By Dinuka Perera
In an earlier article, I shared certain learnings that I have gained over the years for an organisation to be successful when implementing information technology initiatives.
There were six key learnings which I articulated in my article – customer (ie citizen) centric mindset when conceptualising initiatives, getting the internal processes right first over blind automation (business process reengineering prior to system development), aiming for quick wins while working on initiatives that would deliver success in the long term, addressing resistance to change in a meaningful manner, developing a proof of concept (POC) before full blown development and implementing initiatives first as a pilot and scaling up fast.
While the above learnings are more organisation-specific, there are number of learnings of a personal nature which I wish to share for a person to succeed in an organisation, irrespective of the type of organisation one works for. Following are 10 such learnings that I have realised through my experience which I believe would help individuals to be successful in their professional careers.
While there is an abundance of importance placed on ‘networking’ or ‘having right contacts’, what I have learnt is that forging long term genuine relationships with others create an indelible impression about you in others’ minds. Forging genuine working relationships based on trust not only allows you to work in a friendly environment, but it also allows you to easily gain the leadership buy-in and support to achieve desired results. For example, those who hold leadership positions could move from one organisation to another during their careers. Hence, once you have developed an effective long-term working relationship, it makes it easier for you to work with any of those organisations as you will always have the support of the leadership of those institutions. At the same time, you should never be seen as an opportunist who forges superficial relationships with others only due to the position of those individuals but once they no longer hold such a position of power, all interactions are dropped abruptly.
Therefore, like planting a seed and nurturing it to grow, genuine relationships based on trust and respect should also be cultivated and nurtured over time.
During your career, it is always likely that you would be required to work with individuals from other organisations. Your stakeholders could be those in the government or the private sector or both. Irrespective of whether it is a government institution or a private sector organisation, you should always respect the institution and its people that you are working with. Every organisation has its own culture, protocols, and way of working. While some organisations may have better infrastructure and facilities, some may have only basic infrastructure and minimal facilities.Some organisations will have charismatic leaders and people who are more technically savvy while others may have laid-back leaders and less tech-savvy staff. Regardless, you should look to work with any type of organisation and its people with the same respect, enthusiasm and vigour. In fact, you would learn more and gain better insights when working with organisations that are more challenging in various aspects.
Therefore, by respecting an institution that you work with irrespective of the nature or the people that you work within that organisation, you win their hearts and minds. Your humility is seen by the people, and you gain wider acceptance within the organisation. That allows you to be effective in what you do.
When working within your own organisation or with other organisations, you should quickly understand the dynamics of the people you interact with. A quick understanding of the language they would prefer to communicate with is of essence if you are to effectively communicate with them. It is even more important if you are making a presentation or conducting a training or awareness session. While you would find a majority of the people speaking Sinhalese except in the North and East, it is highly likely that there will be those who are not native Sinhala speakers. Hence, it is important to acknowledge and consciously communicate with those who feel comfortable in a particular language. You may have to speak in a mix of Sinhalese and English to ensure the non-native speakers of Sinhala understand what you are expressing. It also shows that you are empathic and that you acknowledge and respect the diversity among your audience. You should find ways to connect with them and simply saying a few words in their own language, for example ‘Vannakkam’ or ‘Eppadi Sugam’ or ‘Assalamalaikkum’ will go a long way to build an instant rapport with those you wish to have an effective dialogue.
Therefore, always acknowledge the diversity among those who you communicate with and find effective ways to build a genuine rapport with them quickly. By doing so, others would be more receptive to the message you are trying to convey.
From the early days of your career, it is important to put yourself in a position where you can learn from others. You will always be able to learn from people who are more knowledgeable and experienced than you are, but there are instances where you can learn from those who may not be as educated or successful as you may be. For example, I remember how a gentleman who was manning vehicles in a car park would greet everyone with a big genuine smile every morning. It may be a simple gesture, but I learned from him that whenever you greet somebody, to do so with a smile and a genuineness so that the other person feels the sincerity of your expression.
Putting yourself to learn from others is one of the most effective ways to broaden your horizons. It is also one of the cheapest. You stand a chance to learn so much just by being around learned people and observing them. You will learn their approach to solve problems, how they negotiate, their assertiveness, how they take responsibility, how they motivate others, how they communicate effectively and even minute details such as words they use in a given situation or their body language. If you are positively influenced by associating yourself with such people, you will also progress far in your career.
Therefore, always put yourself in a position or surround yourself with people who you can learn from.
Gratitude you show towards the organisation you work for defines your legacy within that organisation. Depending on how you worked, you will be spoken of within that organisation even long after you have left it.
Unfortunately, I have seen many individuals who give the least to the organisation but expect the most from it. Such an attitude towards the very organisation that provides for you does not help you to be successful or leave a positive legacy. Always be grateful to the opportunity you have to work for your organisation and show your gratitude through words and deeds. You need to work hard, with commitment and perform your job passionately as if you are working for your own company. Do not worry about the rewards or recognition or simply work expecting such. When you perform your duties consciously with the right attitude, rewards and recognition will follow.
The famous words of late US President John F. Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country’ is equally applicable to the workplace of yours which provides for you and your family. Hence, taking a cue from those famous words of John F. Kennedy, one can always succeed within an organisation if that person works with an attitude of ‘Ask not what your company can do for you but ask what you can do for your company’.
Therefore, you should always have a sense of gratitude towards the organisation that you work for and commit yourself towards the success of the organisation. When you work in such a spirit towards the success of the organisation, your own success will also follow naturally.
