How to forge a career and get ahead: It’s all about attitude How to forge a career and get ahead: It’s all about attitude

How to forge a career and get ahead: It’s all about attitude
13 Dec 2014

The final article in the series on ‘how to forge a career and get ahead’ focuses on attitude. You may well be the most brilliant technical payroller for miles around, but you can’t seem to reach that next level. You’ve been doing a fabulous job ensuring your organisation is compliant and spot potential risks in plenty of time to prevent them – so why can’t you get ahead?

The answer may simply be that you haven’t made your achievements clear or your behaviour may be perceived as troublesome, negative or not team focused.

The ability you have to head off risks and your eye for detail may partly be the very reason for the lack of movement in your career. Remember you are the one that will always be raising issues and although this is invaluable, how you raise them may result in others perceiving you as negative and always expecting something to go wrong.

Every team needs a negative person to offset the dangers of the optimist – to think about the challenges and ensure they are addressed. However, the way you approach this is a real balancing act of giving bad news and remaining constructive. Senior leaders in your business don’t want to hear why it won’t work, but they will want to hear that you’ve spotted a challenge and have a potential solution.

Take some time to think about an issue you may have found, or something you are sceptical about. Think about the risk and document it and when doing this, ensure that you give it a rating. Will it be a showstopper? Is it something that may affect a small percentage of your workforce in the slim chance that it does happen?

The rating will determine how you approach it and what the organisation decides to do about it (and how much they will pay to correct it).

Attention to detail

Once you have a good bit of detail in terms of level of risk, population affected and likelihood of it happening you can explore the solutions, including the potential impact/delay on the project or normal operations, cost and requirements. Having these details will allow you to approach sponsors of the project, or your manager, with a balanced view.

This approach will be much better received than causing a sensation every time you find an issue, without first fully understanding what you are highlighting. If you make a lot of noise about a risk that turns out to be very unlikely to happen and it does, it will only affect 0.5 per cent of your workforce in a very minor way. Not only will you get a reputation for being a sensationalist, any genuine significant risks you highlight will get lost in the noise. People will stop paying attention.

Once you have highlighted an issue, you can allow the business to be guided by you, but ultimately they will make a decision on how to proceed. If they deem that the risk is acceptable, then you need to leave it at that unless you learn something more that would change the rating of the risk

Let it go

I’ve been present in many meetings where someone constantly brings something up that has already been discussed, purely because they didn’t like the answer. As payrollers we like everything to be right. We find it very difficult to work within the realms of ‘acceptable risk’ because to us any risk is not acceptable.

However depending on time, budget restrictions etc, organisations will sometimes decide that this is the way we have to work. In the words of one of the most popular Disney films ever – let it go.

You will have done everything you could to highlight the risk and as long as you have some good evidence to demonstrate that you did (just in case) then you have done what you needed to, to protect your organisation and its employees.

Dog with a bone

If you constantly bring up something that is dealt with, you will get a reputation. Dog with a bone is a phrase I’ve heard often in situations like this – usually coming from senior leaders. Is that a great move for your career in that company?

You will be seen as someone who does not like not getting their own way, cannot move on and is critical of senior management decisions. Remember not to openly criticise the judgement of your seniors to others in any way other than constructive.

There will always be someone who will take great delight in letting him or her know exactly what you think of them. It may well suit their own career aspirations to do this (although I wouldn’t recommend this as a way of getting ahead either as no one likes or trusts a tell-tale).

Circles of control

Really, you need to do something if you feel that passionate about it. Not only will the ‘dog with a bone’ reputation potentially alienate people, ultimately you are going to be unhappy as this eats away at you. People often talk about circles of control – is this within yours? If not you have to accept that you cannot change it and move on.

If you have a fundamental problem with a decision and feel that you shouldn’t forget about it, there are a few options open to you:

• If you deem the risk to be serious, highlight it to another senior leader. This is a last resort option as it may cause some internal political issues, so be sure that you feel the risk has not been properly considered and may really cause serious problems if not addressed.
• Leave. If you have a real fundamental issue with the decisions made in your organisation, you are probably not in the right one.
• Whistle blow. If the risk is compliance based you have the option of notifying the authorities without being at risk of losing your position.

Office politics, team behaviours and gossip

Positive mental attitude People talk about ‘positive mental attitude’ all the time, but really it can determine how you live your life.

I used to put posters up in offices. All the posters were the same. There was a big, dark foreboding cliff on one side and a gorgeous, sunny landscape on the other. On a road half way up the cliff there was a bus with someone looking slightly concerned on it (to be fair I wouldn’t even be on it!).

I used it as a way of demonstrating a decision everyone makes, which determines how they deal with their day, every day and what mood they are in. We used to ask each other what side of the bus we were on that day. It’s amazing how much difference it made.

We were able to quickly establish which team members needed support. It was always done in a tongue in cheek way but worked really well.

