Recipe 5 : Making the difference

In big companies, you’ll have to change jobs, more or less often. Most of us (at least those who read this blog) hope that the way we perform in our current position will be decisive for a future promotion and will be a part of our career’s overall progression. 

However, to put the odds on your side and ensure that you’re a part of the cohort of promotions, there’s one thing you must absolutely do: make the difference.

For every job that I had, I can tell you exactly what improvements I have made. These changes did not materialize with big sentences, incredible strategies, and messages hung in every meeting room. These changes appeared with facts, real actions which will last, through a reorganization that is more in sync with the current market, a new approach, a new product…Etc.

First of all, when you start a new role, you observe, question, and understand. This phase shouldn’t be underestimated. I always assume that my predecessors are smart people, and I’m not arrogant enough to think that I’m necessarily better than them. This phase is decisive for the project’s success, because you’ll gain the support of your team by showing them that you had a period of observation which confirms your understanding of the subject.

The challenge is to understand what has already been done while keeping a new and critical eye. An eye filled with our past experiences – professional and personal, and with our strengths and weaknesses. The infamous “fresh eye” that always gives you a valid reason to suggest new ideas without pointing fingers at the previous teams. 

It’s then time to forget about the status-quo, the “we already tried this and it didn’t work” and the “we’ve always done it this way”.

This solution has already been tried unsuccessfully? It happens – but did we learn from our mistakes, do we really know why it didn’t work? Have the circumstances changed since? Has the technology evolved since? Were the right people involved? 

It’s important to listen to collaborators who have witnessed bosses and ideas that were unsuccessful, and who often know exactly what’s going on. Often however, we don’t ask for their opinion and we don’t take advantage of their field experience. How many bosses spend enough time going to the plant to see what’s really happening and what needs to be changed or improved?

Now that this is done, it’s time to act. Changes have to be executed like projects, with all the methods of project management. First of all, start by building a business case that you’ll show your boss for approval. Since the plan was developed as a team, you’re already halfway there. Your enthusiasm (because you believe in this project) will help you win your boss over completely!

That’s when you have to act fact. Start the project immediately, while the momentum is still there and the team’s enthusiasm is at its peak, and before getting discouraged by people who know better. You need to get results fast to prove the concept. The dangerous part of this phase is to let yourself be taken back by the daily tasks and not to devote enough time to the transformation, which is then likely to never materialize and remain simply a concept!

At this point, we all agree that I’m talking about concrete, tangible actions. Some bosses stick to slogans and lyrical texts that will make you dream at best, and make you laugh at worst. But if they only amount to posters and big communications schemes without notable performance improvements, you’ll quickly have the reputation of a sweet talker.

All these efforts pay off when the project is successful and everybody acknowledges its worth. That’s when the hierarchy notices you. You have to dare, take risks, and sometimes fail… Anything is better than passing the torch without bringing your own personal touch. The times where promotions were based on seniority are over. You have to show your worth, and that can only be done by changing the mission you were given… for the better!

PS: Special note for women… don’t forget to let people know!!

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