Thinking like a small business can create big career results

CEO Coach Suzanne Bates says that workers need to think like small businesses to achieve career success. She explains how and why in this article.

Defining success has become more and more difficult since the economic downturn nearly two years ago. In all likelihood, an employee who was successful then would be unemployed today; courtesy of widespread layoffs and spending freezes that showed corporate companies what an entrepreneurial approach can do for productivity.

For example, before the downturn, a company has three employees. Worker X has a very specific skillset, and completes all of the “X” work. The same can be said for workers Y and Z; and there is never any overlap between the three departments. Suddenly, the downturn hits. Worker Z has worked there the least amount of time, and is laid off. Corporate spending freezes prevent the company from hiring another “Z” specialist, but all of ex-worker Z’s work still must be completed for the company to stay in business. Workers X and Y reluctantly add the necessary duties to their work load, and the company stays in business.

Flash forward two years. Finally, the company’s spending freeze has thawed, and it has the resources necessary to begin hiring new employees again. But the former “X” and “Y” specialists have proved to leadership that they are now multi-dimensional, and corporate opts to re-define their responsibilities, rather than subjecting itself to unnecessary overhead costs.

Believe it or not, this approach has been small businesses’ best kept secret for years. Employers’ increased oversight and employee’s loosely defined responsibilities put an emphasis on level of productivity, not the nature of it. While this environment is often foreign to employees in large organizations, it can make all the difference when they are trying to impress their superiors, or separate themselves from their peers when it comes time for promotions. Being entrepreneurial is an underappreciated and invaluable trait, yet, it is easily attainable by following these steps.

Learn to Multi-task and Reprioritise –- any staffer who’s stuck in neutral and wants to take his/her career to the next level needs to be more nimble. The pace of business changes rapidly these days, managers need to put a strategy in place for dealing with constant change. Not only do today’s leaders have to think and act on their feet more than ever before, they need to teach their staff to do the same, even if that means creating a more task-oriented business model. Effectively communicating what those changing priorities are, why they’re changing, and what they mean for the business is critical to successful execution.

Seek Mentors Outside the Company – even if you don’t have a mentor to reach out to within your organization, you can still look outside your immediate inner circle for business advice. Consider joining a small business group or network, an industry association, or consulting a trusted academic. You shouldn’t be expected to navigate the muddy waters of today’s business landscape alone. Keeping the lines of communication open will help direct you to the right path.

Invest in Professional Development, Even If It’s With Your Own Money -- it may have to come out of your pocket, but consider making the investment by enrolling in a class, hiring a coach, or attending a boot camp or industry conference. Not only will you step up your skill set, and make the investment worthwhile, you’ll also make connections that will prove invaluable over time.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the best way to get to the big corner office is to think small. Great entrepreneurs have a clear vision, and get everyone else on board to follow that vision by creating momentum and excitement around it. They can do more with less, change course at a moment’s notice, network like rock stars, and seek advice from the best minds they have access to.

Suzanne Bates is an executive coach, keynote speaker, former award-winning television news anchor, and CEO of Bates Communications, Inc. 

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