7 steps to a successful career

05 January 2016 -


Starting at a new company or in a new role is a time for learning, but it is also the time to lay the foundations for your future climb up the corporate ladder. Here, Insights looks at how you can ensure you get ahead and make a name for yourself with your new colleagues

Adrian Furnham, guest blogger

Congratulations! You have quite deservedly won the job/promotion/overseas assignment you were after. More money, sexy job title, prospects.

Yet what to do to ensure that you get noticed, do well, start the long and difficult climb up the greasy pole? What to do in the first 100 days or the first year?

The first thing you should learn is the value of time, so what you need is an A4, 750-word summary of your plan.

Seven steps to the stars

Know the corporate culture: This is about making sense of, decoding and following the unwritten rules and etiquette of the workplace. Best to start with someone telling you the history of the organisation and department. Equally important is hearing the stories, sagas and myths about past (and present) managers.

The culture dictates everything: timekeeping, dress sense, politically correct terminology, and who really holds the power. Watch and copy. Act fascinated about what is going on; hover around the coffee machine; accept invitations for a drink after work

Remember you are an anthropologist with an undiscovered tribe.

Explore expectations and ask for feedback: Watch, observe and listen to understand what is said about the vision and values. Be very receptive when given feedback of any sort. Be super-receptive and curious. Find out what they expect of you or your role that was not said at the interview or in the advertisement.

Listen carefully when the brand is discussed, any future strategy that is mentioned. Don’t be afraid to make the odd point: it shows you are listening and have your own mind. But be upbeat and positive. Show them all you are committed.

Do some serious networking: You need a map of who’s who; who holds power and influence and who will be most useful to you. Job titles and the organogram are poor indicators of real power and influence. Start mapping your environment. It is called social network analysis but all you need is a good eye and ear.

Use those “elevator” and “water-cooler” moments to introduce yourself. Build relationships by finding out what you have in common with people and how you might be able to help them. Accept all social invitations. Get to be known as a team-player.

Start an early strategic plan: Think carefully about what you bring to the party and what you can offer. Get below the surface with respect to how the organisation runs: what is really important and what not. Note the people who might aid or block your promotion.

Find out how long it usually takes to promotion and what sorts of things help that process. Think about where you best fit in. Beware a hostile element. You may not be uniformly welcomed and subject to jealousy and resentment if your predecessor was much loved or your colleagues were passed over for your job.

Be alert to those who try to bend your ear to their backstabbing or request your support for their pet projects early on. Their intentions may be sincere, the consequences for you damaging.

Prioritise actions and stick to them: Make sure you understand what really is important and what is not. All the old maxims are true: “don’t sweat the small stuff”; “beware the tyranny of the urgent”.

Understand the core of your job and important current projects. You want early wins and publicity for them. You need visibility and to be regarded as someone who brings value to the organisation. You want to be seen as a good selection decision: a person with focus and ability.

Work on your team: Get to know your team as individuals, but also manage team morale and spirit. Listen to them and tell them your story. In the early days be very available. Recognise their expertise and what they like about the organisation.

Don’t be frightened of conflict and start having short meetings with a clear agenda. Don’t rely too much on past experience or stories. Try to get the tough-but-fair reputation more than that of only warm and supportive. Find out who is most influential and whom you can trust the most.

Be upbeat, energetic and positive at all times: This can be quite tough as all this new learning is exhausting. You will need to protect yourself with some private time so that you can appear calm under stress.

So what do the “grown-ups” want from you? They want three things: first, are you a good communicator? Can you be assertive without being rude or arrogant? Can you persuade people with clear arguments? Are you sociable and able to form and maintain healthy relationships? Can you manage up, down and out?

Second, do you have energy and drive? This means getting things done, being pro-active, being determined to improve performance. It means being fit, positive and up for anything. It means the “can do” attitude; the real desire to improve things; and the competitiveness to be successful.

Third, they want a strategic thinker. Do you understand the business? Have you “mastered the brief”? Are you “on side” and someone who can, in due course, sit at the “top table”?

Adrian Furnham is a business psychologist and author of 80 books and 1,000 scientific papers. He is an adjunct professor at the Norwegian Business School. Find his website here

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