This is a guest post from Jason Dorsey, the chief strategy officer and Millennials researcher at the Center for Generational Kinetics.
Be nice. Work hard. Fulfill all of your job responsibilities on time.
These are all traits of good employees, but they don't get you promoted.
Counterintuitively, the key trait you need isn't about doing your job well. It's about being intrapreneurial: proactively finding and solving, in the right way (and there are many wrong ways!), the problems that your boss, department, and company face.
The Center for Generational Kinetics, which recognizes the best employers for Millennials in America, just released this finding after performing a national survey of top executives on what employees can do to get promoted quickly.
To find out what really works on the frontline, I researched the meteoric rises of the CEOs of Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, GE, Apple, and Nike. I also interviewed seven top executives at companies from the Millennials list and companies I've worked with on what to do and what absolutely not to do.
The findings are relevant for employees who want to get promoted quickly, and entrepreneurs who want to hire and train intrapreneurial employees who can grow with their company.
1. Become a multilevel expert
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has been a lifelong learner. He joined Microsoft, at the age of 25, in 1992, when the company had 10,000 employees. Today he's the CEO of the more than 100,000 person empire. In his first email to Microsoft employees as CEO, he wrote about his passion for learning:
"I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete," Nadella said. "I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. So family, curiosity, and hunger for knowledge all define me."
Most people focus on only becoming an expert at their job. By becoming an expert in your department, company, and industry, you'll make better decisions for your company and your career.
Lucille Carey, vice president of operations and human resources at Graham Company, explains why this is so important. "One of our employees, Deb Mitra, was promoted more quickly than any other person in his role as a result of becoming an industry expert," Carey says. Mitra attended almost all of the company's voluntary continuing education sessions, and without being prompted, he got his Associate in Risk Management designation.
"This gave him more credibility, made others interested in his opinions, and it helped him identify and adapt to trends before others," Carey says.
2. Know the difference between ideas and solutions
Jeff Immelt started at GE in 1982, when he was 26 years old, and became the CEO in 2001 at 45 years old. In a college commencement address, Immelt described how, in 1989, when he was leading GE's appliance service business, there was a catastrophic failure of GE refrigerators. Immelt's division was required to replace 3.3 million compressors.
"Despite my lofty title ... I would go out into people's' homes to fix compressors, so that I understood the problem," Immelt said. "There is no better way to be humbled than for a math major to sit on someone's kitchen floor while the ice cream melts."
The difference between an idea and a solution is the difference between thinking about having a baby and actually having a baby. Coming up with a solution requires getting your hands dirty and really understanding the root cause of a problem.
In an exclusive interview, Paul Blanco, managing partner at MetLife, shares how one employee applied this principle and got promoted quickly.
"Our firm was using a CRM system that was a source of frustration," Blanco says. "Every year we tried to make the best of an unsatisfactory situation, but we all knew it wasn't working the way we wanted. Instead of complaining or putting up with it, one of our Millennial employees proactively went out, researched alternatives, and presented his findings."
On the basis of the employee's recommendations, MetLife implemented changes.
"Today, our new system is creating efficiencies and opportunities we never imagined were possible," Blanco says. "We recognized this employee's contribution at our annual awards gala, and we are building a team for him to lead."
3. Become friends with people outside of your age, rank, and department
Tim Cook joined Apple in 1998 at the age of 38. At the time, the company was in a death spiral and hemorrhaging more than $1 billion per year. Thirteen years later, in 2011, Cook was made CEO.
To be a leader of an organization, you need to be able to build relationships with people of different ages, backgrounds, and specialties. Millennials can learn a lot from Tim Cook's cross-generational leadership style. He has been reported to "often [sit] down randomly with employees in the cafeteria at lunchtime."
According to Merrick Price of Lutz, the biggest mistake that employees make is "insulating themselves within their comfort zone and primarily engaging with other Millennials in their department."
He points to the success of one employee, Ryan Cook, 31, who is now an audit accounting/consulting partner at Lutz, a 170-person public firm. What typically takes a solid performer at least 10 to 15 years to achieve, Cook has done in only six.
