When working with managers and executives in a coaching relationship, I’m often struck as to how naïve some are to the realities of the day-to-day operating on the job and the politics of the workplace.

All too often people tell me how many hours they work and about all the effort they expend. They’ll dwell on the amount of the stress they “put up with” or the incompetence or lack of involvement they experience with their bosses. Most are challenged to detail the value they bring to the job and the organization. Resumes are often full of dates and responsibilities, rather than skills and outcomes.

Let’s make it clear, hiring managers want to know what you can do, how fast you can get up to speed, and how it will make their job easier and get them noticed. Often the position you have accepted has been open for way too long. There is a backlog of work. The hiring manager may have had to pick up the slack and dreams of delegating it to you. That’s why skills are essential to the interview discussion and intrinsic to the manager’s decision making. Keep in mind, many skills are also assumed. I assume everyone entering the contemporary workplace can send an e-mail with an attachment. I’d worry if someone stressed that, or worse, placed it on their resume. In fields such as finance and accounting, a high level of data management skills is assumed. When it comes to analytical modeling, many companies are now requiring a real time sample to be presented to insure the skills level is up to par or better. This is all before you get to a final interview. It’s skills, skills, and more skills.

Very quickly into a job your skills become just a part of what you do. Maybe you’re better than most and that’s great but people don’t spend a lot of time talking about or praising them. The shift quickly focuses on results. How quickly can you produce quantifiable, sustainable results? Are you making the organization money, saving them money, making things more efficient or bringing them new ideas and/or prestige? If you can’t answer that question, you should really take a serious look at your role, your personal branding and marketing, as well as perceived and real value.

The strangest part of the hire, sustain, fire trio is many employees think hard work keeps you employed. At lower levels it probably does because productivity is the name of the game and the level of contact and influence is limited. Rise through the ranks and you will find a dramatic shift. It has more to do with you working into the mix, the chemistry, the culture, the “way we do things around here.” Not to say you can’t be different or even controversial, but it does mean there is a way “we” operate that counts.

I often talk about the “know, like, trust, factor.” Stakeholders must know you exist and who you are within the confines of the appropriate work information. They must also “like” you. In the office this generally means there is a comfort level, a sense of identifying with and intrigue with you. No question, there is tremendous opportunity for exclusion and discrimination, intentional and unintentional, but it is rarely addressed and the onus to fit in mostly rests with the employee. A match can be as simple as having a cursory knowledge of the world of sports or pop culture. It involves the things people chat about before the meeting gets started, over drinks after the conference, and before the plane takes off that say, “we get one another.”

Trust is the final piece of this chemistry building part of the career puzzle. I hope it goes without saying that you never want to place yourself in a position where your integrity or honesty is or should be questioned. The trust I speak of has to do more with the politics than the ethics. Can you be trusted to deliver, on time and with high quality? Are you a gossip or saboteur looking out only for yourself? Trust also has to do with loyalties and defending people and positions. Can I rely on you to have my back in challenging times? Will you stick with the team and support the organization even when it’s not comfortable or easy? And, finally, am I connected with the right regime, the golden child, the family member, or the mindset and shifts that happen within every group?

Far more executives and managers find themselves jobless because of this lack of chemistry than those fired for a lack of skills or results. Is it fair? Probably not. Is it reality? Yes.

So what can you do to make sure you have the skills, results, and chemistry piece working for you?

  1. Keep skills current and enhanced. Never assume you know enough.
  2. Share your skill set with others. It’s a way to network, brand yourself, and practice what you know. You also never know who will rise to what, when.
  3. Remain vigilant about results and focused on outcomes that are most important to your position, your team, and the organization. Brilliant work in a minor area is often unrecognized and forgotten.
  4. Get your special signature on all of the work you do. Develop a style of formatting, phrasing, and delivering that no matter who presents the material, everyone knows it’s yours.
  5. Do a power survey. Step back and analyze who really are the powerbrokers, the influencers. Who has access? Who is out of favor? Where are shifts occurring? Are you too associated with an individual for your own good?
  6. Network and manage up. Make your boss a star. Encourage your supervisor to introduce you to his/her bosses. Volunteer to be a part of multi-discipline, multi-level teams. Know the names of all the senior players even if your only contact is reading the annual report. Remain current with what outsiders are saying about your leaders and the company’s future.

Yes skills are important, but primarily they get you hired. Results are what keeps you working and gets you promoted. And, when times get tough or shifts occur, it is the chemistry that gets you chosen and keeps you in good stead.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.