5 bases every Professional needs to have covered to progress

As I sat on a plane this morning and read over a hundred emails I have received in the last few days, I noticed there are a lot of ‘how should I…’ and ‘what should I’ type of questions coming from you all. I have now distilled a lot of the answers I could give in to 5 things you need to be doing today which can transform your performance ‘on the job’, so take notice and if you want to go further then sign up for my free 3 day course but in the meantime you need to get these going:

1.  Start a ‘Business’

Create the ’ You’ business. Your business is your baby, you look after it, you are responsible for it, you decide it’s outcomes, not others like line managers and their appraisals, not the economy.

Only you.

This business of yours has traditionally been operations (i.e. do work at your desk) only but now you need a sales and marketing division. I.e. you are going to learn to sell yourself and selling yourself is not limited to finding new jobs, you’re always persuading others…

2. Learn to be more persuasive

Uncle Sam knows a thing or two about persuasion

Uncle Sam knows a thing or two about persuasion

Now I don’t mean learn the dark art of hypnosis and I don’t mean to imply you should read a book on ‘picking up chicks’ or ‘how to bag a husband’. In the professional world what works is not fancy shiny talk as you dazzle with your whitest smile. What you need is SUBSTANCE. The best way of doing this is of course doing your work but don’t be someone who just does what is expected of them, the real substance comes when you dig deeper in your work and find and effectively deal with problems that no one else can or will. And you do this by

  1. Taking action, progressing and getting some meaningful and measurable outcomes
  2. Communicating your progress effectively to the right people

Once you do this extra value add work and make sure the right people (I.e. senior leadership) knows what you have been up to, then you will become persuasive through a reputation for being a person of substance. Your opinions will hold greater weight and your personal motivations will get greater support. So forget about all the pop psychology and neuro linguistic programming you’ve read about. Nothing will ever replace substance as the ultimate in being persuasive. Make sure you do both parts.

3. Adopt a Growth mind set


As per step 1 you now operate a company and that company needs to improve in order to remain competitive and increase its profits. Growth is a process centred around continual improvement. Since I deal almost exclusively with professionals i.e. people who sit in offices and usually work in Banking, Finance, Energy, Telecommunications, Pharmaceuticals, Government etc. the growth aspects are very similar, mostly quite timeless and broad

By broad I mean that most professionals are for the most part problem solvers, having understanding and experience of your particular company/department/business/function etc is the first battle; beyond that everyone is some hybrid of analyst/project manager/subject matter expert. Part of growth is to begin to specialise during our career, so we converge to one or two areas of expertise built on a foundation of broad abilities.

Some key things that should be in every professional’s foundation are

  • Analytical work: Understand basic analytical techniques like SWOT and PEST. Be able to extract useful conclusions from looking at information/charts/tables etc
  • Understanding basic finances/budgets perhaps even knowing your way around a balance sheet
  • Requirements: Be able to elicit requirements through surveys, workshops and shadowing others
  • Excel: I deem it to be a skill in its own right because it’s so powerful at solving analytical, financial, and data oriented problems. But the icing on the cake is it’s ability to make someone or a department incredibly productive when you tap in to VBA and automation.
  • Micro Project Management:  See a project through to completion from perhaps putting across an idea to someone senior, getting it greenlit, engaging stakeholders to actually work on it, monitoring progress, reporting on it and closing it down. By Micro Project Management, I mean you’re not a dedicated PM but someone trying to get something done, i.e. a solve a problem
  • Manage Information: Companies now have more data than ever before and I’m just talking about small or local data i.e. HR data, budget data, project data, compliance reports etc, but you need to be comfortable managing it, that might mean logging things in Excel/Access but companies are investing in to content management systems like SharePoint which makes it much easier.

4. Improve your Communication


 Technically, communication could have been lumped with the list above of foundational attributes/skills you need to cultivate and it is, but such is its significance I saved it for its own section.

