ever talk about is work, people won’t trust you, not even your boss!
Next, remember that your connections with people count. Make a list of the most influential people in your office and then make goals to connect with them socially. You’d be surprised how big an impact it makes when someone learns something personal about you. Our relationships are like roads that take us where we want to go. You don’t have to be a suck-up to get ahead, instead, rely on human nature. When people do business, they think of their friends first.
Finally, don’t hesitate to volunteer for opportunities that come along. When you step up, people notice. It shows your confidence, your ambition and your skills. You may not succeed in getting every opportunity that comes your way or there may be opportunities that you intentionally pass over, but if you want to be noticed and get ahead, you have to be willing to put yourself out there. Opportunities are sometimes the best way to get noticed and demonstrate your value.