If you start off thinking you will have a bad day, inevitably, you probably will, but only because you’ll spend so much time waiting for and focusing on the bad things that you miss all the good stuff that happens in the meantime.

Surprisingly (this is news for some people) this works in reverse too. When you are focusing on the positive, the negative situations are either missed or lessened, enabling you to deal with them in a more constructive way and ultimately having a much more balanced view of your day.

You are less stressed, so are more relaxed and breathe better. You have the right amount of oxygen delivered to the brain and can think more clearly, which means the issue should be dealt with in a logical way and not be seen as an insurmountable obstacle. Give it a go.

There will always be challenges in your life and no one expects you to be permanently smiling, but imagine a team that lives using PMA and they are there to hold you up when you aren’t feeling so great. If everyone is in a negative frame of mind all you can do is bring everyone down.

Office gossip

Talking about teams and moods, how do you fit in with the office gossip? If you want to get ahead this can be a real challenge. You want to fit in with the team, be seen as a positive and trusted member, but also know that you want to progress.

The team are openly gossiping about the future, being vocal about another team member or their manager, or even the senior leaders’ decision-making abilities. What do you do?

If you don’t want to damage your chances of promotion do not join in. This is natural behaviour for us humans, but it is a negative side to our personalities and joining in is not seen as professional or positive. You may well one day be on the receiving end of these conversations.

You need to be seen to be supporting corporate and management decisions. Any objections you have should be taken up with your manager in the way described above and nothing will be gained by pack behaviour.

You can elicit opinion and ask for help when putting your options together – that is a very constructive approach and would be viewed as real team behaviour, ensuring everyone’s opinions and information is considered as part of the process.

Likewise if your colleagues are having a group moan about a colleague, tread very carefully (even if you agree). Exclusion is a form of bullying and any involvement in this type of behaviour may really damage your chances if you are considering a step into management. You can stay out of it without causing offence if handled correctly.

Behaviour is probably the biggest challenge you will encounter, as it is not always as simple as learning a process or technical knowledge. Everyone has good and bad days and sometimes it will be much easier than others to act in the right way.

We all have days where we’re just not feeling it and we have to work extra hard to do the right thing. Always acknowledge if you have erred too. If you snapped at someone, got bogged down in a negative ‘moan-fest’ or realise you have been going on about something – acknowledge that you’ve done it and move on. Apologise.

Most importantly, put it to one side, go for a quick stroll or take some deep breaths and carry on with your day. You’d be amazed how much better you’ll feel just by doing this.

By Jeanette Hibbert

The final article in the series on ‘how to forge a career and get ahead’ focuses on attitude. You may well be the most brilliant technical payroller for miles around, but you can’t seem to reach that next level. You’ve been doing a fabulous job ensuring your organisation is compliant and spot potential risks in plenty of time to prevent them – so why can’t you get ahead?

The answer may simply be that you haven’t made your achievements clear or your behaviour may be perceived as troublesome, negative or not team focused.

The ability you have to head off risks and your eye for detail may partly be the very reason for the lack of movement in your career. Remember you are the one that will always be raising issues and although this is invaluable, how you raise them may result in others perceiving you as negative and always expecting something to go wrong.

Every team needs a negative person to offset the dangers of the optimist – to think about the challenges and ensure they are addressed. However, the way you approach this is a real balancing act of giving bad news and remaining constructive. Senior leaders in your business don’t want to hear why it won’t work, but they will want to hear that you’ve spotted a challenge and have a potential solution.

Take some time to think about an issue you may have found, or something you are sceptical about. Think about the risk and document it and when doing this, ensure that you give it a rating. Will it be a showstopper? Is it something that may affect a small percentage of your workforce in the slim chance that it does happen?

The rating will determine how you approach it and what the organisation decides to do about it (and how much they will pay to correct it).

Attention to detail

Once you have a good bit of detail in terms of level of risk, population affected and likelihood of it happening you can explore the solutions, including the potential impact/delay on the project or normal operations, cost and requirements. Having these details will allow you to approach sponsors of the project, or your manager, with a balanced view.

This approach will be much better received than causing a sensation every time you find an issue, without first fully understanding what you are highlighting. If you make a lot of noise about a risk that turns out to be very unlikely to happen and it does, it will only affect 0.5 per cent of your workforce in a very minor way. Not only will you get a reputation for being a sensationalist, any genuine significant risks you highlight will get lost in the noise. People will stop paying attention.

Once you have highlighted an issue, you can allow the business to be guided by you, but ultimately they will make a decision on how to proceed. If they deem that the risk is acceptable, then you need to leave it at that unless you learn something more that would change the rating of the risk

Let it go

I’ve been present in many meetings where someone constantly brings something up that has already been discussed, purely because they didn’t like the answer. As payrollers we like everything to be right. We find it very difficult to work within the realms of ‘acceptable risk’ because to us any risk is not acceptable.

