Let's face it, for the vast majority of people, work right now sucks. Budgets for the year have been all but spent (or cut). Bonus's this year will be crappy if they come at all, and forget about that big raise. Morale is low, people are frustrated with their jobs, and yet are clinging to them like deck-hands on the Titanic.
But there is a bright side. Right now may be the ideal time to jump start your career. The fact is that the worst of times at work are also the best of times to stand out. Demonstrating a winning attitude and performance beyond your peers now will be remembered long after this current recession is in the history books.
It is a universal truth that in any competitive environment, the greatest separation occurs during hard times, not good. Lance Armstrong once told me that the race is exciting to watch when everyone is flying downhill, but the race is won on the long, painful uphill stretches. Jim Collins shared research findings with me that pointed to a similar lesson - when studying industry performance over long periods of time, it is during the recessions when the most dramatic change in competitive position occurs among companies.
And this pattern is certainly no less true in the workplace. When times are good, everyone is working hard. There is money to spare, so everyone is fighting hard to perform, to get the raise and the big bonus. Managers expect their people to bust their butts.
But in bad times, the majority takes a break. Why put in the extra effort if there are no immediate rewards? What is there to be positive about? Managers don't expect a lot from their people in a down market. But they certainly hope someone will step up.
Here are three things that you can do between now and the end of the year to dramatically stand out from your peers - actions that will surely be rewarded down the road:
1) Put in the extra effort, now. Show up early. Volunteer for additional assignments. Act like there is an ongoing competition for a great promotion, and you are going to win. This is NOT about brown-nosing. It is simply a matter of putting in the extra time and effort now, when others are resting.
2) Be a positive leader. You can bet that in this market, your boss has a parade of people lining up outside of their office to complain. The talk around the water color is negative. Be a vocal force against negativity. Leadership, at it's essence, is about inspiring people toward a brighter future. Now is a great time to demonstrate that you have a positive vision and are an inspirational force in your organization. Those at the top will certainly take notice.
3) Get creative. When business is slow, people seem to settle into the daily grind. Low motivation locks the status quo securely in place. But my research clearly shows that those that break out in their careers don't just do what they are told - they do what needs to be done, what adds the most value. Now is the time to look around and find ways to do things differently. Finding creative approaches to problems now will lead to amplified results when the market comes back.
Now is the time to stretch, not settle. You will stand out in the short term, and be rewarded for it when the sun returns.
Oh, and one bonus idea: try out Penelope Trunk's Brazen Careerist: the social network for career-minded Gen-Y'rs and the people who want to hire them? Check it out!
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