In the last article I wrote, I spoke about the parallels between the city of Detroit and your federal career and how the only way to stand out from the crowd is develop your competitive edge. In this article, I'll describe various ways you can do that. Before we dive in, let's give you some perspective.
In his book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, Reid Hoffman shares this insight, "In 2009, a billboard sat along the 101 Highway in the Bay Area that said: "1,000,000 people overseas can do your job. What makes you so special?" While one million might be an exaggeration, what is not an exaggeration is that there are lots of people who can and want to do your job. So once again the question becomes, what makes you stand out, what is your competitive edge?
In life, we know that anything worth having is usually worth fighting for and for anything desirable there is usually competition. Do you like football? Me too. But how easy is it to get a playoff ticket? Is there any competition involved? You better believe it. Or, do you have any college-bound kids with their heart set on a certain college? Is there any competition involved in getting accepted? Oh yes. Then its safe to say, that if you want to get paid more, promoted faster, and land your dream job, there is competition there too.
As federal employees we have to think like entrepreneurs. Being better than your counterparts is a prerequisite for federal survival.
In the corporate world, competitive edge is defined as an area of excellence that gives a company a distinct edge over its competition. What is your personal competitive edge in the work world? What do you absolutely excel at that gives you an advantage over your co-workers? What exceptional skill do you possess that is in strong demand?
Contribution is Key
In its simplest terms, your job is as secure as your ability to render value in excess of your cost. If you want to earn more, you have to find a way to increase your value. Your contribution to your organization needs to be more valuable than what you are currently being paid.
I'll give you an example; I am always looking for ways to help out my federal organization. I am constantly sharing ideas with my manager that can help our bottom line as an organization. He in turn, shares the ideas with his senior managers and as a result I have been able to help out on numerous high-profile projects. In fact, I recently took it upon myself to write a proposal for how our organization can be more innovative with social media. Because of that, I will now be working on our social media task force. This opportunity would never have come about if I did not first add value and take the initiative to do things that are not in my job description.
Today there is only one way to survive in the federal workplace: You must become known as the go-to and idea-generating person who works circles around others to provide value to your superiors. Your name must become synonymous with excellent, high-quality work. If you become known as someone who provides massive value, you will always be paid more and promoted faster. You will not have to look for opportunities; they will knock on your door and introduce themselves to you.
Add Value Every Day - the KSA way
If you want to stand out from your colleagues, you have to find a way to contribute value every work day. Your knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) in this area is critical because they are investments. But remember investments can either appreciate or depreciate.
That's why once you've learned a subject or a skill, you have to continually develop new ones. In order to stay competitive, you have to add to what you already know.
One way is by taking advantage of any training that your federal organization provides. Another way is by enrolling in some online courses, such as what you will find at Lynda.com. Or perhaps you can take a night class.
Some skills are absolutely essential to your fulfilling your peak potential. If you do not continue to develop those skills then you risk jeopardizing your career and financial goals. Knowledge is doubling faster than in years past, so you must be stubborn, doggedly so about increasing your skills.
Don't fall into the trap of saying I went to school and I have a degree. That's great if you did, but be aware that unless you keep current and up-to-date in your field, you will get left behind.
If you had to have surgery, would you want the doctor that only has his/her degree, but has never bothered to stay up-to-date on the latest advancements or would you want the doctor that says I can do the surgery, I have a degree I got 10 years ago. Me too! (I'm hoping you chose the former).
To succeed in life, you need leverage. Leverage is defined as the power to act effectively. You can show that you are acting effectively by learning as much as you can on a continual basis in your niche area. You need to have skill advantages over the next job candidate, that is your leverage in the workplace.
Prepare Now For Your Next Job
Whatever job you are doing now, you should be preparing for your next job. Don't get too comfortable. Always challenge yourself. Even if you are happy with the job you are in today, ask yourself, what would happen if my job was abolished today, what other department would I like to be in, what skills do I have?
In my federal organization, many of the top senior managers are nearing their eligibility for retirement. Not all those positions will be filled, but some will. You should start now to develop the skills you need to have, so that one day you can easily step into those shoes. That's what I'm doing.
Businessman Peter Drucker once said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Start now to create the future you want by preparing for your next job now.
Never Eat Alone
"You can get everything you want in life, if you just help enough other people get what they want," said late Zig Ziglar.
If you'd like to be promoted from a marketing specialist to an analyst, it may mean that you first have to build a new relationship with a key person in your organization. Oftentimes, it's not those who you know, but those who know you that are important in advancing your federal career.
Getting the job or obtaining the referral comes down to building relationships. The new currency today is relationships. But you must be sincere. You must truly want to help someone get what they want and then you will be able to get what you want.
So today, look to find what you can do to help others. Start building relationships and you will see how quickly you will be able to network yourself to a new job opportunity.
An excellent book that shines light on this topic is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi. In his book, Ferrazzi's describes his ability to connect with others and develop long-lasting relationships is based on generosity and helping friends connect with other friends.
It All Begins With Your Choice
There is a quote I especially love by High Point University President Nido Qubein that says, "For the timid, change is frightening, for the comfortable change is threatening, but for the confident, change is opportunity."
In order to grow and achieve what you have never achieved before, you must become someone you have never been before. Choose to become the person you were meant to be. Let your light shine, for when you do, you inspire others to do the same. Don't continue to play small.
Just think, next year, you will be somewhere. But where you end up will be determined by what you do every day up till then. Remember, for the confident, change is opportunity. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. Develop your competitive edge today.
P.S. If you were asked to state in one sentence or less what you do better than anyone else, could you? If not, now is the time to start preparing that statement. Decide on one area in your professional life that you want to be known for. Do everything you can to make yourself stand out from the crowd. If you do this, you will be paid more and promoted faster than all those around you.
I think this is such an important subject that I've written a book that talks more about the topic.