THE BLOG

Straight Talk About Advancing Your Career

05/06/2015 03:10 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2016

If you aren't satisfied with the way your career is progressing, you are not alone. Most of your friends and colleagues share your frustration and even the ones who like their jobs want to do better. If you are serious about advancing your career, you must first understand the people who can make that happen.

Meet Pat, Michael, and Erin -- three real clients who can make decisions that affect the careers of people in the organizations where they work. Pat owns a small greenhouse business that has operated for over 40 years. Michael is a CIO who oversees a large IT operation, and Erin is a 30-something rising star executive in a local government organization.

There are obvious differences in their customers, industries, and organizational size; but their similarities are important for your career growth. Pat, Michael, and Erin are all struggling with their version of the same challenge. Every day they wake up thinking about how to do things faster, better, cheaper, and friendlier.

There is a truth for standing out as a business that applies equally to your career: Being good at the fundamentals is the minimum. Being distinctive is the difference -- only if it adds value.

An internet search of career advancement strategies will point you to the basics: be proactive, make connections, develop your skills, know your job, take responsibility, look for opportunities to gain visibility, respect others, and play nice in the sandbox.

Mastering the basics is a great strategy if your co-workers are clueless. But the vast majority of what you read about growing your career has become a fundamental expectation today in a world full of bright, talented people. You need to be distinctive in ways that add value.

And that leads us back to how you can stand out with the person who can decide to advance your career. The operative words for them are "add value." Your value in the marketplace is in direct proportion to the importance and complexity of the problems you can help others solve.

Pat, Michael, and Erin are looking for people who are willing and able to help solve the important and often complex problem of being faster, better, cheaper, and friendlier. And your boss is -- or should be -- doing the same.

So what should you do to grab the attention of Pat, Michael, and Erin (and your boss)?

1. Take the initiative. It's not that these three leaders are unwilling to mentor and coach. They simply don't have time to take on a development project that has not shown the willingness to take the first step. Go on, take it.

2. Change how you think about and act on change. The specific circumstances for change are different in every organization, but the principle is the same.

Pat, for instance, must make changes in how his team maintains relationships with customers to combat growers that have decided to bypass him as the wholesaler. Michael is being challenged by his boss to move the IT department beyond maintaining the network, managing servers, operating the email system, and processing transactions. He must continue all of that while developing new ways to use technology to solve some big problems. Erin knows that her customers will continue to expect more from her team, and she has to manage that expectation without increasing her costs. What changes does your company currently face?

3. Put on your thinking cap. As a CIO, Michael is focused on how technology is changing everything about how businesses run. He's thinking months and even years down the road. You will grab his attention when you show that you have thought about what that means for the company. He doesn't need you to think like he thinks, but he does need you to think about the types of challenges and opportunities that are on his mind. Your boss needs the same.

4. Be a positive influence. Most importantly, the three bosses described here need you to be a leader who influences others in a positive manner. What gets Erin's attention is bringing her solutions, not just problems. She is overseeing multiple departments while dealing with elected officials and citizens. Along the way, she is working to maintain a sense of work-life balance. Pat is working to keep his operations in two cities running smoothly even though he isn't always there and available. How can you influence others to take positive action?

All company leaders want you to help them solve the important and complex problems of being faster, better, cheaper, and friendlier every day. And once you done it, they need you to do it again and again. For them, "uncertainty is the new normal" isn't meaningless motivational jargon - it's a constant reality hanging over their head.

You will advance your career if you are willing to go beyond basic expectations and provide value that makes you distinctive to those who will give you an opportunity to do more.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author and a leading authority on helping organizations deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To learn more or to hire Randy for your next meeting, visit www.penningtongroup.com or call 972-980-9857.