One of the most effective ways to win the confidence of the people you work with, whether with your superiors, peers or subordinates, is to always focus on getting things done no matter what challenges or obstacles that come your way. While it sounds like a no brainer, in my experience, there are more people within organisations who will always talk about only problems and why something cannot be done instead of having a ‘can do’ attitude and always look for ways to solve issues and get things done. If you become one of those who always take on responsibility to deliver results, never shy away from challenges, persevere, and get things done, you will shine like a beacon within your organisation. Your superiors who grapple with challenges of their own would rather have a person walk through their doors to tell them about how something can be done instead of why something cannot be done.
Even if there are multiple challenges to achieve targets, always be positive and be an optimist and discuss not the problems but the solutions. There are enough naysayers and those who are always looking to ‘pass the buck’ or only think of how they can ‘cover their own backs’ and look to take minimum of the responsibilities. However, by being someone who is courageous, does not shy away from responsibility, being accountable even when things do not work as expected and has a relentless drive and an inner motivation to achieve results, you can easily succeed as a professional and contribute towards the success of your organisation as well.
Therefore, develop a ‘can do’ attitude and never shy away from taking responsibility and always be the one who would find ways to solve problems.
During your career, you will be called upon to attend numerous meetings within your organisation or outside. Irrespective of whether it is an internal or external meeting, it is important for you to make your presence felt at these meetings. Be someone who positively contributes towards the purpose of the meeting. Never fear to express your opinion confidently, with clarity and respectfully, even if your opinion goes against the majority opinion. You should not fear to speak up even if the meeting is attended by those who are much senior to you. When getting your point across, especially if it goes against the majority view, it is important to express your opinion politely and without offending any participant so that you do not make others too defensive or antagonistic. Eventually, the purpose is not to win an argument but to provide a different viewpoint or an opinion so a more informed decision can be arrived at a discussion for the benefit of the organisation. Hence, those who speak up and actively take part in discussions get the recognition and the respect compared to those passive, silent attendees.
Therefore, learn to communicate well and never fear to express your opinion even if it goes against the majority view while respecting the opinion of others.
As you grow within your organisation, you need to have a holistic view of the purpose of your organisation and train your mind to always think from an organisation perspective. I have seen many individuals who confine themselves to what their own department within the organisation does and create small islands within the organisation to the detriment of the organisation as well as themselves. Such a narrow mindset not only retards your personal growth but negatively impacts the progress of the organisation as well.
Having a broad mindset and putting the interest of your organisation ahead of your own department is a must if you are to be seen as a professional with a mature intellect. When you have an organisation centric mindset, you tend to safeguard the interests of the organisation instead of your own department. In doing so, you automatically become a person who is trusted and well respected across your organisation instead of only within your department. Such a trait also creates synergy and seamless execution across departments as you do not tend to ‘pass the ball’ to another department but tend to work together cohesively to achieve a common goal for the betterment of your organisation.
Therefore, always cultivate an organisation centric mindset and never confine yourself to think or work only for your own department within the organisation. You will gain wider acceptance, recognition and respect within and outside the organisation, when you are seen as someone who looks after the interest of your organisation and not just your department.
How you work reflects your values. Therefore, even at the most challenging or demanding situation, show that you never waver from your core values. Many individuals tend to take the easy way out by lying or twisting the facts or placing the blame on others to get out of a difficult situation. However, if you are a person of integrity, you will own up to your actions no matter how difficult the situation is. Showing such courage and integrity creates an indelible impression about you in others. Others will implicitly trust you and have confidence in you. Once you gain such trust and confidence, it is much easier to work within an organisation and achieve results since others tend to cooperate with you knowing that you will always do the right thing.
Even if you are at a junior level, you will capture the attention of the leaders of the organisation when you have an impeccable reputation. You will also progress quickly in your career as you will get more opportunities than others to grow within your organisation with the support of your superiors.
Once you have such a stellar reputation, you will be able to easily achieve results not only within your organisation but outside of it as well.An individual of such calibre can easily move from one organisation to another and be successful in the new organisation within a short time as your reputation precedes you.
Therefore, in whatever you do within your organisation, keep true to your values and establish your reputation as a person with unconquerable integrity. This will ensure an easier passage in your corporate journey until you reach the pinnacle of your career and beyond.
One of the most enduring and difficult tasks is to continuously push yourself to be outside your comfort zone. However, the most rewarding experiences and learnings will come your way when you are outside your comfort zone.
When we work for an organisation for years, we become accustomed to the way of working and the people we work with. Over time, our office environment becomes all too familiar to us and the work we do also become second nature as we get used to it. However, such situations tend to make us stagnant and retard our professional careers to some extent. Therefore, continuously look for new challenges within your organisation or outside and never allow yourself to feel too comfortable in a particular job. I know individuals who seek to change jobs after being with an organisation for several years and having performed exceptionally well, simply to look for new challenges and broaden their knowledge and experience. At a personal level, when I reflect on my career, I have had the best of learnings when I have been out of my comfort zone. While it is not easy to put yourself out of your comfort zone, rewards you gain as a professional could be career defining if you are willing to take that leap to the unknown.
Therefore, do not be complacent or rest easy when work becomes second nature to you. Seek ways to put yourself out of your comfort zone as best of the learnings will come when you grapple with new challenges and problems and seek ways to overcome them.
(The writer is Chief Operating Officer of LankaPay Private Ltd. However the views expressed in this article are those of the writer and does not represent any specific organisation).