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Commentary

Stop Expecting Gold Stars for Your Wins at Work

May 22, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you make a great first impression at work?” is written by Jeff Allen, senior director of product marketing for Adobe Analytics.

Think of your best ever dining experience. Chances are that you barely noticed when the waiter refilled your glass, straightened the tablecloth, whisked away stray breadcrumbs, or slipped you a new fork. The waiter made a great first impression on you by anticipating your needs and attending to them without making a fuss.

That same formula will wow your new boss from day one. Here's a playbook to get started:

Make the company’s goals your goals

To fulfill my goals at work, 60 different teams at Adobe have to fulfill theirs. That's a lot of moving targets, and I'm looking for employees that help me hit the bullseye without my needing to check on them constantly.

During his first week, one of my team members noticed that a few sales teams were consistently behind in our weekly reports. Rather than waiting for someone with more seniority to fix the problem, he made it his personal mission to help those teams improve.

I took immediate notice of his passion for his new job. His work helped me, my boss, and even my boss's boss achieve our objectives. Good team members take initiative on things that matter—and don't wait for permission.

And don’t stop at just helping your superiors. Every new employee should pinpoint a goal that the entire company recognizes as valuable. Without demonstrating your usefulness to the overall mission early on, you’ll set yourself on the path to irrelevance.

Don’t try to grab the spotlight

People are rarely impressed by the workplace equivalent of a teacher's pet. I've seen plenty of new employees clamor for credit at every turn. These characters are easy to spot: They’re constantly saying, "That was my idea."

These people always make a poor first impression and rarely rise up the ranks. Early in my career, I almost made that mistake. I had come up with an idea to present at an upcoming job interview. The night before the big day, while getting some last-minute coaching from my father, I grew concerned that the firm would steal my idea.

“Your idea is clever,” he said. “But you have an endless supply of them. If they steal it, you can always come up with another one.”

At the time, I couldn't bear the thought of giving my idea away without credit. But over time, I learned that my father was right—the ideas didn’t dry up. What was important was showing my prospective employer that I had plenty of them, and that I was eager to share them with the company.

Imagine if the next time you dined out, the receipt came out with a note that read: "When you tip, remember that I recommended the tortellini and refilled your drink." You'd be horrified.

Building your professional reputation takes time. So don't expect a gold star after your first workplace win. Be consistent and confident that people will begin to recognize your fingerprints. Play the long game and work diligently until your supervisors realize they don't know what they'd do without you.

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