Know Your Workplace Currency to Get Ahead

Doing a good job may not be the way to get ahead.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #393

Have you ever done such a great job that your boss is furious with you?

In our professional careers, we’ve internalized the platitude that if we work hard, we’ll get ahead. But not all managers believe in meritocracies, and far too many bosses judge their employees’ worth as equal to the number of hours spent in the office. Unfortunately, the fact is that great work isn’t always a prerequisite for company advancement. What they don’t teach you in Business 101 is that doing a job well done often is only one factor in workplace success. Other factors—politicking, for example—is the name of the game in offices around the world.

Working harder doesn’t mean you’re doing work that will hold you in high esteem with coworkers and superiors. So how do you continue to be a quality producer in the workplace and move up the corporate ladder at the same time? 

To really get ahead in your job, identify and embody the currency that is actually valued at your organization.

Rapid Success Can Look Like Failure

Sam is a float decorator at Bernice’s plant shop, Green Growing Things, and just finished designing a parade float for Lonnie’s Landscaping. Sam, so enthusiastic about doing an outstanding job, finished the float two days before the parade. The deadline was met well in advance, and there were no other floats that needed designing, so Sam figured it would be fine to take a few days off work. After all, the client is happy, and there’s no work waiting for Sam in the extra two days. 

Sure enough, Lonnie the Landscaper was delighted with the quality of the work, and the float looked so great that Green Growing Things gained half a dozen new leads for future projects during the parade. Sam reported this great news to Bernice and asked for a promotion. Instead, Bernice read the riot act over the two days of missed FaceTime. As Bernice puts it, “In nature, the honey bees never stop their subtle and intricate dance. They are always there for the hive! You can not be a honey bee who takes two days off. That would be an affront to the Goddess.”

Everything seemed to be going off without a hitch! What went wrong? Sam wants to balance being a great employee with being an efficient worker. In short, Sam wants to harvest the vegetables and eat them too.

Know Your Tradeoffs

To avoid a situation like this, start by getting your personal priorities straight. Sam believes that being productive leads to being liked, getting complimented, and being promoted to Regional Vegetable Wrangler Level I. So the formula for success is simple: relentlessly pursue productivity, and everything else will follow. 

In the real world, however, these don’t all come together. And to get what matters most, the next step is to unpack the different priorities. What’s most important, personally? Doing a great job? Having free time? Making money? Being a great employee? Being liked by coworkers? Getting promoted? Priorities may change over time, but if some are more important than others, keeping that in mind is necessary to achieve them. 


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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