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Practice Management > Building Your Business

What I would tell my 20-something, job-starting self

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If you’re fresh to the workforce, chances are you’re used to hearing how to get ahead: work hard and strive to earn positive reinforcements and promotions. But how do you actually do that? Come in early, stay late? Look busy? Ask questions and take initiative? Continue doing what made you successful in internships or other entry-level jobs? Be smart? While all of these ideas are on point, at the crux of everything is hard work.

This is especially true in organizations and companies where every strategy, every project and every team member is on the same page and is aligned with a single mission and set of goals. At the beginning of your career, it’s nearly impossible to look beyond the details of your day-to-day duties, assess your impact on the organization and figure out your role in moving the organization forward. But I have a shortcut to get you going: figure out how to make your boss’s job easier.

You could say everybody’s job description (except, perhaps, the CEO’s) fits this same instruction. If you’re making your boss’s job easier, you’ll make him or her happy. But more importantly, if you’re looking to get ahead, your and your boss’s efforts will be aligned. And if your boss is doing the same, his or her efforts are aligned with top management’s. And assuming top management understands and shares the mission and vision, and everyone fulfills that simple job description, alignment happens and the organization moves toward its mission.

Alignment is more than a philosophy; it involves a discipline and a practice. Performance management and project management, for example, are tools to facilitate alignment. Of course, these tools and systems succeed when leaders communicate and enforce their purpose. If any activity or tool becomes an end unto itself, it may no longer be aligned with the larger purpose.

World-class performance management systems are designed top-down by relating the mission to goals, and then goals to the tasks and skills needed to reach those goals, and then the measure of how well performance aligns with the specified tasks and skills. Project management, likewise, is accomplished by using a discipline to align resources (people, tools, time) with those tasks that move the organization toward its mission.

I try to examine my own workplace efforts and behaviors in that alignment light. Am I making my boss’s job easier? (Am I bringing problems, or am I bringing solutions?) Am I doing things to pursue my agenda or to advance the mission of the organization? Can I align my efforts and agenda with those of the organization? I wish someone had told my younger self to ask these questions, because that’s the easy path to win-win.

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