Everything you do is underpinned by communication. Get this wrong and you undo great work, get it right and it will accelerate your growth more than any one thing in the list above, let’s delve

  • Visual: I like the quote by Sam Ramsey, ‘dress for the job you want not the one you have ‘
  • Body Language: Exude confidence through good posture, whether sitting or standing, all the other stuff about gesturing and smiling is subjective but posture can’t be compromised
  • Public Speaking: Good public speaking skills are not limited to those who give a lot of presentations or speeches, this skill is useful for any interaction, holding attention in meetings to one on one with senior leaders. If you lack confidence here and don’t get opportunities to develop, I strongly recommend joining your local toastmasters
  • Emailing: This is absolutely crucial in the 21st The art of email at work is to be as succinct as possible without diluting your message. This is a whole book unto itself however I’ll leave you with the most important thing to think about when emailing and that is ‘Call To Action’ is king, by that I mean, the focus of your email goes back to persuasion, calling them to commit come kind of action, so make it compelling and succinct
  • Report writing: This is all about painting a picture or telling a story to influence stakeholders so interpret (or spin) your auditable facts and figures into commentary that follows the rules of persuasion and substance from above. All the while being as succinct as possible.

5. Be a Minimal Imposer

 You should make things very easy for people to complete; this is a big secret to getting things done. In order to get things done we need to get people to do what we want, but it’s another thing on their plate so you need to make your requests as dumbed down as possible so their input is minimal, ideally just essential stuff.  This is a big but often undiscussed method to getting the most from people; it goes a long way in effectiveness and productivity. It should always be a part of your checklist for interacting with others.

Equally, if you are offering your assistance i.e. to a senior leader then the worst way to offer is ‘let me know if there is something I can do’, it will often be met with, ‘I think we’re good, thanks’ or ‘sure, I’ll let you know’ both of which never materialise and you remain as unmemorable as you previously were.

Don’t just offer your help, frame it in some context and position yourself. i.e. ‘John, I’ve heard you are looking to get project X unstuck, well I know that the Developers are struggling to interpret requirements into specs, since I’ve done a lot of business analysis and am familiar with the data, I’m going go ahead and sit with the gang all week until we’ve got things flowing. I’ll report back next Tuesday unless we need your input.’ Now, that’s more way more meaningful than ‘Let me know if I can be of any help’, it shows that you have understood the problem, have familiarity with the data, you’ve positioned yourself as an expert (Business Analyst) and are offering to provide update.

That’s how you win over a senior influential leader.

About the Author Earn & Excel

Leave a Comment:

sifiso says December 9, 2015

Thanks for sharing if it possible can you please send me VBA software

    KV says December 10, 2015

    @sifiso, VBA is not a separate ‘software’.
    It is the programming language that comes bundled with all MS-Office applications.

Mucio Batista says December 9, 2015

Great advises Sohail! Totally agree with you. Thanks for this great article.

John says December 9, 2015

Sohail, I quit agree with you on all point except one, and that is the MBA. Remember, that your ability to comprehend, articulate, Analyse situation as you did requires a little training which MBA could offer you. I stand to be corrected because i thought of going for an MBA before i came across this piece of yours and i love it.

    Earn & Excel says December 10, 2015

    Hi John,
    I’m really glad you asked that because it’s a great point and yes, absolutely, you will learn some great things from from an MBA. Rather to respond in the comment, I’ve done an update above where I give my full explanation. Read here: https://www.earnandexcel.com/career/why-you-should-never-do-an-mba/
    Thanks again for the question and the kind words John

Pete says February 8, 2016

Hi Sohail

I think your article is “spot on” and great advice to people building a career.

I suspect I’m further along my career than you – I’m in mid 50s. This article is well observed advice, which took me a few decades to work out for myself!!

They’re all great rules, but I rarely see Rule 5 anywhere yet it’sd a huge learning point. I always impose where I can help and where I can benefit my company (that’s me – see Rule 1), but I also think from the other person’s viewpoint and keep the impact minimalist as you say.

I try to apply this rule to my emails as well. I use use a clear header such as “FOR INFO: Subject” or “ACTION PLEASE: Subject” and I use the very 1st line of the email as my “Bottom Line Up Front” summary, stating in a sentence what the email is for. I do this to maximise my chances of the response I’m seeking, but also to minimise my impact on their time.

Great blog Sohail. Keep it going! Cheers.

Sandra Pillay says March 8, 2016

Hi Sohail
Thank you for the information. this will be put to good use this will definitely benefit the company . this is great advise to progress in one’s career.
thank you , much appreciated

Bose says October 31, 2017

You are so right on the Toastmasters advice, I am now a member of my local toastmaster, really helpful

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