Want to Get Promoted? Impress Your Boss by Doing These 7 Things

April 30, 2015

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I once made a really big hiring mistake.

After a series of promising interviews, I took on an intern whose level of professionalism, performance, and overall demeanor quickly took a turn for the worst.

After a discussion with my supervisor, we agreed that it was in the best interest of everyone to not move forward with the internship. However, when we sat her down to talk, she countered our concerns about her performance by saying, "But, but ... I was driving all the way from [insert desolate location here] to get here every day."

I recall staring at her blankly.

Since when does the length of your commute warrant special praise?

We all wake up every morning, brush our teeth (hopefully), and make our way to work. However, the simple truth is that the act of "showing up" isn’t enough to propel career advancement.

The most successful people earn the attention and respect of their boss by proving that they are an asset to the team. So if you've ever entertained the thought of a promotion at work (who hasn't?), we've identified a few things every boss loves to see you doing.

7 Things Your Boss Loves to See You Doing

1) Taking Ownership

At HubSpot, we fire our best employees. (No, that wasn't a typo.)

If you have a great idea -- and you can prove that it actually delivers -- you will be fired from your day job to own and grow that idea.

Take it from HubSpot's VP of Sales, Pete Caputa.

"In 2008, one of our sales reps came to me with an idea that he believed could revolutionize HubSpot," explained HubSpot CEO, Brian Halligan in an interview with Inc.

"At the time, we sold our software directly to consumers. But the rep, Pete Caputa, thought HubSpot should have a reseller channel in order to expand the business model. Basically, he wanted to sell our core product to third parties, who would then turn around and sell the product to their customers."

Halligan was far from sold on the idea, but he decided to give Caputa an opportunity to prove himself.

"If you want to do it so bad, start doing it nights and weekends and show us this will work," he said.

Not long after accepting the challenge, Caputa was, in fact, fired from his day job and tasked with growing the partner program.

Point being, don't be afraid to bring big ideas to the table. This is the type of behavior that bosses love to see, as it exemplifies your ability to think about the business on a high level.

While it's easy to solve for problems that specifically pertain to you and your reports, the goal is to identify and solve for problems that influence the grand scheme of things. Think like a founder, and your boss with take note.

2) Supporting Your Colleagues

Depending on your industry, getting ahead at work can sometimes feel like a dog-eat-dog type of situation.

And while the old saying goes, “Nice guys finish last,” there is actually a huge opportunity for self-advancement through the act of helping others. Not to mention, if your boss catches you in the act, it’s going to highlight your ability to be remarkably helpful (a trait almost every boss cares a great deal about.)

But don’t just take it from me, here’s what Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success has to say about it:

The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.

In this book, Grant dives into the idea that in the workplace, people can be divided into three categorizes -- takers, matchers, and givers. Takers are known to, well, take from other people, whereas matchers are more apt to make even exchanges. And givers? Givers separate themselves from the rest by doing good without expectations for reciprocation.

Grant goes on to provide examples of successful givers throughout history, such as president Abraham Lincoln, venture capitalist David Hornik, and businessman Jon Huntsman, Sr.

Do yourself a favor and dig into their accomplishments a bit, I’ve got a hunch it’ll inspire you to rethink the potential benefits of lending a helping hand.

3) Measuring and Reporting

The other day I swore I saw Jake Gyllenhaal in Whole Foods.

Excited to tell someone, I texted my friend to tell her, to which she replied -- "Send pictures or it didn't happen."

This got me thinking about our innate desire to "see it to believe it." If my own friend wouldn't believe me without photo evidence, why would you expect your boss to "take your word for it" when it comes time to talk about your performance?

The simple truth is that most bosses are busy, leaving little time for them to investigate whether or not you're accomplishing what you're supposed to be accomplishing. If you're not vocal (and visual) about your performance, you run the risk of going unnoticed.

For this reason, CEOs love to see their employees not only measuring their efforts, but also reporting on them. Clear, specific, goal-oriented reports serve as one of the most effective ways to communicate your progress and prove to your boss that you're capable of taking on more.

In terms of what to include in these reports -- think ROI. While vanity metrics like views might be worth noting for yourself, your boss wants to see how your efforts are specifically influencing the bottom line.

"Don't just report on what you crossed off your to-do list, report on what those activities achieved. So often, young staff want to prove that they're working. We know you're working. We see it and are proud of you for it. Prove not that you're working, but that what you are DOING is working," explains HubSpot's Meghan Anderson.

If you’d like to start reporting on your marketing activities, you can use this free template.

4) Being Proactive, Not Reactive

"My kids will have chocolate dripping from their mouths, and I’ll say, 'Did you just eat chocolate?' And they’ll be like, 'No, I didn’t just eat chocolate'," jokes Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds.

