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Stepping Outside Of Your Comfort Zone In The Workplace
We spend a great deal of our waking hours at work. Given that reality, it is important to make the most of that time. Whether you career goals are to earn more money, win a promotion or simply work on more interesting projects, you need to grow. In this article, I will cover ten ways to grow your career.
Here’s the good news: these strategies are free or low cost. Several of them also require relatively little time to complete.
Here’s the bad news: you may feel uncomfortable in working through these ideas. That’s a price well worth paying to reach your goals.
1. Ask for performance feedback from your manager
Your manager’s opinion of you makes a significant difference to your career. Unfortunately, many people go through their days with only vague ideas on this point. In your next 1-on-1 meeting with your manager, ask for their feedback. Here is one way to phrase the question: “What is the most job responsibility I should focus on improving in the next 90 days?”
2. Ask for co-worker feedback
Some of you may find it difficult to ask their manager for feedback. In that case, you may find it easier to ask for comment from a co-worker. For the best results, ask a person who you trust and respect. Emphasize that you are seeking to improve when you ask them.
For added results, here is the advanced version of this strategy. Write down notes on what your co-worker tells you and then put it into action. A month later, go back to them and explain how you put their comments into action. Very few people take the time to follow up after seeking feedback.
3. Develop new technology skills
As knowledge workers, we are constantly using technology to get our work done. Unfortunately, many of us are still performing routine tasks over and over again. Automating tasks is one way to significantly improve your productivity. In my case, I’m currently studying Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to improve and automate tasks in Microsoft Excel.
If you are looking to learn technology skills to improve your career, here are three practical suggestions:
- Consult your public library: many public libraries offer online books, online courses (with video!) and print books on technology skills. I recommend the “For Dummies” books as an excellent introduction to many aspects of technology.
- YouTube Tutorials: YouTube is a good resource for the occasional free tip and tutorial. It is a great way to explore and access beginner level information. The lack of structure in YouTube means you may have to spend additional time finding the answers you seek.
- Udemy.com In May, I purchased several courses to enhance my Microsoft Excel and VBA skills. For those on a tight budget, Udemy often runs significant sales (I bought two courses for $19 that usually sell for $19). You can also send questions to the instructor and read comments from other students.
- Lynda.com As one of the world’s largest online course providers, Lynda offers over 3,000 training videos. At the time of this writing, Lynda offers courses in photography, management, web technology many other topics. Of the options presented here, Lynda.com is an expensive option. Fortunately, there is a free trial option available.
4. Ask “Why?” in meetings to improve your understanding of the company.
In the corporate world, assumptions are rarely questioned. That means countless loss opportunities to reduce costs and improve products are lost. You can set yourself apart from everyone else by asking why in meetings. Here are a few examples:
- Why does it take six months to sign a contract?
- Why do we produce this report every month?
- Why are we giving resources to maintaining this product when the customer base is rapidly declining?
This approach will improve your understanding of the company. One caution – use this approach thoughtfully. Asking “Why” too often can send a negative signal.
5. Schedule meetings with yourself
A proactive approach to your calendar is an important way to develop your career. At first, you may feel a bit strange scheduling meetings with yourself. It is a necessity, especially in large organizations that have shared calendars. During these meetings with yourself, plan for the following activities:
- Complete a Weekly Review. This weekly process takes about one hour to complete once you become familiar with it. My approach includes reviewing my calendar, email accounts and current tasks.
- Monthly notes for your performance review. During this 15-30 minute meeting, write notes on your accomplishments and performance during the past month. Having these notes on hand will make it much easier to prepare for your annual review. It is especially important to write down positive comments received from clients and customers.
- Industry News Review. Once a month (or more frequently if you are eager to advance), read articles about the state of your industry. For example, you may read The Wall Street Journal newspaper or a trade publication such as American Banker. Look for articles about your company and competitors.
6. Volunteer for work during team meetings
Do you have a regular meeting with your manager and colleagues? Most people have a monthly or weekly meeting with their team. However, few understand the success opportunities presented in these meetings. Here are a few ways you can get ahead by paying close attention to your team meetings by volunteering for work:
- Your manager announces a new committee or working group.
These groups are excellent networking opportunities. You will be exposed to new ideas and projects that could dramatically improve your career prospects.
- A colleague complains about having too much work to do.
As everyone speaks, take notes and ask yourself what you can do to help out. After the meeting, speak directly to the person with the challenge and offer to help.
Volunteering to help others at the office is a great success strategy. Many people avoid this strategy because it involves more work and new challenges. If you are determined to get ahead, it is well worth embracing these challenges.