I once made a really big hiring mistake.
After a series of promising interviews, I took on an intern whose level of professionalism, performance, and overall demeanor quickly took a turn for the worse. I discussed it with my supervisor, we agreed that it was in everyone’s best interests not to move forward with the internship.
However, when we sat her down to talk, she countered our concerns about her performance by saying, “But … I was driving all the way from [insert desolate location here] to get here every day.”
I recall staring at her blankly. Since when does the length of your commute warrant special praise?
We all wake up every morning, brush our teeth (hopefully), and make our way to work. However, the simple truth is that the act of “showing up” isn’t enough to propel career advancement. The most successful people earn the attention and respect of their bosses by proving they’re an asset to the team. So if you’ve ever entertained the thought of how to get promoted — or, at least, how to impress your boss — we’ve identified a few things every boss would love to see you doing.
How to Get Promoted With 7 Great Behaviors
1) Take ownership.
At HubSpot, we’ve been known to “fire” our best people.
No, that wasn’t a typo.
Here’s how it works: If you have a great idea — and you can prove that it actually delivers — you will be fired from your day job to own and grow that idea. After all, that’s what happened to HubSpot’s former VP of Sales, Pete Caputa. The story goes, according to CEO Brian Halligan speaking to Inc:
In 2008, one of our sales reps came to me with an idea that he believed could revolutionize HubSpot. At the time, we sold our software directly to consumers. But the rep, Pete Caputa, thought HubSpot should have a reseller channel in order to expand the business model. Basically, he wanted to sell our core product to third parties, who would then turn around and sell the product to their customers.”
Halligan was far from sold on the idea, but he decided to give Caputa an opportunity to prove himself. “If you want to do it so bad, start doing it nights and weekends and show us this will work,” he said.
Not long after accepting the challenge, Caputa was, in fact, encouraged to leave his day job here to grow what is now HubSpot’s Agency Partner Program.
Our point: Don’t be afraid to bring big ideas to the table. That’s the type of behavior that good bosses love to see because it illustrates your ability to solve problems for the business (and customers) on a high level. And while it’s easy to solve problems that specifically pertain to you and your reports, the goal is to identify and solve problems that influence the grand scheme of things. Think like a founder, and your boss will take note.
2) Support your colleagues.
Depending on your industry, getting ahead at work might sometimes feel like a dog-eat-dog type of situation. And while the old saying goes, “Nice guys finish last,” there is actually an opportunity for self-advancement through the act of helping others. Not to mention, if your boss catches you in the act, it can highlight your ability to be remarkably helpful: a trait almost every good boss cares about.
But don’t just take it from me. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, also has something to say about it:
The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.”
In this book, Grant dives into the idea that in the workplace, people can be divided into three categories: takers, matchers, and givers.
- Takers are known to, well, take from other people.
- Matchers are more apt to make even exchanges.
- Givers separate themselves from the rest by doing good without expectations for reciprocation.
Grant goes on to provide examples of successful givers throughout history, such as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, venture capitalist David Hornik, and businessman Jon Huntsman, Sr. So do yourself a favor and dig into their accomplishments a bit — we have a hunch that it’ll inspire you to rethink the potential benefits of lending a helping hand.
3) Measure and report.
Not long ago, I swore I saw a notable actor from the TV show “Lost” on my flight.
I excitedly texted my friend to tell him, to which he replied, “Send pictures, or it didn’t happen.”
That request got me thinking about our innate desire to “see it to believe it.” If my own friend wouldn’t believe my claims without photo evidence, why would my boss simply take my word for it when it comes time to talk about my performance?
The simple truth: Most bosses are busy, leaving little time for them to investigate whether or not you’re accomplishing what you’re supposed to be accomplishing. If you’re not vocal (and visual) about your performance, you run the risk of going unnoticed. That’s why supervisors love to see employees who not only measure their efforts but also report on them. Clear, specific, goal-oriented reports serve as one of the most effective ways to communicate your progress and prove to your boss that you’re capable of taking on more.
In terms of what to include in these reports, focus on ROI. While vanity metrics like social media views might be worth noting for yourself, your boss wants to see how your efforts are specifically influencing the bottom line.
“Don’t just report on what you crossed off your to-do list, report on what those activities achieved. So often, young staff want to prove that they’re working,” explains HubSpot’s VP of Marketing, Meghan Keaney Anderson. “We know you’re working. We see it and are proud of you for it. Prove not that you’re working, but that what you are doing is working.”
4) Be proactive, not reactive.
“My kids will have chocolate dripping from their mouths, and I’ll say, ‘Did you just eat chocolate?’” Peter Bregman, author of Four Seconds, once recounted for HBR’s IdeaCast. “And they’ll be like, ‘No, I didn’t just eat chocolate.’”
What in the world does that have to do with impressing your boss? Well, it’s a silly, yet accurate example of how you sound when you’re being reactive — and maybe even a little defensive — rather than proactive. Not a situation you’d want to be caught in with your boss, right?
