In his just-released title, The Great Employee Handbook: Making Work and Life Better, Quint Studer provides a wealth of how-to advice aimed at helping readers become more productive and successful on the job. He divides the book into three sections aimed at the three “worlds” employees inhabit: the worlds of the boss, coworkers, and customers. When we’re able to master these skills, everything in our life goes more smoothly—not just from 8 to 5 but after hours, too. Here are a few secrets that seasoned employees know—secrets that anyone of any experience level can use to their advantage.
In the boss’s mind, the ball is always in your court.
Once the boss gives you an assignment, she may mentally mark it off her to-do list. She may even forget about it. It’s up to you to do what you need to do to move it forward quickly. Never let yourself be the hold-up. Check in with the boss regularly on the project so that she doesn’t have to bring it up. If you hit a roadblock and can’t proceed until you get more information, let her know—just be sure you’re not procrastinating.
Park Ranger Leadership is exhausting and ineffective. When you bring the boss a problem, always bring a solution.
Leaders are like the rest of us: overloaded and overwhelmed. Yet, despite the boss’s already massive to-do list, employees habitually add their problems to his pile. This “boss-will-figure-it-all-out mentality Park Ranger Leadership” is the least effective way to get things done. Think about it this way: If every time you got lost in the woods, a park ranger showed up to lead you out, you’d never learn to find the way out yourself.
When you bring a problem to the boss, also bring a solution. The boss will appreciate your initiative and creativity. Also, you’re closer to the problem than he is so you can probably come up with a better solution. If all employees did this, the whole company would be stronger, more innovative, and more resilient.
There is one thing the boss cares about more than anything else. Figure it out and act on it.
When you know what matters most to the boss—what her what is—then you can laser-focus on meeting her needs in this area. Let’s say you’ve noticed negativity drives her crazy. She just can’t stand griping and complaining. It puts her in a bad mood and makes her want to hide out in her office. Once you realize this, you can make an effort to frame your communications with her in a positive way.
This is not sucking up and it’s not a self-serving exercise. It’s just being aware of your own behavior and tweaking it to create a productive working relationship with the boss. It’s good for her, it’s good for you, it’s good for everybody.
Knowing the why makes all the difference. If you’re not sure what it is, ask.
Let’s say your company implements a major change in the way you capture and process customer feedback. No one likes the new system. It’s harder and more time consuming than the old way, and you’ve noticed your co-workers seem resentful. The problem is that no one told them why the system changed.
When companies implement change, there’s almost always a reason why. But leaders may not always explain that reason, and people almost always assume the worst. Instead of getting behind what seems like an arbitrary new rule, they resist it. If this happens at your company, ask about the why.
There’s no substitute for being liked.
Do you greet people with a smile each morning? Do you bring breakfast for everyone once in a while? Do you say happy birthday? Do you offer to take their trash when you’re taking yours out? Do you congratulate co-workers when they have a big win? There are a million little ways to contribute to the “emotional bank account” at work. These deposits have a big, big impact—and they reduce the pain of the inevitable withdrawals.
Last-minute requests can derail your day. Retrain chronic offenders.
Being a great employee means executing well, meeting deadlines, and, in general, protecting your own “brand.” Yet, it also means stepping in and helping others when they need your expertise. It’s not always easy to walk the tightrope between these two realities—especially when coworkers are constantly asking you for “five minutes of your time” (which really means 30 minutes or even longer).
If you don’t stop last-minute requesters, your own work will eventually suffer. But hold up the mirror and recognize your role in the problem. What we permit we promote. Usually, people find they need to be more open with co-workers about how long a task takes and how much notice is needed to get it done. When you educate others, you not only relieve your own burden; you help them do their work better.
It’s best to resolve coworker issues one-on-one. (Just like in kindergarten, no one respects a tattletale!)
This is a tough one for many employees, because we tend to avoid confrontation. Yet taking a conflict to the boss, who then must discuss it with her boss, who may then have to get an HR rep involved, is time consuming and unproductive.
I’m not saying there aren’t times when it’s best to go through official channels and involve HR. Yet many times an issue with a coworker can be solved with a face-to-face adult conversation. Confronting others may not always be easy, but it’s a necessary part of clear and productive communication. It builds healthy work relationships and shows a true sense of ownership.
“I’m sorry” are two of the most powerful words in the English language.
We all make mistakes. It’s what we do afterward—after we’ve dropped the ball or missed a deadline or got caught in the act of gossiping about a coworker—that truly determines our character as employees and coworkers. And it’s what ultimately determines whether the people we work with want to help us out…or want to help us out the door.
Blaming, finger-pointing, and badmouthing are deeply destructive to your company’s image.
It’s harder than ever to win customers and keep them happy. These days, everyone needs to be engaged in building the organization’s brand. That means it’s critical to “manage up” your company, its products, and your coworkers with every customer interaction—and when you’re off the clock as well.
Negative comments, even subtle ones, make people uncomfortable. On the other hand, they’re drawn to positivity. They like positive people and they like hearing positive things about what they’re spending their money on. Great employees instinctively realize this. They are ambassadors of positivity.
I’ve worked with all kinds of employees at all levels of leadership over the years, and I’ve realized most people sincerely want to do a great job. That’s even truer with the economy the way it is. People do realize they need to show value quickly; they are aware that they need to get better faster. It’s just that they don’t know how.
If companies say to people, ‘Here’s how you can do the best job possible and be a lot happier in the workplace,’ they’ll see amazing progress. I think people already have the will. Once they have the skill also, they’ll be unstoppable.
This article is adapted from The Great Employee Handbook: Making Work and Life Better (Fire Starter Publishing, 2012).