How to... manage your success

by 04 Mar 2008

Why is it important?

Every business will have a number of exceptionally talented performers who can always be relied upon to deliver results and achieve very high standards. Diligent, industrious and proactive, these individuals will aspire to do the best job that they possibly can, both to meet their own performance expectations and to ensure continued career advancement.

However, while it is generally true that success tends to breed further success, those who achieve outstanding results can also begin to suffer under the burden of expectation if they fail to manage how they are used by others.

“A good manager will quickly spot a talented individual and harness their abilities for the benefit of their team and organisation,” says Barry Spence, chairman and chief executive of the Cubiks Group. “They will recognise when an individual has the drive and capacity to handle a high volume of work, and respond by assigning increasingly complex tasks to them to satisfy their ambition.

Display of trust

“As well as delivering benefits in terms of business productivity, the display of trust will both inspire and motivate the employee,” Spence adds.

But Spence believes problems can start to appear when the abilities of the high-performing individual come to the attention of other managers and team members, particularly those who are fond of delegating.

“If others know their colleague can be relied on to take ownership of a task, they will quickly channel work in their direction,” he says.

“Sometimes the motives of those doing the delegating will be good – they also want to achieve the best possible results and, therefore, choose to work with the most talented people. But there will also be those who take advantage of the high achiever, because they know it will result in an easier life for them.”

When this happens, life can become very difficult for star performers, who find themselves struggling to cope with an excessive workload and increased stress levels. The quality of their work-life balance will nosedive, along with their motivation and, in the worst cases, their health will be affected as long hours and a lack of both sleep and exercise take their toll.

What can I do?

If this sounds all too familiar, there are things you can do to ensure your career stays on the fast track without working yourself into the ground.

Spot the warning signs of offloading: it’s no use having colleagues sing your praises if it results in a few hours of unnecessary work. You need to be able to cut through the flattery so that you quickly recognise what is being asked of you, and whether it is an appropriate task.

Prioritise: if your workload is escalating out of control, you need to prioritise the activities that are most business-critical and sideline those that are not. Although it’s a cliché, you need to make sure you are ‘adding value’ and not absorbed in obscure tasks for particularly insistent colleagues.

Be assertive: while you don’t want to appear unhelpful or a ‘jobsworth’, you must make clear to colleagues which tasks you are prepared to absorb, what tasks you are expecting them to retain, and who you believe should take ownership for the project as a whole. It is important your colleagues understand that a team effort is required and they have a role to play too.

Communicate your intentions to your manager:if you need to begin pushing work back to colleagues, make sure your manager knows your intentions in advance. By demonstrating to your boss that you understand the business priorities and the contribution you can make to the organisation’s success, you should gain their support and understanding. They will also appreciate knowing in advance if they are likely to be contacted by any disgruntled colleagues.

Make others aware of their own development needs: colleagues will often ask you to handle tasks because they lack faith in their own ability. The more responsible of them will ask you to show them how something is done so that they can do it themselves next time. Others will start taking advantage of their own ‘learned helplessness’, saying things such as: “I would do it myself, but I know you will do a better job”. You will need to use tact to point out that what they are trying to avoid doing is actually a skill they need, and not some dark art that only you are privy to. Avoid the ‘it’s easier if I do it myself’ approach, as this will only send out the wrong message.

More information

Managing Your Career, Harvard Business School Press, 2007, ISBN 1422118614

Career Helium: How to float past others in your quest to reach the top: The secrets of climbing the corporate ladder, by David Thompson, Cyan Communications, 2007, ISBN 0462099008

By Marcus Stanton. Courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.