How to Stand Out at Work
Everyone wants to have a successful career, but it isn't always easy to see how to do that. Standing out among your peers is a great way to become successful. There are many articles about how to be proactive, creative, empathetic, a leader, a communicator, etc. Used in combination these qualities will help you stand out and in turn be successful. However, it is hard to think of doing all those things at the same time.
Here is what I do to stand out and I think it can work for you too:
- Identify a need or problem that no one is solving.
- Take the initiative to solve the problem.
- Work with others to refine the solution.
- Socialize the solution to get buy-in and adoption.
This method allows the focus to be on the idea. Solving a problem that needs solving. These steps incorporate the qualities mentioned above and have been effective in enabling me to stand out.
At this point you may be thinking:
This all sounds great, but how I am supposed find a need, solve it, get others on board, and get adoption?
Identify the Need
Start to pay attention to what is happening around you. Be curious. Be inquisitive. Be empathetic. Is there something your peers or teammates are complaining about? Is there something they/you have to do everyday that is annoying them/you? Do your teammates feel a process is too heavy? Is communication between different parts of the organization poor? Does a peer express their frustration often? Do you hear people saying
“if only x was fixed my life would be better!”
If the answer is yes to any of the above questions start to dig in!
No company is perfect and if you pay enough attention something will surface that could use a solution. Take the initiative to solve it!
Start by talking to the people the problem is impacting. Use the five whys to uncover the root issue. You might be observing a symptom of a larger problem. The larger impact will come if you solve the root issue.
Empathy is the key tool in identifying the root cause of the problem by grounding it. If you are empathetic when discussing the issue, people will be more inclined to give you feedback in the next step.
Once you have identified the root of the issue start thinking about some possible ways you could solve the problem. Sometimes a solution is clear but out of reach. In that case it is best to break the solution down. What is the smallest thing you could do to make a positive impact? Go forward with that solution and then come back and find the the next step. Keep going until the root issue is solved.
Once you have a few solutions start speaking with people you trust. Get their feedback on the idea. If they don’t like it, ask why? How would they solve it differently. If they do like it, ask if they think there is anything that would make it better. Take their ideas and refine your solutions.
Socialize the solution
Now it is time to present your solutions to a wider audience. Depending on the problem and the solution this could be with your team, department, organization, company, or world.
Your first step is to identify the person or group that you feel will be your biggest proponent and get their feedback. Ask them directly if they will support you with this initiative.
The next part is more challenging. Find the people in your team or organization that will be the most strongly opposed to the solution or change. Start by talking about your mutual goals. Explain the problem and how the solution will help. Ask what they don’t like about it. Ask what would need to change for them to support it. Actively listen to their feedback! Consider making those changes. Keep talking to them and making changes until you notice the opposition is breaking down.
Having these tough conversations will enable you to discover people’s true fears of adopting the change. Even if you do not get their full support, the fact that you took the time to speak with them may soften them enough not to resist the changes coming.
Now widen your audience again. Find more proponents and opponents and repeat the process again. Gradually you get to the tipping point and the solution will take on a life of its own.
Changes large and small
This method can be used for small changes that can be done in less than a couple days. Starting with a smaller problem for your team is a great way to start.
Large organizational change can also be accomplished using this method. It isn't easy, but with hard work it is worth it. I have successfully used this method to influence large changes in my organization.
BlackBerry and Apple have used this model to change the world. BlackBerry solved the problem of getting email into everyone’s pockets. Apple solved the problem of connecting people efficiently and beautifully to the rest of the world.
A real world example
Let’s look at a real change that I made recently using this method. I lead a team of software developers, but it’s applicable to your team and your organization whether you build software or not.
The team had recently grown from four developers to six. I started hearing complaints about how hard it was to organize the work so that the developers weren't stomping on each others code, blocked waiting for one person to submit a change the rest depended on, and having to do complicated code reviews when merging changes.
This was impacting our ability to be effective. I recalled that these problems hadn’t happened very often when there were only four developers on the team.
By listening to my team, I identified the root of the problem. They were all trying to work in the same small area of code and it was getting congested.
One idea that came to mind was to split the team into two smaller groups that could each work on a separate features. I spoke to a peer about the idea to get her feedback. She really liked it and helped me develop how the work could be distribute between the two teams.
Next I shared the idea with my lead developers. I asked them what they thought about the idea, did they have any feedback. They had a few questions, offered some feedback, but were on board.
I pitched the idea to the whole team the following day. They liked it. As we often do, we all agreed to try it for two weeks and then review. If we hated it we could abandon it.
At the review we found we had had one of the most productive weeks since adding two new team members. Since then, the team has not encountered as many difficulties with coordinating their work.
This approach helped my team become more effective and produce more work in the same amount of time. Having large jump in productivity helps us stand out as a high performing team in the company. This contributes to our success in the company as well as to the success of the company itself.
As a manager, when my team stands out, I stand out. When my team is successful, I am successful.
Are you ready to stand out at work?
I am sure there’s a problem you can think of right now that you would like fixed. Solving it using this method can help you stand out and succeed at work.
I would love to know how this method worked for you? What problems did you solve with it? How did it contributed to helping you stand out at work? Leave comments here or connect with me on twitter @Dinah_Davis
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