Too many people sit at their laptops doing their minimal best while begrudging their boss, organization, and current job, hoping that something better will come along. Or people do good work and think that someday someone will notice and they’ll get the role and recognition they deserve.
If you want to advance your career, you must know how to ask for more responsibility at work.
You may be rolling your eyes thinking, “More? I can’t do more. I already work evenings and weekends. I sleep with my phone and haven’t taken a vacation in two years, and you want me to do more?!?!?” Actually, I want you to stop sleeping with your phone and take a staycation. But that’s a post for a different day.
When I say do more, I don’t mean to do anything anyone asks nor anything your organization needs. Offer to take on more work that is aligned with what you want to do AND is important to the leaders of your organization.
Before starting Candid Culture, I ran an operations unit for a career college. Four years into my tenure with the company, one of my peers left, and his role wasn’t refilled. I felt his department was important to our organization’s success, so I offered to run it, in addition to my already big job.
My new department was a change agent’s dream. I outlined a strategic plan and long and short-term goals. I re-wrote job descriptions and org charts. But six months into taking on the department, I couldn’t get one change approved. I was confused and frustrated.
I had initially been hired to turn another department around, and I’d been very successful at getting changes approved. Yet this time, I could get nothing approved. After six months of banging my head against a wall, I finally ‘got it.’ The owners of the company didn’t see the department as valuable, thus they weren’t willing to invest in it.
I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to see this. When my colleague’s senior-level job wasn’t refilled and there was no freeze in hiring, I should have known the department wasn’t seen as important.
If you want to know what’s important in your organization, look at where the money is being spent. Who is getting resources?
When I say ask for more, I mean be strategic about what you ask for.
Ask yourself these questions:
What do I want to do?
Where in the organization are there opportunities to do that kind of work – that is important to the organization’s leaders?
Who will support me in doing this work? Who won’t?
How to ask for more responsibility at work. Tell your boss and/or department leader:
I really enjoy working here. I enjoy the people, the work and our industry.
I’m committed to growing my career with this organization.
I’m interested in learning more about ________________________.
I’d love to run ___________________________.
I think we have some opportunities to make improvements in _____________________.
How could I get some exposure to ____________________.
A project is starting in ______________. I’d love to be on the team. What are your thoughts about that? Would you be comfortable supporting my participation? If yes, how can we make it happen? If not, what would you need from me in order to support it?
The work you take on does not need to be high level. Everyone in an organization does grunt work. Just be sure that whatever you offer to do is seen as integral to the future of the organization. You’re not likely to get what you don’t ask for.
In all of my years of working in and with organizations, I have
never heard anyone say the words, “I’m scared” at work. I’ve heard: “I’m
concerned” and “I’m uncomfortable,” but never the words, “I’m scared.”
These are scary times. It’s scary to go to the grocery
store, to know who it’s ‘safe’ to stand next to, and to travel.
Make it safe for employees to talk about their fears.
One of the first things I teach when I talk about change management
is letting people express how they feel – their worries, hopes, and concerns.
The people you work with are likely scared. They may be wondering if their job
is secure, what happens if they get sick, and are they doing enough work from
home with their kids present.
It’s hard to talk about fear because we think doing so makes us appear weak. Leaders and managers need to normalize the conversation. Make it ok to talk about how people feel at work.
Here are four steps to make it easier to talk about fear
Leaders and managers – admit what you’re afraid
of. People will take your lead. Admitting how you feel demonstrates strength
Tell people it’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to
talk about fear at work. Sanction the conversation.
Give more information about contingency planning,
budgets and work from home and time off policies than you think you need to. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then do it again.
Create a forum for people to talk about how they
feel about recent events and changes. Managers are not therapists or dumping grounds,
but you are coaches. You can help people work through their work-related fears
when you know what those fears are.
I’ve always believed that demonstrating our humanity at work
is a strength. Being authentic makes people want to work for and with you. Admitting
concerns makes you approachable and real.
