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How to progress at work and build a successful career

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How much thought do you give to how to progress at work? Most people think about doing things well in their day-to-day role which might include servicing clients well, attending the meetings they need to, meeting deadlines, writing good reports and getting things done their line manager asks them to. Your type of work will of course dictate what constitutes what you need to get done.

 First, what does progress mean to you? For some, it’s about chasing promotion. For others, it’s about securing a lateral move to a department where the work is more interesting. Sometimes it’s to do with better learning and development opportunities, or even being sponsored to take a qualification. Defining ‘progress’ is the starting point if you’re feeling you need a bit more direction.

 However, there are many more factors that contribute to how you can progress in your role beyond doing your day job. In this short article, I want to set them out for you so you can consider them and importantly make a plan to work on them.

How to progress at work – the elements you need to consider

  1. Deliver really well - take a step back to consider how you could be doing your job even better than you are already. You might be able to refer to your last personal review and see what your goals were, and how you are measuring up. Or talk to your team members to get feedback on how you are delivering now, and what you could improve. Perhaps you could be approaching things in different ways? Could you be coming up with new ideas?

  2. Understand your development gaps – we all have areas in which we can improve. Consider whether you are getting the feedback you need to understand what these are, whether from a technical perspective or how you interact and engage with others. This article about feedback may help you.

  3. Work on your ‘obvious’ relationships – career progression is not just about ‘what’ we are doing but the ‘how’ – and that involves the relationships we have with people we work with. Think about the relationships that you find a bit awkward or challenging – why do you feel that way? Which ones should you work harder on? Remember, you can only change your behaviour, As opposed to that of others – but that simple change could make a big difference to the way you work.

  4. Consider the broader relationships you need – it’s very easy to forget about more senior people in your own area or even in other practices/departments/divisions who may influence what you are involved in day-to-day and your future career prospects. My article on identifying and building strategic relationships helps you consider who you need to know.

  5. Work on developing your existing role – are you just working to your standard job description? Perhaps you don’t even have a job description. There’s always plenty of scope to develop your current role, using your initiative to look for better or more efficient ways of doing things, or volunteering for workgroups or other supporting roles. This ups your personal brand and gives you a good springboard for the next consideration…

  6. Think about what role is next for you – don’t forget that this doesn’t necessarily have to be a step upwards – a lateral move can often be very valuable. Whilst some new roles happen without planning, you can’t rely on that for planned career progression. Consider what role you might like to do next, and what you need to do to get there. If you have a good manager, they will help you. If you don’t, find a mentor, build those strategic relationships and get feedback and advice from other team members to help you on your way.  

  7. Consider how others perceive you - this may involve asking people quite personal questions regarding how you come across in different professional scenarios. You can only see yourself how others do by getting their input (make sure you ask trusted colleagues). Read more about the importance of a good first impression.

  8. Work on your emotional intelligence – Thomas Bradberry, a leading researcher and writer specialising in emotional intelligence, says this is responsible for 58% of your career success. It’s a big topic but considering others’ points of view and how you react in different situations are two very good focus points to start with.

  9. Build your network externally – having a strong market profile makes you more valuable to your company or firm, will help you learn from others, develop business if you need to and give you more options if or when you want or need to move company or firm. Read about my 5 top tips for networking for career success.

  10. Work on presenting confidently and positively – this will give you a wealth of opportunities, help you to have impact and build your visibility both internally and externally. Many people hold their careers back by avoiding presenting or working on their skills in this area. Why not ask if you can take some presentation training? Or volunteer to be a presenter at team meetings or group gatherings. The more you practice, the better you will be.

  11. Manage people well – if you are responsible for managing and developing others then make time to do this well. It will make your team more effective and productive which will reflect well on you. It will also mean the team will be happier and you will retain team members which builds knowledge, momentum and saves time and money. Most importantly, it gives you a range of measurable and transferable skills that will help you to secure your next role.

Which of these aspects do you need to consider in greater depth? I would highly recommend you set some specific time aside to make a plan for how to progress at work. Here are some simple steps to help you get started:

  • Make a list of the things you need to work on – this should be a big list! Use the suggestions above, plus feedback from your reviews and direct questions, plus your own thoughts and ideas, plus anything else you can gather from other articles and resources.

  • Once you have your list, run a Red Amber Green status (RAG). In a RAG assessment, you assign each item on your list with a status: Red for a problem that needs to be addressed now, Amber for an area where work is needed, and should be done before too long, and Green for areas where you are mostly happy and only a small amount of work is required. Do your RAG assessment in the context of how important each item is to either your job now, or the progression you want to make.

  • From your RAG assessment, build a priority list. Put a timescale to it if you can, and think about how you can measure your progress and success.

  • Get to work!

If you want to read more about the Nine Skills needed for career success, complete the form below to receive the five short emails and eBooklet link.

If you want to use the Nine Skills assessment to help you work on your plan, you can download that here.

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Find out more about Joanna's book, packed full of practical guidance, with 19 support resources by clicking here.