Why Your Success Isn’t Based on How Good You Are at Your Job

6 min read

Education & Career Trends: April 24, 2024
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

It’s important to be thoughtful about who you develop workplace relationships with and how those people can help you.

We like to believe that the world of work is fair and everyone gets the rewards that their efforts merit.—that people get promoted or access new opportunities based on their performance. Many organisations put procedures in place in their recruitment and appraisal processes to make sure that this is the case.

Still, it doesn’t quite work out that way.

In his book Empowering Yourself, originally published in 1996, Harvey Coleman explored the factors that go into promotion decisions. Coleman found that career progress is dependent on three key elements:

Performance: how well you do your job.

Image: what people think about you and what they see as your qualities.

Exposure: who knows about you and what they know and value.

Our natural belief in the inherent fairness of the workplace suggests that performance would be the overriding element. Yet Coleman estimated that performance accounted for only 10% of the factors influencing promotion decisions. Image accounted for 30%, while exposure is worth a whopping 60%.

If you think about it in everyday terms, this makes sense. You might be good at your job (Performance), but unless you develop a network, the chances are that only your immediate line manager and your peers will be aware.

And, while at more senior levels those immediately around you may be influential, your line manager and peers usually won’t be the decision-makers on your next step.

If people are unclear about where your key qualities lie (Image) or not enough influential people know about those qualities (Exposure), then your performance will be academic.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can get away with poor performance. If you try, then your image will naturally be negatively affected and more people will hear about it. Your performance is the foundation of your career opportunities, and it needs to be strong. But it alone isn’t enough.

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

It’s important to be thoughtful about who you develop workplace relationships with and how those people can help you. That doesn’t mean that you take a wholly transactional approach to your colleagues, homing in on people you consider to be useful to you and ignoring those who don’t tick the boxes. You still need to be authentic in how you engage with people and ensure that they don’t feel networked by you.

But you can be aware of the support you need and ensure that you develop strong relationships with people so that, should you need their help, they will be happy to offer it.

Several key relationships in the workplace can influence your success.

In particular, try to find people who can support you in the following ways:

Advocates: people who are going to put your name forward and talk about you in glowing terms. They might recommend you for a particular role, suggest you as the go-to person for a particular challenge, or praise your work on a recent project.

Sponsors: advocates in a more formal sense. A sponsor will often be a more senior colleague (whereas advocates can be at any level) who will work with you specifically to help you gain a key promotion. Their advocacy carries significant weight.

Mentors: While there are different models of mentoring, for the moment think about mentorship in the broadest sense. Find people who have previously travelled the journey you face and who can share that experience with you. Or they may have deep expertise in an area with which you struggle and can help you navigate challenges. Don’t rely on just one mentor, have a mentoring team that can help you find your way.

Intelligence: Whereas your mentors might give you advice and guidance on specific challenges, your intelligence networks let you know what is going on. Understanding what other people are thinking, what they are trying to achieve, or what their priorities are can make all the difference in how they engage with you.

Supporters: Life at work is so much easier when people give you the help you need. One of the biggest frustrations in the modern workplace, as well as a key obstacle to progress, is the lack of cooperation and support from colleagues who are too focused on their agenda to worry about yours. If people are willing to lend you their support, the path ahead becomes so much smoother.

Why Would Your Colleagues Help You?

It’s one thing to understand the type of support you need, but people must want to help you on your journey. Too many people simply assume that colleagues are there to serve them, and they engage only when they need something. No wonder they get a frustrating response so much of the time!

There are three main reasons why we help our colleagues:

  1. Because we are told to.
  2. Because there is something in it for us.
  3. Because we like them.

The first two are extrinsic motivations: They are driven by external rewards or threats. As a result, people are likely to cooperate only as far as they need to gain the reward or avert the threat, no more.

When we help people because we like them, such limits are removed. We are intrinsically motivated; we get pleasure from helping people. And so, we go further, if needed, in the support we give.

If you develop strong relationships with your colleagues at work and make it easy for them to help you by being clear about the support you need, they will be happy to provide it. Their support will help you perform at a higher level and, when you do, they will tell everyone else all about it.

And then you can gain the rewards your efforts merit.

Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

A Zen Parable + A Life Lesson to Remember

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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