In a competitive workplace, we often think we have to do something extraordinary to stand out, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes, it’s the little things that encourage important people to remember and appreciate us.
Tom Peters is known as one of the most influential business authors of the last century. When he gives a speech, hundreds of people wait in line for a few minutes of his time. Onsite at a recent seminar, Tom was in a foul mood. Everything was going wrong and the talk seemed doomed to failure. At the last minute before showtime, Tom encountered an enthusiastic A/V staffer who was determined to cheer Tom up. “He saved my speech and he saved my neck,” writes Tom in his book The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence.
If two people contacted Tom after the speech – this A/V guy and an attendee who had insightfully analyzed the contents of his last several books – who do you think Tom would recall meeting? There’s no question. After all, he’s still talking about this A/V guy years later. The A/V guy did something little – he was cheerful – and that something little had a big impact.
Life in the business world is difficult. We can’t keep up with the pace of change and many of us are still reeling from the workforce bloodletting that began three years ago. In response and perhaps paradoxically, those who study workplace trends are seeing a return to traditional values. As Tom puts it, life is not this great intellectual construct. It’s about remembering the simple things your grandmother taught you, getting through the day, and helping others get through the day.
One key trait to keep in mind is thoughtfulness, at which Tom says women are naturally better than men. Keeping track of details like your boss' s children’s names requires some discipline, and making an effort to learn these things is often the first thing to slip away when you’re busy. But being able to bring them out in conversation will make other people pay attention.
Vocal appreciation is another simple way to generate positive regard. We are all bombarded with requests on a daily basis. If that high-profile someone took the time to respond to yours, you should thank her. And if a person has impressed you, acknowledge her contributions and be generous with your compliments, making them meaningful by focusing on specific actions rather than vague generalities.
Given the emphasis on e-communication, going out of your way to meet people in person is another way to stand out. Tom suggests purposefully expanding your circle and engaging people with different perspectives. This includes developing relationships with junior-level employees or administrative assistants, who may have the top person’s ear now and the power in the future.
Finally, instead of always looking ahead, take pride in your work today. Forget about going the proverbial extra mile, only a half inch is necessary. Following up on a minor lead that you’re curious about or volunteering for that unsexy project could make the difference in the end.