While watching BBC’s Planet Earth the other day, I drew a strong comparison between plants and humans.
In areas with dense foliage, plants are in a constant race to grow taller than each other in order to gain their share of available light. The tallest plants leave the others behind to die as they blanket the forest floor with shadows.
Just as plants compete with each other for light, you’ll have to stand the tallest if you want to thrive in your company.
So how do I become the tallest plant in my forest?
Be on time. The first plants to sprout are the ones that start growing right away. Being on time for work is just as important. If you have flexible work hours, go above and beyond and put in some evening/weekend time. Emphasizing the importance of your job through punctuality and contribution is a great way to get noticed.
Learn from others. This may not be scientifically true, but I bet if plants had eyes and ears they’d watch each other and see what it is the tallest plants are up to (I wouldn’t be surprised if this does occur in some way…biologists please chime in!).
Observe your colleagues who have received a promotion and note how they got there. If you’ve just started at work, ask someone who is already in a high position to tell you about their history within the company, and elsewhere. Surrounding yourself with successful people can have a great influence on your own performance.
Evolve. Plants evolve as their surroundings change. They evolve to overcome obstacles and ensure their existence in the future. You’ll have to do the same as your company grows if you want to keep your job – and more importantly, grow in your career.
As a company grows, new opportunities arise. When you’re a 2-3 person company, every one does PR. Everyone does marketing. When you become a 15 person company, you may have dedicated employees handling these positions. By doing things you’re interested in outside of your specific job title, you can become the employee responsible for them as the natural progression of company growth occurs – essentially creating a new role for yourself.
Take interest in others. Just because you’re in sales, doesn’t mean you can’t be interested in design – and vice-versa. In either of these instances, having an interest in the other role would help you to move into a position in marketing or advertising.
Although I’m officially responsible for marketing and PR at my job, I take interest in graphic and user experience design, sales, development, and pretty much anything I can poke my head in.
It’s important not to digress from your role too much, but learn as much as you can about what others are working on. I am in no way a user experience designer, however by following what our UX designers are up to and asking them questions, I’ve learned quite a bit about the subject. Although I probably won’t ever become a UX designer, it’s given me a different approach to my marketing and advertising efforts. Besides, it’s always good to learn new things from great minds.
Don’t ask questions, answer them. Whenever possible, avoid asking your superiors questions. That’s not to say you shouldn’t seek their advice, insight, and approval on things – it just means you should try to learn things on your own whenever possible. Instead of asking your CEO what they think about a marketing concept, try to be the person they ask when looking for marketing advice.
This takes time but goes a long way. Eventually you want to become someone who’s opinion is valued – not only related to your specific job title. Think of it as becoming part of the “Board of Directors” for your company.
But maybe I should just be the widest plant?
Being the widest plant may seem like a viable solution to the competing light issue, but in fact, it’s not. Wide plants are left behind as the taller plants reach light and grow more leaves. Eventually the short stubby plants are left to perish in the darkness.
I once read somewhere that:
“One of the worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all”
This holds true in your workplace. Sure it’s important to diversify, learn new things, and be as independent as possible. But what’s worse than that is to focus on projects or tasks that take a lot of time but yield little to no results.
Your boss may be impressed that you took it upon yourself to create and complete Project A – but if Project A doesn’t do anything for the company, it will look even worse than if you spent that time just “doing your job”.
Standing out in your company isn’t that hard if you think like a plant.
Just remember, there are a bunch of other people in your organization fighting for that promotion – what are you going to do to grow the tallest?
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