However depending on time, budget restrictions etc, organisations will sometimes decide that this is the way we have to work. In the words of one of the most popular Disney films ever – let it go.

You will have done everything you could to highlight the risk and as long as you have some good evidence to demonstrate that you did (just in case) then you have done what you needed to, to protect your organisation and its employees.

Dog with a bone

If you constantly bring up something that is dealt with, you will get a reputation. Dog with a bone is a phrase I’ve heard often in situations like this – usually coming from senior leaders. Is that a great move for your career in that company?

You will be seen as someone who does not like not getting their own way, cannot move on and is critical of senior management decisions. Remember not to openly criticise the judgement of your seniors to others in any way other than constructive.

There will always be someone who will take great delight in letting him or her know exactly what you think of them. It may well suit their own career aspirations to do this (although I wouldn’t recommend this as a way of getting ahead either as no one likes or trusts a tell-tale).

Circles of control

Really, you need to do something if you feel that passionate about it. Not only will the ‘dog with a bone’ reputation potentially alienate people, ultimately you are going to be unhappy as this eats away at you. People often talk about circles of control – is this within yours? If not you have to accept that you cannot change it and move on.

If you have a fundamental problem with a decision and feel that you shouldn’t forget about it, there are a few options open to you:

• If you deem the risk to be serious, highlight it to another senior leader. This is a last resort option as it may cause some internal political issues, so be sure that you feel the risk has not been properly considered and may really cause serious problems if not addressed.
• Leave. If you have a real fundamental issue with the decisions made in your organisation, you are probably not in the right one.
• Whistle blow. If the risk is compliance based you have the option of notifying the authorities without being at risk of losing your position.

Office politics, team behaviours and gossip

Positive mental attitude People talk about ‘positive mental attitude’ all the time, but really it can determine how you live your life.

I used to put posters up in offices. All the posters were the same. There was a big, dark foreboding cliff on one side and a gorgeous, sunny landscape on the other. On a road half way up the cliff there was a bus with someone looking slightly concerned on it (to be fair I wouldn’t even be on it!).

I used it as a way of demonstrating a decision everyone makes, which determines how they deal with their day, every day and what mood they are in. We used to ask each other what side of the bus we were on that day. It’s amazing how much difference it made.

We were able to quickly establish which team members needed support. It was always done in a tongue in cheek way but worked really well.

If you start off thinking you will have a bad day, inevitably, you probably will, but only because you’ll spend so much time waiting for and focusing on the bad things that you miss all the good stuff that happens in the meantime.

Surprisingly (this is news for some people) this works in reverse too. When you are focusing on the positive, the negative situations are either missed or lessened, enabling you to deal with them in a more constructive way and ultimately having a much more balanced view of your day.

You are less stressed, so are more relaxed and breathe better. You have the right amount of oxygen delivered to the brain and can think more clearly, which means the issue should be dealt with in a logical way and not be seen as an insurmountable obstacle. Give it a go.

There will always be challenges in your life and no one expects you to be permanently smiling, but imagine a team that lives using PMA and they are there to hold you up when you aren’t feeling so great. If everyone is in a negative frame of mind all you can do is bring everyone down.

Office gossip

Talking about teams and moods, how do you fit in with the office gossip? If you want to get ahead this can be a real challenge. You want to fit in with the team, be seen as a positive and trusted member, but also know that you want to progress.

The team are openly gossiping about the future, being vocal about another team member or their manager, or even the senior leaders’ decision-making abilities. What do you do?

If you don’t want to damage your chances of promotion do not join in. This is natural behaviour for us humans, but it is a negative side to our personalities and joining in is not seen as professional or positive. You may well one day be on the receiving end of these conversations.

You need to be seen to be supporting corporate and management decisions. Any objections you have should be taken up with your manager in the way described above and nothing will be gained by pack behaviour.

You can elicit opinion and ask for help when putting your options together – that is a very constructive approach and would be viewed as real team behaviour, ensuring everyone’s opinions and information is considered as part of the process.

Likewise if your colleagues are having a group moan about a colleague, tread very carefully (even if you agree). Exclusion is a form of bullying and any involvement in this type of behaviour may really damage your chances if you are considering a step into management. You can stay out of it without causing offence if handled correctly.

Behaviour is probably the biggest challenge you will encounter, as it is not always as simple as learning a process or technical knowledge. Everyone has good and bad days and sometimes it will be much easier than others to act in the right way.

We all have days where we’re just not feeling it and we have to work extra hard to do the right thing. Always acknowledge if you have erred too. If you snapped at someone, got bogged down in a negative ‘moan-fest’ or realise you have been going on about something – acknowledge that you’ve done it and move on. Apologise.

Most importantly, put it to one side, go for a quick stroll or take some deep breaths and carry on with your day. You’d be amazed how much better you’ll feel just by doing this.

By Jeanette Hibbert