Your employees and coworkers don’t need to know the details of
your whole life, but they do need to see your humanity and be able to relate to
you. Talk about how you feel and open the door for others to do the same.
Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.
If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.
One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well-written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.
It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.
Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate. Sample goals are below.
Desired Outcome (goal):
• Improve client feedback – too vague • Get better-written reviews from clients – better • 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best
Actions you will take to achieve the goal:
• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague • Ask clients for feedback weekly – better • Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best
Completed sample goal:
How to approach your manager with written goals:
Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2020 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2020?”
You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2020 priorities, and more control of your year-end-performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
Changing a damaged reputation is challenging. My number one piece of advice: Be very overt about the changes you’re making.
Here are eight steps to discover and repair your professional reputation:
Step one to repair your professional reputation: Make a list of people who observe your performance and who can impact your career. If you’re not sure who these people are, ask your boss and peers. They know.
Step two to repair your professional reputation: Ask for specific, candid feedback at least twice a year, and tell people why you’re asking for the information.
Asking, “How am I doing?” is not specific. Instead, say something like, “I want to learn more about my reputation in the office and want to eliminate my blind spots. I’d be grateful for any input you can provide on my reputation and what people say about me when I’m not there.” Then schedule a specific time in the near future to discuss the feedback, so you don’t catch people off guard. You’ll get better feedback when people have had a chance to observe your behavior and think about what they’d like to say.
Step three to repair your professional reputation: Listen to the feedback and no matter how hard the feedback is to hear, say, “Thank you for telling me that.” Don’t defend yourself. Instead, leave the conversation, think about what the person has said, and then go back to him a few days later with questions, if you need to.
Step four to repair your professional reputation: If the feedback you receive doesn’t feel accurate, tell others who you trust about the feedback and ask them to provide input.
Step five to repair your professional reputation: Sit with the feedback before taking action. Let yourself be emotional. You might feel angry, sad, or betrayed. All of those are normal responses to feedback.
Step six to repair your professional reputation: Take action. Make changes that feedback providers suggested.
Step seven to repair your professional reputation: Tell people who provided input and who are impacted by your behavior about the changes you’ve made. You could say, “I recently received feedback that I’m not careful enough and that my work often has errors. I’m really working on this. Will you pay attention to the accuracy of what you receive from me and let me know if you see changes? I’d really appreciate your input.”
Step seven is very important and something people rarely do. Don’t assume people will notice the changes you’ve made. Instead, assume they won’t. Without being told what to look for, the decisions people have already made about you will supersede changes you’ve made. It takes a lot of effort to see people differently. Validating what we already know and think about someone is much easier and more likely than noticing changes.
Step eight to repair your professional reputation: Continue to ask for feedback. Receiving feedback is not a one-time event. It’s an ongoing process. Don’t ask for feedback weekly, rather check in once a quarter, tell people the changes you’ve made, and ask for specific input.
You can change your reputation if you want to. Doing so will require courage, openness, and effort on your part. Work on one or two things at a time, not ten. And then reward yourself for the changes you’ve made with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s because too often we’re hard on ourselves and forget to celebrate wins.
If you haven’t had a bad boss yet, just be more patient. He or she is coming. Why do I say that? Because not all managers are great bosses. Many managers don’t provide employees with challenging opportunities, regular feedback, and exposure to different areas of the business.
Too many professionals are waiting for their boss to make their career happen. You might be lucky enough to have a boss who cares about you and helps you advance your career, but you might not. Either way, you deserve to have the career you want and ultimately, it’s your job to advance your career.
How to Advance Your Career Step One: Learn about different areas of your organization and become clear on what you want to learn and to what areas of the business you want exposure.
You won’t know what to ask for from your manager if you don’t know what your organization does and the opportunities that are available. Get to know the leaders and employees in other departments. Find out what they do on a daily basis, the initiatives they’re working on, and their short and long term goals.
How to Advance Your Career Step Two: Ask your manager, your peers and other organizational leaders who you need a good working relationship with and who can influence your next career opportunity.