Sure, it’s silly, but it’s a great example of how silly you sound when you’re being reactive, rather than proactive. Certainly not a situation you’d want to be caught in with your boss, right?

From a psychological perspective, we react to avoid punishment -- it’s a direct result of the stimulation that our amygdala (a subcortical brain structure that is linked to both fear responses and pleasure) experiences when we are surprised or caught off guard.

And while it’s unrealistic to assume that you'll never be forced to make a quick decision in front of your boss, proactive employees aim to control situations by causing things to happen rather than waiting to respond after things happen.

But how?

Aside from taking steps to plan ahead and anticipate “what ifs,” Bregman encourages people to pause for four seconds before responding to something to give themselves a moment to process and reflect.

This will help you strategically and intentionally choose the words that you're going to say, to ensure that you don’t wind up saying something that you don’t mean.

5) Making More, With Less

Nothing is ever promised tomorrow today.

(For those you that caught that, yes, I did just quote a Kanye West song in a marketing blog post.)

The fact of the matter is, part of being a noteworthy employee is being able to adapt to whatever industry or company changes come your way.

Let’s say your company runs into an unplanned expense, or an important member of the team gives their two weeks unexpectedly. That would certainly throw a wrench in your budget and bandwidth, wouldn’t it?

While many would spin these events into an excuse as to why they couldn’t accomplish their goals, the most successful people find a way to do more with less. And the really successful people find a way to do better with less.

So when a budgeting issue forces you to cut down on the funds being allocated to freelanced content, don’t use it as an excuse to allow content production to come to a halt. Instead, consider what you can do to turn the situation around.

Maybe you work towards creating one strong ebook on your own that you can then divide into separate blog articles to feed your content calendar until the budget is there. Or what about reaching out to a co-marketing partner to join forces on a piece of content that you can mutually benefit from?

Another great way to demonstrate your ability to do more with less would be to scale back the average time of your meetings. According to Atlassian, the average person spends 31 hours in meetings throughout the course of a month.

The trouble people have with doing more with less is that often times they think the solution is just working for longer. Instead, make better use of your time. Cutting your meeting time in half will force you to get to the point quicker and leave you with a ton of extra time to allocate toward other projects and tasks. Or writing an ebook with the intention of repurposing parts of it into several blog posts will help you create more content at a faster pace.

Remember -- excuses don’t promote career advancement, solutions do.

6) Welcoming Feedback

Part of getting ahead is being humble enough to admit you don’t know it all.

Anyone who has worked on a long-term project knows that it's really easy to get wrapped up to the point where you start to see your progress through rose-colored glasses. At this stage, it's most helpful to invite an outsider in to poke holes in your approach.

What’s working? What’s missing? What is needed to take this project from good to great?

According to research from the Social and Personality Psychology Compass, feedback -- both positive, and negative -- plays an instrumental role in the way we approach goals.

Their data suggests that the influence of feedback is often situational, depending largely on the individual’s level of expertise. Novices respond better to positive feedback, as they are commonly concerned with “evaluating their commitment,” whereas experts are more responsive to negative feedback as they are focused on monitoring their progress.

While this is interesting in and of itself, it's important that you're prepared to handle whatever feedback comes your way. And while positive feedback is often pretty easy to accept, negative feedback can come as a challenge for many.

To ensure that you make the most out of constructive criticism, take note of the following tips:

  • Listen. Sure, it's easy to tune someone out when you're not particularly thrilled with what they are saying, but that doesn't make it right. Give the person the respect they deserve by listening to what they have to say before you interject.
  • Ask clarifying questions. If you don't understand the point someone is trying to make, don't hesitate to ask them to elaborate. Following up with questions will help to ensure that you walk away on the same page.
  • Consider the source. All feedback is not created equal. While getting some honest feedback from a co-worker that knows little about your project may help you to identify weak spots, it's important that you focus on the feedback coming from those whom you report to. In other words, give attention where attention is due most.

7) Smiling

No CEO wants to walk into an office and see a group of people that look like they are suffering through a college history lecture. Not only is it not good for company morale, but it signals to them that they could be doing something wrong.

For this reason, it’s important to focus on looking at the glass half full, no matter what is on your plate.

Why?

Research from a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper revealed it pays to be positive. Literally.

According to their study, not only did optimistically inclined MBA students have an easier time finding jobs comparable to their peers, but they also saw between a 5-10% increase in the probability of being promoted over their pessimistic peers.

This research taps into the idea that success can be tied to our ability to stay positive, even when completing overwhelming tasks, such as job hunting.

(Note to self: Keep calm and smile on.)

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