Career tip: Memorize the mission statement and understand the financial statements

One of the best ways to ignite your career is to demonstrate commitment, says Fred Sievert, who carried his commitment to the presidency of New York Life Insurance Company.

In his career, he developed insights into how entry-level employees and those new to a company can get noticed by senior management. It starts with demonstrating commitment, notably arriving at work early and leaving late. Senior executives may not notice the folks who rush in at the normal starting hour, but work longer hours themselves, they will notice those at their desk 30 minutes before the crowd or 30 minutes after.

Tied to that, you want to demonstrate a strong work ethic. Completing projects on time and within budget is essential – deliver on your promises in everything you do. Executives also note who takes on difficult tasks with enthusiasm.

He also encourages you to understand and embrace the company’s vision and mission. “Most employees of companies, large or small, would be embarrassed if asked to recite (or even paraphrase) their company’s vision and mission statements,” he wrote in Fast-Starting a Career of Consequence.

He suggests you memorize them – showcasing that knowledge in your job interview and then using those guidelines when you enter the workplace. It will help you to evaluate the decisions of those around you, not to call them out for inconsistency but to learn from the situation and, when advisable, bring it up in a non-confrontational manner to start a discussion. It will also help your decisions, as you take on your own tasks, rooting them better in the overall objectives than colleagues who never read the mission or vision statement.

More broadly, you need to develop cultural and organizational awareness. A good way to uncover the company’s culture and how things get accomplished, he says, is to network throughout the company, with people at all levels of the hierarchy. Begin that informally, in meetings or at lunch breaks. For each person in your expanding network, determine their role and place in the organizational structure, ask how they contribute to the mission, and learn about projects they have recently worked on and their recent successes. When their work has involved other departments, probe how those efforts were coordinated, what accountsabilities exist and to whom.

Mr. Sievert urges you to develop and demonstrate strategic thinking capability, which is something senior executives prize. Read the annual report and if the company has a stock followed by analysts delve into their reports. Learn about your company’s competitors.

Then start to think about issues like how your company differentiates itself from competitors; what distinct products and product features you offer; what consumer needs you or those competitors are not meeting; how the company’s marketing works; and how salaries and benefits stack up. Reading and thinking about those issues should allow you to express yourself more strategically, signaling you are ready for more senior roles.

Along with that, you need to understand the financial underpinnings of your organization. “As the president of New York Life Insurance Company, I saw many young people, and even high-level executives, place self-imposed limits on their advancement because they paid little or no attention to their companies’ financial results. Nor did they properly consider the financial impacts of their decisions,” he wrote.

He stresses you need to go beyond just the top-line figures for sales and revenue growth. Understand how budgeting works. Watch the bottom-line profit figure. Seek out someone from the finance or accounting department to tutor you.

Two more tips: Overprepare for every meeting and make every presentation a performance command. Together, these ideas from a top executive should help you rise from the lower ranks.

Quick hits

  • While watching Disney’s The Lion Kingconsultant Donald Cooper realized the key message of the iconic song, The Circle of Life, is a myth. Life is not a circle but an upward or downward spiral, you can choose between an upward spiral of giving value, energy, respect, insight and joy to others, who will then uplift and give energy to others, or the downward spiral of disrespecting, depressing and taking from others, which sucks the energy out of you and colleagues.
  • Years ago sales trainer Nick Miller went on a sales call during which he used a pen manufactured by his prospect’s competitors. He finds it almost as bad when he goes to a nice restaurant only to find the servers using cheap pens from local plumbing distributors. Get the small details of your brand right.
  • Journalist Mark Frauenfelder recommends developing a packing list for each of these many travel bags you will group them in: Toiletries; electronics; chargers; eyeglasses; tools like nail clippers and business cards; medications; snacks; documents; and, of course, clothes. Also keep a list for the items you need going out the door, like wallets and phones.
  • Hard workers are hard workers no matter where they operate – office or home, observes Farnam Street blogger Shane Parrish. It’s just easier to figure out who is working hard and who is not at home because there’s less politics involved and less running around frantically, so it almost becomes a pure productivity measure.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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