You never know who talks to whom and who can influence your future opportunities. Department heads you don’t know well talk to other department heads. Don’t assume that because you don’t know someone well that s/he can’t influence your next opportunity or lack thereof.
How to Advance Your Career Step Three: Build and strengthen necessary working relationships and improve your reputation in areas it has been damaged.
You might need to tell a coworker (in person or over the phone, not via email!), “Our relationship is strained. I don’t think I’m saying anything we both don’t know. I would really like a good working relationship with you. If you’d be willing to have lunch or coffee with me and talk about what has gone on, and perhaps we can start anew, I’d really appreciate that.”
Ask for feedback and make necessary changes. Assume others are not aware of the changes you’ve made, so make those changes overt. Tell people who can impact your career, “I’ve received _________ feedback. As a result, I’ve made ___________ changes. I’d really appreciate your continued feedback on the changes I’ve made and other changes I need to make.”
How to Advance Your Career Step Four: Tell people who can influence your career what you want to do.
Don’t assume people know what you want to do in the future. In fact, assume others have no idea about the work you want to do and the things you want to learn. Tell people, “I’m really interested in learning more about ___________. I’d like exposure to __________ part of our organization.”
How to Advance Your Career Step Five: Make it clear that you’re capable of either doing or learning what you aspire to do.
I’ll never forget my first college internship. I was interning for a company that did ropes courses and backpacking trips with at-risk teenagers. During orientation, my boss pointed to a large storeroom and told me that interns were responsible for sweeping the floor and washing sleeping bags and cooking utensils after camping trips. I thought, “I did not take a semester off from school to sweep floors and wash sleeping bags.” I never said that out loud. I simply did other things (that I wanted to do) well, that offered great value to the organization. At the end of the internship, my boss said, “You’re the only intern who has never cleaned the storeroom because you demonstrated you were capable of doing more.”
Your career is your responsibility. Don’t wait for the right boss to make your career happen. Take matters into your own hands. Follow the steps above and get more of what you want at work.
Concerned about something happening in your workplace? Don’t just tell someone about the problem, propose a solution. It’s fine to raise challenges. It’s better to raise challenges you’re willing to do something about. If you think two departments don’t talk to each other, bring them together. If you think a process is inefficient, propose a different way to get the work done. If you’re dissatisfied with software you’re using, offer to source three potential vendors and set up a demo. You’re doing the legwork and asking for a small investment of time.
When we ask for something at work, our request often requires time, money, or both. Thus when an employee asks for something, it’s easier for a manager to say no than it is to say yes. “No” requires no work and no financial outlay. A “yes” may require both.
You make it easy to say yes to requests when you’re acting as a change agent:
Propose a solution to a problem.
Offer to do the work to solve the problem.
Ask for small things that are easy to approve.
If you’re overwhelmed and want to hire an additional person, but your boss isn’t convinced you need the headcount, ask for a temp for a finite number of hours. It’s much easier for a manager to say yes to a small and known investment amount than to the long-term commitment of hiring someone new. The point is to ask for something that is easy for your manager to approve.
The word “pilot” is your friend. If you want to make a major change, pilot a scaled down version of your proposed solution in one or two locations, rather than in your organization’s 10 locations. Again, asking for something small makes it more likely that you’ll be told yes.
The bottom line is to be part of the solution – as trite and overused as that phrase is. Don’t be the person who says, “That’s broken” without also saying, “and here’s how we can fix it. Can I give it a try?”
Last week some unknown person sent me emails predicting my future. According to the anonymous clairvoyant, in ten years my life will be going well. I’ll have a second child who is amazingly athletic, and I will be offered a job in Oshkosh that I shouldn’t take. After the third predictive email, the sender wanted to know if I had questions about my future. I didn’t.
The whole thing was wildly creepy.
No one should take advice from someone with this much discretionary time. The emailer needs a volunteer job.
Why would I want someone else to tell me my future? That’s something I enjoy creating.
