Great employees spend the majority of their time helping other people succeed: Their company, their employees, their customers and vendors and suppliers... the list goes on and on.
Great employees also spend some time helping themselves succeed, both for "selfish" reasons and because their success creates success for others.
To succeed you must stand out from the crowd. Here are six ways:
Be first with a purpose.
Lots of employees, managers, and business owners are the first to arrive each day. That's great, but what do you do with that time? Organize your thoughts? Get a jump on your email?
Instead of taking care of your stuff, do something visibly worthwhile for the company. Take care of unresolved problems from the day before. Set things up so it's easier for employees to hit the ground running when they come in. Chip away at an ongoing project others ignore.
Don't just be the one who turns on or off the lights – be the one who gets in early or stays late in order to get things done. Not only will your performance stand out, you'll also start to...
Be known for something specific.
Meeting standards, however lofty those standards may be, won't help you stand out.
So go above the norm. Be the leader known for turning around struggling employees. Be the owner who makes a few deliveries a week to personally check in with customers. Be the manager who consistently promotes from within. Be known as the employee who responds quicker, acts faster, or always follows up.
Pick a worthwhile mission, then excel at that mission. People will notice.
Create your own side project.
Excelling at an assigned project is expected. Excelling at a side project helps you stand out.
For example, years ago I decided to create a Web-based employee handbook my then-employer could put on the company Intranet. I worked on it at home on my own time. Some managers liked it but the HR manager didn't so it died an inglorious death.
I was disappointed, but the company wasn't "out" anything, and soon after I was selected for a high visibility company-wide process improvement team because my little project made me "that guy."
The same applies for a business owner. Experiment on a new process or service with a particular customer in mind. The customer will appreciate how you tried, without being asked, to better meet their needs, and your business will become "that business."
Put your muscle where your mouth is.
Lots of people take verbal stands. Few take a stand and put effort behind their opinions.
Say you think a project has gone off the rails; instead of just pointing out its flaws so you can show everyone how smart you are, jump in and help fix it.
Everyone talks about problems. The people who help fix them stand out.
Show a little of your personal side.
Personal interests help other people to identify and remember you. That's a huge advantage for a new employee or a company competing in a crowded market.
Just make sure your personal interests don't overshadow professional accomplishments. Being "the guy who does triathlons" is fine, but being "the guy who is always training and travelling to triathlons so we can never reach him when we need him" is not.
Let people know a little about you; a few personal details add colour and depth to your professional image.
Work harder than everyone else.
Nothing – nothing – is a substitute for hard work. Look around: How many people are working as hard as they can?
The best way to stand out is to out-work everyone else.
It's also the easiest way, because you'll be the only one trying.