Are you getting ahead or just getting paid?

Jul 16 2007 by David Thompson Print This Article

Forget the Egyptian pyramids. And the hanging gardens of Babylon. There is a greater wonder of the world that has mystified man for all eternity. "How the hell did he/she do so well?"

There are examples everywhere – the person who does their job, but who may not necessarily not be the best at what they do, yet who seems to be the one singled out for reward and promotion. The reason ? They understand a secret. The knowledge of what it takes to float past others who are relying naively on the hope of being talent spotted by the boss. These people understand the secret of Career Helium.

There are plenty of examples of Career Helium in action. Jake Gyllenhaal, star of many Hollywood movies including Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain understands the secret of Career Helium.

Rather than take the traditional and well trodden path of investing years and years attending auditions for insignificant parts in third rate soap operas, he utilised his network. It just so happened that his godmother was quite a useful contact - Jamie Lee Curtis. Phew ! That made life a little easier.

And what about Mariah Carey ? She wanted to get a recording contract, but knew that the chances were slim. She pinpointed the man that could it make it happen for her – the record producer Tommy Mottola. She followed him everywhere he went, and one day in an alleyway of a venue she got close enough to him to press her demo tape into his hand as he was getting into his limo.

He listened to the demo, recognised her talent and well, the rest is history. She understood the secret of Career Helium.

So what is Career Helium ? In a nutshell, Career Helium demystifies why some people are successful and some are not. The essence of Career Helium is about looking at your career in a slightly different way, and making small changes to reap large rewards.

Career Helium demystifies why some people are successful and some are not.
Think of your career as a balloon. If you want to float high, you need to fill that balloon with the right fuel. The helium for your career is essentially five simple elements : knowing what expectations others have of you; knowing what your boss needs to achieve and supporting them to achieve their own goals; ensuring that you have a solid professional profile with those that can positively impact on your career; being able to network - or connect - with others; and be able to manage the politics that are an inevitable part of today's work environment in a positive and effective way.

These five elements are the things that are going to fuel your steady rise up the corporate ladder, leaving those who are simply relying on the power of 'hard work' far behind you.

But there is one caveat to this: you need to be taking care of the day job. If your work is inconsistent or you have moments of underperformance, then Career Helium won't be effective for you. If you try and implement the simple elements of Career Helium when you aren't achieving what you fundamentally employed to do, you will position yourself as a schmuck. And no-one wants that.

Think about it – no boss is going to support you in your quest for greater things if you can't get the job in hand done - it's his or her reputation on the line too.

Let's take a look at just one of these elements - expectations. Knowing what expectations the organisation, your boss, and others have of you is the first step towards floating past the others. It's simple really: if you know what's expected of you, you can achieve it. If you don't know what those expectations are, it's a little like being blindfolded before you aim for a target. What chance do you have?

So knowing what's expected of you is the starting point. But it's not just a case of knowing what your job is, and what's expected of you in that respect, it's more than that. Much more. At the heart of Career Helium are three sets of expectations: the universal expectations, the role expectations, and the niche expectations.

Now, assuming that you work for a large organization, you will likely have posters plastered all over the walls showcasing the organisations values, or business principles – that sort of thing. How many times have you walked past those posters? Can you list these behaviours? No, thought not. But you've seen them hundreds, if not thousands of times.

But you ignore them. Dismiss them as corporate claptrap. But they aren't corporate claptrap – they're a clue! These posters are giving you the first of the three expectations on a plate – these posters represent the organisation saying to you: 'this is what we expect of you if you're to work here and be successful'.

So – first step is to know what these behaviors, these universal expectations are, and then make sure that you integrate them into your approach to work – so work with the universal expectations in mind.

The second expectation which is central to harnessing the power of Career Helium is the expectations that others have of you that's related to your role. This is the most obvious and traditional – it's what you are expected to 'do', to achieve, on the job. And it's obvious because most organisations are set up to make sure that people understand this expectation – the job description does this job. The annual appraisal checks that you're doing it. But don't relax just yet – the trickiest part is yet to come.

Imagine you were given a bow and arrow, and sent off to the archery range. And blindfolded. How would you it the target? Where is the target? Seem unfair? Sure it does. But every day, managers all around the world are doing this to their people. How ? By having what's described within Career Helium as niche expectations.


Career HeliumWant to fast-track your career and head for the top? David Thompson's book, Career Helium, is a modern-day fable aimed at helping you understand the implicit rules that determine how to succeed in the world of business. Remember, just doing a good job is not enough to climb the career ladder. What gets you paid is not what gets you ahead.

These niche expectations are the personal standards, the little things that are important to your boss about the way they like people to work with them, or get things done for them. Now here's the rub. Most managers won't discuss them. They might not even have given them any conscious thought. These are little quirks that have emerged over time, and become intuitive to them. Yet knowing what they are, and putting that knowledge into action in every interaction with them will fuel your rise up the corporate ladder.

If you work in the same way, or appear to work the same way as your boss, you will be more valuable to them, and they will support you, develop you, promote you. These niche expectations really are the key to success when working with your boss, and discovering what these niche expectations are is easier than you might think.

Managing the different dimensions of expectations are just one of the five elements of Career Helium, that collectively will have an explosive effect on your career. It's quite simple. Those that rise in the organization understand the unspoken rules of success – they know that what gets them paid every month is not going to get them ahead. If they want to get ahead, to float past the others in their quest to reach the top, then they need Career Helium.


About The Author

David Thompson
David Thompson

David Thompson is the founder of Beyond the Dots, a boutique people & organisation development consultancy. He has worked in this field for over two decades, gathering his experience in a number of organisations and sectors, from retail to digital media to financial services.