By Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes.com
Special to Online Career Tips
With a new year approaching, many people have an “out with the old and in with the new” mentality—and work is usually a big part of that, says corporate veteran and author Andy Teach.
“No one has a perfect work life and there is always room for improvement,” says Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “Most people aspire to be better at their jobs because it results in increased happiness and personal satisfaction.”
Why do people typically feel this way toward the end of the year?
Shawnice Meador, Director of Career Management MBA@UNC, says most employees have had their year-end performance review at this point, and they now have a “clearer view of their strengths, weaknesses and goals laid out for them by their employers.”
Others will take time off from work before the New Year begins, and they’ll have time to decompress and reflect on the past 12 months, she adds. “Since people spend a lot of time at work throughout the year, work tends to be a big part of the ‘new year, new me’ attitude.”
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, says, “When you read ‘Jan. 1’ on your calendar, it’s numerically and psychologically a fresh start. We spend most of our waking hours at work, so it’s natural that you’ll reflect on your work life and career from a broader perspective around New Year’s, and strive to be a better employee in the coming year.”
If you’re feeling that way—here’s are 14 things you can do to be better at your job in 2013:
Anticipate your department’s needs. “Being a reliable source for your department leader and seeing opportunities for your department to improve are great ways to be better at your job,” Meador says. “Take on tasks that your department leader may not need to oversee directly and present a finished product to him or her.” Seeing this initiative from you often helps them understand that you can handle tasks proactively and things will not be falling solely on their shoulders.
Get to know your boss better. Your boss controls your destiny so it’s in your best interest to get to know them better both personally and professionally, Teach says. “It doesn’t mean you need to be friends with them or hang out with them, but you do need to learn what makes them tick. The more you communicate with your boss, the better it is for you.” While you’re at it, get to know your boss’s boss as well, he suggests.
Assume success. “Your positive attitude can be seen in your facial expression, posture, tone and speed of your voice,” Taylor says. “Be confident in your work. You’re uniquely qualified to do exactly what you do.” Imagine that everything you contribute helps the bottom line, she says. “Even when things are dicey, you can challenge yourself in 2013 to use setbacks as opportunities.”
Study your industry. Your industry is constantly changing and you need to keep up with what’s happening now, Teach says. “Most industries have trade magazines or websites that have the latest news in that industry. It’s important to read these so that you are well informed and can discuss recent industry events and changes with your co-workers, supervisors, and management. Information is power.”
Always come to the table with a solution. Offering a solution or idea is only half of the equation and many managers feel that an idea without an action plan will only create more work for them, Meador says. “Share ideas with context and a clear path for implementation for the leader to evaluate.” The more you present any issues with recommended solutions and then implement those solutions in a timely and effective manner, the more the leadership team will rely on you and think about you for future projects and new responsibilities, she says.
Find a mentor. Everyone needs someone to teach them the ropes; to guide them through their career, Teach says. “Find someone at your company whom you respect and want to learn from. You don’t need to directly ask them to be your mentor, just keep the communication lines open and take them out to lunch once in a while.” You can talk to them about non-work interests as well–but when you need work advice, they’ll be there for you.
Improve your communication skills. One of the most common mistakes made by both managers and employees today, is that too often, both are afraid to come to the table and talk about underlying issues, Taylor says. “Fear of confrontation is so overwhelming, but if you communicate boldly, more frequently, and honestly in 2013, and you’re not afraid to work through conflict, you’ll likely reduce your stress and be a better worker.” Too much time is spent dwelling on misunderstood employee communications, which, if left unaddressed, eventually leads to conflict. “And an ever-tempting, over-reliance on technology with its benefits of brevity and immediacy can exacerbate that.”
Work harder and smarter. Some employees set limits and boundaries for themselves as far as the number of hours worked or how much work they’re willing to do on a project. “It’s important to go outside these boundaries and go with the flow,” Teach says. “Having said this, working harder is not enough. The key is to be able to work smarter so that you’re maximizing your abilities and making the most out of your time.”
Don’t overwork yourself. If you’re already an overachiever, have been dubbed a “workaholic,” or are generally exhausted, then you need to slow down and break the habit of setting impossible goals for yourself in the New Year, Taylor says. “You may have to recalibrate and expect, say 75% of your workload to be achieved in a set period in order to feel fulfilled. If you’re a manager, this approach may take some of undue pressure off staff, too.”
Volunteer to get involved with special projects, particularly those across business units. The more you can help across all business units, the better, Meador says. “Lending expertise, time and effort to other teams will help you get to know other aspects of the business as well as help you connect with people across the company,” she says. “However, remember that your current position and duties are the most important, so be sure not to bite off more than you can chew.”
See the big picture. There are many employees who only focus on what they’re doing, which prevents them from seeing the big picture. “You’re just one piece of the puzzle and the puzzle isn’t complete until all of the pieces are in place,” Teach says. Find out what your co-workers are doing and what your supervisor is doing. By getting a better understanding of the big picture, it will become clearer to you why you’ve been asked to complete certain projects. “Additionally, it’s a great learning experience which can help prepare you for a higher level position since managers and supervisors need to see the big picture in order to become successful,” he adds.
Invest in continuous learning to stay on top of your game. Many companies encourage employees to go back to school and pick up courses that can help them do their job better, Meador says. “If you are pursuing an MBA, try to immediately translate your newly gained business knowledge into tangible action at work, as this can grab the attention of company decision makers and show them what you can do for the company.”
Ask the right questions. Aside from observing people at work, there is probably no better way of learning than by asking questions, especially the right questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Think about what you want to know before you ask about it and don’t ask so many questions that people will think that you’re taking up too much of their time. Of course, when you get answers to your questions, it could raise more questions but if you truly want to learn and better yourself, ask away.
Follow through on all tasks and commitments. “One of the most important things you can do as an employee is to follow through on work commitments,” Meador says. “Do what you say you are going to do in a quality manner, on time and on budget.” Your co-workers and management will see a pattern of reliability from you, which should increase their trust and confidence in your work, she adds. “Over time, this should translate into key leadership taking notice of the value you bring to the organization, and may lead to challenging, promotional opportunities down the road.”
Other easy ways to be better at you job in 2013: Pay more attention to detail; stop complaining; become more of a team player; and go above and beyond.
From an employee perspective, the more you show your dedication, commitment, abilities and potential to your employer, the more it will help you when it’s review time next year, Meador says. Doing better at your job can lead to more sizeable monetary rewards, as well as “stretch” assignments and promotional opportunities. “Employers may even think about where your skills and abilities can be leveraged around the company, not just in your current position. Being better at your job can only help you. The better you are, the more people notice and the more opportunities may arise for you at work in the long run,” she concludes.
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