I see myself as 100% responsible for everything that happens to me. As antithetical as it sounds, life is easier when I’m accountable. If I miss a plane because of traffic, I should have left for the airport earlier. If I get overcharged in a restaurant, I should have checked the bill more carefully. If I do a bunch of work for a client and later find out that the work I did isn’t what the client really wanted, I should have asked more questions upfront and asked for feedback earlier.
When I’m responsible for what happens to me, I have some control. When someone else is responsible, I have no control.
Instead of seeking answers about what might happen, pursue the things you want. If you want a different job in your organization, tell someone who can do something about it. If you got passed over for a job, ask the hiring manager for feedback of what would have made you a better candidate. If the hiring manager doesn’t give you any information, ask your current boss to get the information for you. If one of your co-workers excludes you from projects, ask him why. If someone you work with seems to dislike you, ask for feedback about what you did to damage the relationship. Regardless of how challenging the situation and how disappointing the results, there is ALWAYS something you did to either contribute to the situation or something you can do to change the situation.
I don’t mean to tell you what to do. Nor do I mean to minimize how hard some life circumstances are. But I do want you to see yourself as in charge of what happens to you.
Create the life you want by:
Asking, “What do I really want, and what’s one thing I can do right now to get closer to that goal?” Then take one step. Then take one more, and so on.
If negative things are happening, ask, “What could I have done differently to have a different outcome?” Or, ask, “If I could do this over again, what would I do differently?” Then next time, do it differently.
Regardless of how hard or bad something is, there is ALWAYS something you can do to make the situation better. Take your life, your career, and your relationships into your own hands where they belong.
Vague communication is unhelpful. Being vague instills doubt in the people around you and reduces your credibility.
When a customer service agent answers my questions with words like, “That sounds right, I think so, or that should work,” I hang up and call back, hoping to get someone who can give me an affirmative answer. People do this to you, too…they just don’t tell you about it.
Watch your language. If the answer is yes, say “Yes.” If the answer is no, say “No.” “I think so,” says neither yes nor no. Saying, “I think so” tells people you don’t really know.
A few phrases to avoid and what to say instead:
Avoid: “That should be done by Friday.”
Instead, be specific and give a final date. “That will be complete by Friday. If I can’t get it done by Friday, I’ll call you to let you know by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”
Avoid: “Sounds right.”
Instead, be specific and say, “That’s correct.”
Avoid: “We should be able to do that.”
Instead, be specific and say, “We can do that.”
Avoid: “I guess.”
Instead, be specific and say, “Yes” or “No.”
When I teach feedback training, the biggest thing training participants struggle with is specificity. “You’re difficult to work with.” “Your clothing is inappropriate.” “I just find you to be negative.” “You did a good job on that.” “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team.” All of this is vague and thus unhelpful to the feedback recipient. And the same is true when answering questions and making promises.
Tell people exactly what to expect. Be specific. Even if they don’t like your answer, they’ll be happy to have a clear answer.
When the people we work with don’t do their jobs, we might find ourselves saying, “He should be more on top of things.” “She shouldn’t make commitments she can’t keep.” “He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that’s not my problem.” The challenge is, when your coworkers don’t perform, it is your problem.
When your coworkers don’t get you the information you need in a timely way, you miss deadlines. When you work from incorrect information, your reports are wrong. When others don’t work with you, you look bad. So you can be right all day about how others perform, and your reputation will still be negatively impacted.
I don’t suggest you enable your coworkers by doing the work others don’t. I do suggest you help your coworkers be successful by holding them accountable.
Here are a few things you can do to manage your career and get what you need from your business relationships:
Don’t assume others will meet deadlines. Check in periodically and ask, “What’s been done so far with the XYZ project?” Notice, I didn’t suggest asking, “How are things going with the XYZ project.” “How are things going” is a greeting, not a question.