From a psychological perspective, we react to avoid punishment. It’s a direct result of the stimulation that our amygdala — a subcortical brain structure that is linked to both fear responses and pleasure — experiences when we’re caught off-guard. And while it’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll never be faced with a quick decision in front of your boss, proactive employees aim to control situations by causing things to happen, rather than waiting to respond after things happen.
What does that look like, though? Well, aside from taking steps to plan ahead and anticipate “what-ifs,” Bregman encourages people to pause for four seconds before responding to something. That way, you’re allowing yourself a moment to process the situation you’ve been faced with, which can help you strategically and intentionally choose the words that you’re going to say — instead of instinctively saying something that you don’t mean.
5) Make more with less.
Part of being a noteworthy employee is being able to adapt to the industry and company changes that, eventually, will come your way. Let’s say, for example, that your company runs into an unplanned expense, or an important member of the team unexpectedly gives her two weeks notice. That could certainly throw a wrench in your budget and bandwidth, couldn’t it?
Some employees might see these events as a huge setback — one that serves as an excuse for falling short on goals. But the most successful people find a way to do more with less — and the really successful people find a way to do better with less.
Take that hypothetical budgeting issue. If it forces you to reduce or reallocate funds for freelancers, don’t use it as an excuse to allow content production to come to a halt. Instead, consider what you can do to turn the situation around. Maybe you work toward creating one strong piece of content on your own, like an ebook, that can be repurposed as separate blog articles to fill your editorial calendar until the budget gets back to a healthy level. Or, what about reaching out to a co-marketing partner to join forces on a piece of content that benefits you both?
Another great way to demonstrate your ability to do more with less would be to scale back the average time of your meetings. According to the book Time Talent Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag & Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, “the average organization spends 15% of its collective time in meetings.” That plays into the belief that simply working longer hours is comparable to doing more with less when really, it’s all about making better use of your time. Cutting your meeting time in half will force you to get to the point quicker — and leave you with extra time to allocate toward other projects and tasks.
Remember: Excuses don’t promote career advancement. Solutions do.
6) Welcome feedback.
I have a confession to make. I hate it when I don’t have the answer for something. I want to think I know everything — so when I’m faced with the reality that I don’t, admitting so is a bitter pill to swallow. But being able to do so is a big part of getting ahead.
That’s one reason why it can be so helpful to welcome third-party feedback when we need to know what we’re missing — like when you’ve worked on a long-term project, and you start to see any progress through rose-colored glasses. At that stage, it’s most helpful to invite an outsider in to poke holes in your approach. What’s working? What’s missing? What is needed to take this project from good to great?
According to Gallup, the most engaged employees are the ones who meet with their managers at least once a week — which suggests that both positive and negative feedback, as well as overall effective communication, plays an instrumental role in the way we perceive goals. Asking for that kind of time with your manager is a reasonable request, if you make it count. Make sure that you’re prepared to handle whatever feedback comes your way. While positive feedback is often pretty easy to accept, negative feedback can come as a challenge for many but is often the most valuable.
To ensure that you make the most out of constructive criticism, take note of the following tips:
- Listen. Sure, it’s easy to tune someone out when you’re not particularly thrilled with what they are saying, but that doesn’t make it right. Give the person the respect she deserves by listening to what she has to say, before you interject.
- Ask clarifying questions. If you don’t understand the point someone is trying to make, don’t hesitate to ask him to elaborate. Following up with questions will help to ensure that you both walk away on the same page.
- Consider the source. All feedback is not created equal. While getting some honest feedback from a co-worker who knows little about your project may help you to identify weak spots, it’s important that you focus on the feedback coming from those to whom you report. In other words, give attention and energy where they’re due most.
We hate to sound like a bunch of “Pollyannas,” but trust us: No supervisor wants to walk into an office and see a team of people that look like they are suffering through a dental appointment. Not only is it detrimental to company morale, but it also sends a signal that there’s something wrong with his management. If there is, that’s an important conversation to have — but not by going around looking like someone just asked you to spend the day watching paint dry.
At work (and at home), it’s important to try to focus on the positive, no matter what’s on your plate. According to a 2010 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, it pays to be positive — literally. Not only did it find that optimistically inclined MBA students have an easier time finding jobs compared to their peers, but also, they saw a 5–10% increase in the probability of being promoted over their pessimistic peers.
Note to Self: Keep On and Smile On
Research like the study cited above taps into the idea that success can correlate with an ability to stay positive, even when completing overwhelming tasks.
And really, those findings align with many of the behaviors we’ve covered here. Even when something happens at work to upset us, proactively addressing it is more likely to be productive than reactively sulking and wallowing in it.
It may sound cliche, but beneath most of these tips is the foundation of a good attitude. So the next time something at the office bums you out — or you’re searching for the best way to progress in your career — revisit this list to see what you can actively do about it.
What are your best tips on how to get promoted? Let us know in the comments.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.