Career & Jobs

How Small Steps Can Lead To The Greatest Success

The job market is in turmoil, and unemployment is higher than it has been in years. While some may be furloughed, others are facing increased demands making them busier than ever. Still others report their job feels at risk, and some are re-building their careers in the wake of job shifts.

Now is the time to create career resilience, and the best way to do that may be unexpected: Do small things really well. Set aside your need to get noticed and your craving for the spectacular project. Surprisingly, it’s often the little efforts that make the biggest career impact.

Why Small Matters

For success at work, small things matter more than you might think.

First, you must perform well—regularly. People have short memories, so you must be good all the time. Your brilliant project from last year or the insights that made all the difference in last month’s meeting are great. But don’t spend too much time patting yourself on the back because those accomplishments quickly become old news. Embrace opportunities to perform well over and over again. Small things become big things when they accumulate over time. Set yourself apart by being consistent, dependable and the person who can always be relied upon for great results.

As you shift your attention from seeking big moments to focusing on doing small things, consider the power of a flywheel. A flywheel is a mechanical device that helps drive all kinds of machines—most notably cars. It works because after you get it going, it supplies energy to other parts of a machine. Making intentional, incremental effort creates a flywheel of impact. You put small effort into something to establish your value and then keep feeding your positive reputation by continuing to do things well. This, in turn, feeds the overall success of your career.

What To Do

So, what does small look like in your career?

Contribute within your area of responsibility. To make your career resilient, make sure you’re focusing on the demands of your current work. Don’t make the mistake of putting all your attention on the opportunity you want next and lose energy on your current performance. Your suitability for your next move will be judged based on today’s performance, so ensure you’re providing basic care and feeding your current role.

Take initiative. Watch for small ways to improve over time. Perhaps you can find a more efficient way to do your work or maybe you can contribute new ideas to a co-worker’s challenging project. Always be watching for the next idea or opportunity to improve. Even if your contributions aren’t earth-shattering, if they add value consistently, leaders and colleagues will appreciate them.

Demonstrate discipline. Show you’re paying attention to the details. Show up at meetings—virtual and face-to-face—on time. Follow up on tasks and deliver on your commitments. Disciplined action is a paradox because when you’re doing it well, it won’t get much notice, but if you fail to follow through, people will think less of your performance overall.

Build your network. Demonstrating empathy through small behaviors will be critical to your success. When people trust you, value you and appreciate their relationship with you, they’ll be more likely to support your career growth. Small things like asking questions and listening build connections, and little efforts like demonstrating gratitude have great impact on your relationships.

Manage moments. Do your best to avoid negative behaviors. Small things can have a big impact on how people judge your capability. If you lose your cool in a conflict or if you say something hurtful, even if these happen on a limited basis, they can be damaging. Before firing off an angry email, wait a few hours or sleep on it. Manage yourself so you don’t make an off-the-cuff statement you will regret. People tend to remember negative actions and how your behavior influenced them. Avoid even small lapses where you’re not your best.

Portray character. Perhaps greatest of all, small behaviors over time show who you are as a person and as a professional. People will tend to distrust you if you demonstrate inconsistent behaviors, so predictability enhances trust. In addition, how you behave day-in and day-out shows how you think, what you value and who you are at your core.

Of course, no one is perfect, but small efforts can have a big effect on your career. So, do your best. Contribute within your area of responsibility and take initiative to improve things around you. Demonstrate discipline and build your network by embracing empathy. Avoid losing your cool and portray character by doing small things well over and over. Career resilience is critical—and small efforts can pay off in big ways—especially when so much is at stake.

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