Set iterative deadlines. If May 20th is your drop-dead deadline, ask to see pieces of work incrementally. “Can I see the results of the survey on May 5th, the write-up on May 10th, and the draft report on May 15th?” One of the biggest mistakes managers and project managers make is not practicing good delegation by setting iterative deadlines and reviewing work as it’s completed.
Don’t just email and ask for updates. The people you work with are overwhelmed with email, and email is too passive. Visit people’s offices or pick up the phone.
You might be thinking, “Holding my coworkers accountable is awkward. I don’t have the formal authority, and I don’t want my coworkers to think I’m bossy or damage my business relationships.”
It’s all in the how you make requests.
If you’ve seen me speak or have read the business book How to Say Anything to Anyone, you know I believe in setting clear expectations at the beginning of anything new. That could sound something like, “I’m looking forward to working with you on the XYZ project. How would you feel if we set iterative deadlines, so we can discuss work as it is completed? You’ll get just-in-time input, making any necessary adjustments as we go, and we’ll stay ahead of schedule. How does that sound? How are the 5th, 10th, and 15th as mini deadlines for you?”
Many people put large projects off until the last minute. People procrastinate less when large projects are broken into smaller chunks with correlating deadlines. You strengthen your business relationships and support people in meeting deadlines and not procrastinating when you agree on completion dates when projects begin. Also, most of us unfortunately know what it’s like to put a lot of work into a project, have someone review our completed work, and then be told we went down the wrong path and need to start over.
Ask more. Assume less. Don’t assume your coworkers will do what they’re supposed to do. Ask upfront to see pieces of work on agreed-upon dates. Pick up the phone versus rely on email to communicate, and know that the people you work closely with are a reflection of you. Get people working with you, and everyone will look good.
Who have you fired lately? The person who cuts your hair or lawn? A doctor, accountant, or restaurant where you had a bad experience? Did you call any of those providers and tell them why you were replacing them? My hunch is no. There’s little incentive to do so. Why risk their defensiveness? It’s easier to just replace them. And the same is true for you.
There’s little incentive for the people you work with to tell you when you frustrate them. The perceived cost seems too high. The people you work (and live) with have experienced others’ defensive responses to negative feedback (which is no fun) and they don’t want to experience your reaction. As a result, when you disappoint or frustrate others, it’s easier to say nothing than tell you the truth.
The tendency for others to tell you things are fine when they’re not will prevent you from managing your career and relationships. People will go missing and/or you’ll be passed over for professional opportunities and never know why.
To make it more likely that people will tell you when you disappoint or frustrate them, make it easy to tell you the truth.
Here are seven practices for receiving feedback:
Receiving Feedback Practice #1: When you begin new relationships, tell people you want their feedback.
Receiving Feedback Practice #2: Promise that no matter what people say, you’ll respond with “thank you.” This is very hard to do.
Receiving Feedback Practice #3: Tell people you already have relationships with that if you haven’t said it in the past, you really want their feedback and promise to respond graciously with “thank you.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #4: Ask people who matter to you for feedback regularly.
Receiving Feedback Practice #5: Resist the urge to get defensive.
Receiving Feedback Practice #6: Catch yourself when you start to become defensive and apologize. Say something like, “I’m getting defensive. I’m sorry. Tell me again. I’ll do a better job of listening.”
Receiving Feedback Practice #7: Take a break from conversations during which you find yourself responding defensively. Say something like, “I’m not responding as well as I’d like. How about we take a break? Give me a few minutes (hours or days) and I’ll come back to you to talk more. I really want to hear what you have to say.”
The aforementioned list provides recommendations for asking for and receiving feedback you want, not feedback you don’t. You are not a dumping ground. Don’t ask for feedback you don’t want. And when you do ask for feedback, qualify what type of feedback you’re looking for. Telling people “I want your feedback” doesn’t mean they’re welcome to say whatever they want.
The purpose of asking for feedback and making it safe to tell the truth is to give you more control over your career and relationships. It’s ok to be passed over for opportunities and relationships, but it’s unhelpful not to know why.