The key to Cook's success, according to Price, was his ability to champion ideas across multiple departments (i.e., sales, support, operations, marketing) and up and down the hierarchy, as well as to various company stakeholders. "He has an amazing ability to authentically relate and connect with others regardless of their age, business experience, interest, and long-term goals," Price says.
4. Volunteer to implement the solution on your own time
The new CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, started at the company as a product manager, after receiving his MBA in 2004 at the age of 32. He took advantage of Google's policy of allowing employees to do whatever they want with 20 percent of their time to champion and launch Google Chrome. Soon after, Pichai was promoted to vice president and given oversight of more products (including Gmail). Today, Chrome is the most used browser in almost every country.
While most companies don't offer paid free time, you can still use your personal time to go the extra mile. For example, one employee of SAS, Kirsten Hamstra, started off as program manager for social media in a support division. Just a few years later, she is the global social media manager for the entire company.
According to Pamela Meek, a senior director at SAS, a key to Hamstra's success was that "she took the initiative and risk on her own to create, and persuasively present, a detailed plan with a business case to executives, leaders, and peers, who became advocates. Then she offered to lead the plan."
5. Master multigenerational communication
In 1979, when Mark Parker was 24, he started working at Nike as a footwear designer, and quickly received multiple promotions. Today, as Nike's CEO, he proactively listens to ideas from every generation. "Sometimes it's good to see raw ideas at a basic level," Parker says. "I like to pull that out, put it in the spotlight, celebrate that ideas come from everywhere."
Unfortunately, "Millennials tend to jump to the conclusion that the older generations simply don't want to change," says Ed Guttenplan, managing shareholder at Wilkin & Guttenplan. "The key for Millennials is to understand how to communicate with generations despite their differences."
A young female employee at his company volunteered to lead an initiative in a department in which employees came from many generations. It was risky, because despite the opportunity for dramatically improved efficiency in the department, there were many set ways that needed to be overcome. In a separate meeting held with the company's Baby Boomer partners, she acknowledged the role they have played in W&G's past performance; she pushed change forward as well. Consequently, she made the older generations feel comfortable and valued as part of the implementation success.
6. Understand the newbie curve
Walking into any new situation, it's easy to immediately notice things you would change and come up with fixes. The reality is that as obvious as they seem, those fixes will probably not work off the bat. According to one psychological study, newbies suffer a dual disadvantage:
Once new employees gain experience, they become more humble, because they understand the constraints that caused things to be the way they are. They also become more knowledgeable about what could work.
Delta Emerson, president of global shared services at Ryan, provides astute advice to newbies. "Respect the DNA of your organization," she says. "That doesn't mean you have to blindly embrace the status quo. However, it does mean that you need to understand the story behind practices."
Emerson advises new employees to first seek to understand how a process or solution evolved, and what problem it solved, before judging, dismissing, or recommending changes to it.
7. Do your boss's job well too
According to Nicholas Carlson, a veteran journalist and author of Marissa Mayer's biography, one of the keys to Mayer's becoming, in her late 30s, CEO of Yahoo, a $40 billion-plus company, was solving problems when she was an employee at Google that were outside of her job description.
"Mayer started off working in marketing, rigging servers and helping in public relations," Carlson says. "Mayer found three areas where she could materially improve Google. She ran Google CEO Larry Page's staff meetings. She became the person who said whether new products had user interfaces that lived up to Google's standards. Eventually, this turned into a job where Mayer became the final authority for how all Google products, including search, looked and felt."
Dan Burke, senior vice president of business services at Pacific Dental, which has offices across the country, suggests to those looking to get ahead: "Ask your supervisor to hold you accountable to the standards of the next level within your career."
He adds, "Once you've proven that you can perform at the level above you, it's much less risky for your boss to give you a promotion."
The bottom line for employees is that if you want to get promoted quickly, you need to go the extra mile by creating business value. Your job responsibilities are the minimum bar you need to surpass, not the ideal to strive for.
If you want to hire someone who will be an intrapreneur for your growing company, don't overly focus on the description of the job that you're initially hiring them for. Focus on the skills and traits shared in this article.
Here's the summary of the steps one needs to master to create business value:
Now, it's your turn. Do you agree or disagree with the findings? What's worked for you? Share in the comments section below. I read each comment.