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The secret of success

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High performers focus on how they can make a difference, says Steve Keyes.

One of the standard career development assumptions of the past was that the “cream rose to the top”, that is the most capable people led and the rest of us followed. In today’s complex organisations and in the NHS we need smart, committed, adaptable people to drive results not just at the top but at all levels. In our fast-changing NHS, your value is determined less by your position and more by your contribution to service change and adaptability.

Scaling the organisational pyramid may have been the approach for people a generation ago. Today, the winners are those who focus their ability to make a difference. This is true for those in management or team leaders’ jobs and especially for those in “non-management jobs”. The people who excel are those who focus on developing their abilities to make a difference by expanding their influence and impact in the organisation.

In general, a person’s perceived value increases as they move through a number of stages throughout their career. If you want to remain a top contributor, change the way you contribute. But how do you do this? How can you become a high performer and what does that look like?

Tradition in most organisations holds that managers are entrusted with more formal influence because they are more valuable to the organisation’s success. However, some evidence suggests how you approach your job, almost any job, is a lot more important than your job title in determining your worth to the organisation you work for.

The challenge that we are all faced with at various times in our careers is moving from our technical area into a more stretching and broader role. You may think about this in terms of reaching the top of your pay band. Then your choice is whether to go into a more senior position or stick with what you have known such as your specialist/technical strength as a nurse.

Performance expectations change over time, and the key to staying highly valued is to know how and when to change the way you contribute. You need to know when to move from being perceived as a specialist and when to shift a gear in your thinking. This transition is more than simply applying for other jobs. It is a psychological shift in your whole approach.

You don’t have to become a “manager” to be highly valued. But you probably can’t stay focused on technical depth either. Your choice depends on your interests and values, and the types of work you enjoy doing and making intelligent trade-offs.

Steve Keyes is an organisational psychologist at Bradford District Care Trust. He has more than
15 years’ experience in talent management in consultancy and in-house within the public and private services sector. Expertise in selection and assessment, training and development, employee engagement, organisational change and coaching.

How to manage your career progression

  • Learn to work through others. This may happen because you take on a protege, or coach others in
    your area
  • Leverage your expertise by bringing others in on the work you do
  • Network all over your place of work - be a person that people can count on for information, resources or ideas
  • Be willing and available
  • Focus your attention on a broader technical and business perspective


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