Firstly, this is my own personal opinion, it may not be right, but I have seen it work over and over (both in my life, and others).
So, how do you really move up at work?
What Does It Mean to ‘Move Up’?
It’s hard to define what moving up really means. To me, moving up is not necessarily a title change, but an increase in responsibility, and being given more valuable work to do. Here is a rhetorical question: do you provide more valuable work, and then get promoted, or get promoted, then provide more valuable work? I think we all know the answer. So with that definition, let’s move forward.
Providing More Value
So, most people start their career at the bottom of the totem pole. You are brought in to firstly learn and be trained, but also do the tasks that machines can’t quite yet do – or at least, we haven’t found a way for them to be done. These most likely include data entry, presentation preparation, data analysis, etc. These are the lowest value tasks for a firm, but they have to be done. Perhaps you thought you would be making high level strategy decisions – well, not yet.
The question now is, what can we do to get out of that rut? How do we move up the totem pole or at least expedite the process? The answer is in providing value to your firm, group and boss.
Let’s begin with how you can add value, as I see it, there are essentially three ways to add value:
- Add a revenue line
- Cut a cost
- Improve a process
That’s really it, everything you can do falls into one of those three categories.
It’s going to be hard to add a revenue line – you’re new to the industry. You are a cost, so cutting costs isn’t going to be your game either. That leaves us with the third alternative – improve a process.
How Can You Improve a Process?
The great thing about being new is that you haven’t been indoctrinated with a firm’s groupthink. You can take a fresh perspective on tasks, processes and mechanisms and give a unique viewpoint on them.
This is where you start to get your ideas on how to move up. Look at what you do on a day to day basis: reports you generate, tasks you run. Ask yourself; “why am I doing this? Is there a quicker way to do it?” Asking questions like that is the beginning of adding value to your company/firm.
Let’s say you run a report every day in excel, and you have figured out a better way to do it. Instead of doing it manually, you are going to create an excel macro that does it automatically. Perhaps you have also found out other groups internally could also use such a macro. You’re excited, you’re pumped – this is your value add!
However, before you go pitch the idea to your boss, get some details figured out. How long is it going to take? How reliable will it be? Who will maintain it after you? Will it cost anything? When will you do this during the day? Will it interfere with your other responsibilities? Preparing those questions will seal the deal.
The above example is microscopic, but gives you the right idea. In order to move up, you have to find ways to add more value, and on a greater scale. Finding solutions that scale is a great way to do it – look for problems that everyone experiences, and solve them. You will get the attention of the people that matter.
I have an example of the above, and you can feel free to skip it – it’s just an example (and I don’t mean to stroke my own ego – I just don’t know any other stories!). When I started as an intern at RBC I was the ultimate gofer. I usually picked up around 40 coffees a day, got lunch for the whole desk (20+ people), and did whatever else was needed: binding, errands, etc. It kind of sucked. Well it REALLY sucked.
But I started to notice something on the desk: people would put together investment ideas, sometimes taking the better part of a day (which represents a large cost to the firm – that persons time). They would then email these investment theses around to the group, who would read them, then file them away somewhere in outlook. The process was terrible – no one could find the thesis when they were looking for it, and there was no collaboration.
An easy solution was to build a company wiki. I set out with the help of an IT guy I had befriended (by getting his coffee!) using software the firm already had. I ended up presenting the idea to the whole desk! A senior guy from NYC happened to in that meeting too, and we stayed and talked for an hour about this and that, my ideas and some other stuff. Well, two weeks later, I was in NYC, meeting the group and getting soft interviewed (that where they don’t actually tell you it’s an interview, but it is). That’s how I ended up getting my job in NYC.
The other great thing is that once I started working on this new project, all of a sudden I wasn’t the one doing the grunt work – they started assigning it to someone else. Additionally, once you start a process like this, people will start giving you ideas and helping out. Everyone wants to be involved with the next big thing, and it will get exposure to a lot of people you normally wouldn’t even talk to.
The point is, by exposing yourself to the grunt work you will get to see a lot of opportunity for improvement. Always be thinking about how you can improve those processes, how you can add revenue to the company, or how you can cut costs, and before you know it you will no longer be doing the grunt work.