Last Updated May 2, 2007 7:16 PM EDT
The common wisdom among employees is that if you want to be promoted, you make sure that you please your boss, do what you are told, and stay out of trouble. But times have changed and so have the rules. Bosses no longer have the power they once had. With the amount of turnover that occurs in organizations, your boss may not be around long enough to help you get a promotion. So what should you do? Try an entirely different approach—focus your efforts on serving your customers. If you do, your chances of being promoted quickly are much better, and you may see your career take off. Here are some points to ponder as you consider your strategies for getting promoted:
- Who are your customers?
- Are they internal? External? Both?
- What are their needs, and how can you fulfill them?
- What does "service" mean to you?
- How can you make your work with your customers highly visible?
Well, yes. You do not want to ignore your boss, but if you are committed to adding value to the company and to investing in a successful career, you should learn to focus primarily on your customers. At the same time, bear in mind that your boss may actually be one of your customers.
The majority of people in an organization have no direct contact with external customers, but most do influence the customer's experience of the organization in some way. If you keep the final customer in mind in everything you do, your work will have a lot more meaning and purpose, and you will be seen as more of a leader.
Ambitious and politically motivated people seem to do well in their careers for a while, but without a true emphasis on serving the customer, they reach a limit to how far they can go. There are several things you can do if you have a boss like this. Try talking to him or her about the importance of customer service to you, and ask for the kind of support you need in order to serve the customer better. If you do not get a positive response, you may want to ask Human Resources or the training department for help in getting customer service training for your department. Finally, if your boss's and your values concerning customer service continue to clash, you may want to think about transferring out of his or her department. A boss who does not understand the importance of customer-service is not likely to be promoted, and that could negatively affect your career.
In every religious and spiritual tradition in the world, wise people have taught us that being of service to others is one of the core values that give meaning to our lives. In order to be of service, you must first become aware of what you offer that makes you unique. Perhaps it is a specific set of skills and knowledge. Perhaps it is a sense of humor, or the ability to listen closely to a customer's concerns. How can you bring more of your special qualities into your work so that you can be of service to others?
Anyone you serve can be considered a customer, so who, both inside and outside your organization do you serve? Who can be positively or negatively affected by your work? Inside the organization, the list may include the members of your team, internal clients, people in other departments, or certain managers. External customers may include the traditional customer who buys your company's products and services, but also may be vendors, government regulators, the media, or anyone else who uses information or services that you personally provide. List everyone you can think of, either by name, by category, or by role.
For each customer on your list, identify current needs that you help to fulfill. Then go back through the list and consider possibilities. Identify any customer needs that you might be able to satisfy if you were to offer more information, products, or services. When you finish your analysis, highlight the most entrepreneurial, useful, and creative ideas. These ideas become the projects that have the potential to further your career.
Visibility is a very important factor in advancing your career. If you do good work and the right people do not notice, they can hardly be faulted for not taking an interest in your development and career advancement. Many of us are afraid of "tooting our own horn" for fear of being seen as egotistical, so we tend not to tell others about the creative and productive things we may have accomplished. Remember that success stories not only reflect well on you but on your organization, and if told in the right way, organizations love them. Here are some low-key ways in which to make your successes with customers, whether internal or external, known:
- Write articles for the company newsletter or intranet about what you or your team did to help a customer and the results.
- Write regular reports to your boss about your accomplishments and highlight statements of customer appreciation.
- When an internal or external customer thanks you for something you have done, ask them if they would be willing let your boss know about their satisfaction.
- Conduct a customer satisfaction survey and report the results to people who can influence your career in a positive way.
If you plan to become more customer-oriented, you must be sincere and genuine in your dealings with people. If you are providing extra service merely to look good, they will see through you very quickly. You are better off being honest about your career ambitions, than you are carrying on the pretense of being customer-oriented in order to get promoted.
Most organizations are goal driven, and it is important to complete work assignments. But if all you focus on are the goals that have been handed down to you, you limit your career potential. Most organizations also reward self-starters, so employees who make the extra effort to fulfill customer needs tend to become noticed over time.
An irony of life is that people who always "look out for Number One," usually do not see the opportunities and breaks that come their way for what they are. The less you focus on yourself and, instead, focus on helping others to fulfill their needs and achieve success, the more successful you will be.
All organization with a product or service to sell are in the business of serving customers. Satisfied customers return and bring along their friends and families. Part of your job may be to help your boss and your team to be more customer oriented. The more you and your fellow employees care about serving your customers' needs, the more successful you all will be.
Eisner, Michael D. Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service. Orlando, FL: The Disney Institute, 2001.
Greenleaf, Robert. On Becoming a Servant-Leader. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
The Greenleaf Center: www.greenleaf.org
Team Spirit: www.teamspirit123.com