5 Unexpected Ways to Wow Your Boss
Recently, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner came up with a fantastic Venn diagram that really nails down the qualities of a great co-worker. He suggests that colleagues who hit the sweet spot dream big, “get shit done” and remember to have fun along the way. Sounds about right to me.
But that’s just the big-picture formula. There are, of course, many other basic traits that high-performing employees should strive for in their work, like being self-directed, productive and a team player. Over the years, I’ve also discovered a few decidedly out-of-the-box job hacks that can help take a person’s job performance from good to great. The adjustments are small but they might just make you stand out from the crowd at work—and help make your boss’ life easier, which is always a good thing:
Write shorter emails. Over the years, I’ve trained myself to write three-sentence emails (a concept expounded here), leaving out the fluff and keeping only the most essential points. It saves my time and it saves the reader’s time. Whenever I get a long email from a new employee, I ask myself if things could have been expressed more succinctly. It’s great to see he or she cares enough to have spent the time composing it, but is all of the information absolutely essential? Could a few more sentences have been eliminated? Time is often a boss’s most valuable commodity. Rather than send long emails, save more substantial communication for a phone call or meeting.
Be a little OCD. In their heyday, ‘80s rock band Van Halen was famous for an ingenious quality-control tactic. Buried deep within the group’s 53-page tour contract was a stipulation that their backstage green room be supplied with M&M’s—in all colors except brown. If the band discovered a brown M&M, they’d reportedly go nuts and skip the gig entirely. Their logic: If their contractors didn’t read the fine print when it came to candy, how could they possibly be trusted to set up their elaborate, often dangerous, stage shows?
For employees looking to take their performance to the next level, there’s a not-so-subtle lesson here. Sweat the small stuff. For any business, brown M&Ms can be major disasters waiting to happen. At my company, with over 10 million users, a minor copyright issue, improperly executed email campaign or even what seems like a small technical glitch can end up affecting a lot of clients in a short period of time. An employee who can be trusted to catch such small errors truly begins to stand out among the crowd.
Walk out of a meeting. I love it when employees walk out of a group meeting with me. Why? Meetings are, by nature, inefficient. Some agenda items are resolved in minutes while others run on forever. Topics that are critical for some group members might be completely irrelevant to others. The solution: Stand up and excuse yourself when you’re no longer gaining value. I’d rather have my employees making good use of their time than sitting around politely listening to information they can’t use. Now, not all bosses are going to see things this way. But to the right boss—the productivity hacker who’s always looking for ways to boost efficiency—this tactic can speak volumes.
Manage down—Treat the janitor better than me. Recently, we had various people applying for a high-level sales role. After checking in with my executive assistant, I was surprised to find out that many candidates who had been personable and courteous to me were downright rude to her. The ability to work well with others—not just your boss—is a skill that’s critical in any role. I’m constantly assessing how new hires treat co-workers, clients, even strangers. Civility, courtesy and genuine caring are traits bosses often value highly because they lead to a more harmonious, productive team. Leave the ego at the door.
Fail at something.There are two types of failure—failure due to incompetence and failure due to ambition. A good boss recognizes the difference between the two and respects employees who fail for the latter reason. I have great admiration for people who bite off more than they can chew—who take on projects that may be too big or too ambitious. And I don’t hold it against them should things not turn out as planned. Without risk, after all, it’s hard for any company to move forward. Steve Jobs knew this well. While Apple is revered for the iPhone and MacBook, less remembered are the many products that fell totally flat, like the Apple Lisa, the Apple III and the Power Mac G4 cube. A good boss knows that failure and innovation are two sides of the same coin.
Note of caution: It’s important to keep in mind that while following these suggestions might wow me, not all bosses are made from the same mould. Therefore, these tricks should be applied judiciously—especially if you work in a more conservative or regulated industry.
Having said that, great bosses know that empowered, not fearful, employees are a key to success. Here’s hoping that you’re lucky enough to work at a company that supports people with the courage to take (informed) risks—especially when they have the best interests of the business in mind.
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