5 lessons they never taught me at University

There’s a clever meme populating the internet currently…


Everything you ever needed to know about anything, and all in two slim volumes.

I certainly don’t claim to know everything, but I’d like to jump onto this meme with my own brief contribution about the key things University DIDN’T teach me.

Do you still believe that good performance is the key to success?

I learned,  while studying, that success was finding the right answer, that correct answer will create a good response, and you’ll succeed on your own merits. But University never taught me how to work well with others. It was a lesson that took me a decade and more to learn

Thats the central moral here, in order to get ahead and stay ahead, it’s critical that you learn how to work with people in your work place- bosses, peers and subordinates.

Here are the five lessons about working in a company that took me over a decade to learn, you can learn them in 5 minutes:

1. It takes more than talent and hard work to get ahead.
This is the most important lesson of all. It is expected that you will do a good, even great, job. That being said, you need to differentiate yourself in the workplace and let others know how you are contributing to the success of the overall business. The consequences of just focusing on your work are that you will remain invisible, be passed over for promotions, and others are unable to make the link between your performance and how the company can benefit.

2. It’s important that others see you as competent, benevolent and having integrity.
Trust is built of three factors, your competence (talent and hard work applied), your benevolence (how positive your motives are seen) and your integrity (your moral principles and behaviours). The key way to succeed at work is to build trust. You certainly have competence, that’s probably how you got the job or the promotion- but you also need to communicate that your motives are positive and that you have integrity.  Take time to show these in your discussions, maybe by sharing stories or explaining your reasoning for doing this.

3. Build your internal network.
Who do you know and who do you need to know to help you avoid career limiting mistakes?  Companies accept people make mistakes but do you know within your organisation what career limiting mistakes are- cheating on expenses (low integrity), bad mouthing peers who you compete with (low benevolence). To succeed you need to know which mistakes to avoid as well as which networks to link in with to assist you succeed. Typically a company has  three groups of networks. First, is the operational network consists of people who you work with every day and who share your operational skills- IT, Supply Chain- and this can extend beyond you local area through your interaction with others in similar roles to you but in different offices or sites. Second, is the developmental network composed of people who are potential mentors and sponsors. As you grow in an organisation find people ahead of you in the hirearchy who you feel comfortable with and who are willing to assist you. How do you meet them- over lunch, at a course, teaching internal courses.  The third network is a strategic one comprised of those who can connect you with decision makers, influencers, and operational people to help you do your job better. You need to build a network of contacts in each category across the organization. These networks can not only link you to people they can give advice on the hidden rules in the workplace? What type of behavior is rewarded? Who gets promoted and why? What type of communication is acceptable? Who has the power and influence?

4. Build and nurture your external network.
Its a fact, you probably will not stay with your current company forever. On average, people are moving from job to job about every three years. It’s critical, therefore, to stay in touch with former colleagues, classmates, and friends. Turn these casual connections into a powerful group supporting you by enhancing your relationship skills. Respond to their requests for help or connections in your company. When you need those introductions or references for yourself, your network will step up and help you. Also join industry related groups in your community and on LinkedIn.

5. Become more self aware and Learn how to effectively communicate with others.
Do you have a formal way of ensuring you are self aware… consider using DISC to understand yourself and your behaviour preferences as it will help you understand others and their behaviour preferences and this will assist you to be better at both the means and content of communications. You may prefer texting to emailing or phone calls, but it’s important to identify what type of communication others prefer, especially if you are trying to build rapport. If you have a good understanding of their behaviours and DISC you probably don’t need to ask them directly how they like to communicate or how often do they want to hear from you or in what format?  To build your DISC awareness observe these people in meetings. What gets their attention? What turns them off? Prepare your agenda for meetings with your boss and senior management with this information in mind. Figure out what’s important to your stakeholders and then position yourself as someone who can add value.

You may indeed be a rock star with enormous potential, but if no one knows about your contributions, it won’t do you any good. If you stand out for the wrong reasons, it won’t do you any good either.

Learn from my ten plus years of toil from these 5 key tips and then figure out how to position yourself by understanding the corporate culture, and never take your attention away from the workplace dynamics, as they change every day.