Five lessons for the young professional toolkit

Editor’s note: The following blog was pulled from the notes of a speech at the recent BizTimes Get Smarter Conference.

Climbing the workplace ladder can prove difficult if not equipped with the right skills to make it to the top. From busing tables at 15, to studying abroad during college, to heading up the Human Resources Department and eventually becoming president and COO of Cousins Subs, I’ve uncovered a few key tactics to overcome obstacles, advance professionally and navigate the ever-changing workplace.

I recently had the privilege of providing a group of young professionals at the BizTimes Get Smarter Conference with five lessons I believe equate to success in the workplace. Here are my takeaways every young professional should have in their toolkit:

1) Be willing to stand out
First and foremost, do not hide behind groups and groupthink. While collaboration is essential in any business, not everyone is going to rise into leadership roles. If you want to climb the ladder you have to put yourself out there, take (calculated) risks and get noticed. This includes communicating in person. Learn to step out from behind a device. Sometimes, it pays to walk the hall to your supervisor or to the president (if appropriate) of your company; trust me, you can learn a lot from them and they will remember you. You can still have great work relationships with your peers, but at the end of the day, your individual ability is what will propel you to the next level.

2) Think about your audience
Today’s communication is much different than it was 30, 20, even 10 years ago. We speak using quick quips, all bundled in 140 characters or less. This is great when you’re speaking to an audience of Millennials, however; I recommend that you consider your audience before any situation whether it’s a work meeting or a conference and adjust accordingly. You’re in a workforce today that, according to some experts, has five generations of people working (Patriots, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and Millennials). Tailor your communication to fit the needs of the recipient. Sure, everyone has to adapt to the latest technology and communication methods if they want to stay in the workforce, but sometimes meeting people halfway can really make a difference between achieving your objective easily and fighting an uphill battle simply because of the delivery method.

3) Don’t be a cause; leave the drama at the door
Today businesses are more cause-oriented than ever. They identify needs and/or nonprofits that their business can align with and build programs to assist. This is GREAT for businesses, however; those same businesses want to continue to focus on the causes they identified and likely haven’t picked you as a stand-alone cause. What do I mean by that? Come ready to work as the professional you were hired to be. The workforce can be a tough place and your ability to navigate drama, office politics and interoffice relationships will be paramount. The more you can rise above these things and stay focused on the work you were hired to do, the more the leadership will take notice. Avoid the drama and the right people will acknowledge you’re serious about your career.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Business can move quickly and occasionally messages can get lost in the mix of communication styles that exist in the workplace. When working with people you need to adapt to many different styles and sometimes that doesn’t always go smoothly. I’ve witnessed a group of people leave a meeting with four different takeaways from a single initiative – everyone was on a different page! This is an example of when a single clarifying question could have alleviated confusion and error. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions to make sure you’re all on the same page – even when you’re with people who “out rank” you. The more questions you ask the clearer everything will be and you’ll more than likely be helping your peers by ensuring everyone is clear about the initiative too.

5) Pay attention to the details – they still matter
Even though we speak differently than we did in years past and even though the written word has been reduced to abbreviations, emoticons and acronyms, the details still matter. Use proper English when communicating with clients and coworkers. Be courteous and sincere, not trite. Watch your grammar and spelling (I know I sound like I’m an old English teacher) because the quality of what you produce says a lot about how you feel about your job and the tasks at hand. Are you double-checking your work for accuracy and quality? The better your work product is from the start the more efficiently you can move through a project. If you don’t have to do a lot of rework (because of hastiness and sloppiness) you can spend your valuable time working on the next important project that will get you noticed by top leadership.

Now that you are equipped with the knowledge to successfully advance in your career, it is up to you to implement these tips into your daily routine. Try weaving them into meetings and conversations with peers and before you know it you’ll be sitting across the executive team working on the next big project. Be aware, focus on detail and above all don’t be afraid to stand out.

Christine Specht-Palmert is president and chief operating officer at Cousins Subs.

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