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How to Succeed at Work - Professional Intelligence
THE 21 PRINCIPLES [IF HUIII Tﬂ SUCCEEI] AT WORK
6 PAULA JAEU 9
THE 21 PRINCIPLES [IF HIII TI] SUCCEEU AT WORK
Paula Jago has spent 20 years working in the Creative Industry, with a
successful career running businesses of varying proposition, and managing
talented people of varying disciplines. As an expert in SME Business
Operations; her ﬁrst love is the People who work for those Operations.
Paula calls her approach ‘Professional Intelligence’. This book contains the
21 Principles of being Successful at Work; a summarised digest of
mentoring directives and workplace behavioural insight that you can keep
to hand should you feel in need of guidance at any time.
They are pragmatic yet proven, and each and every one has the potential
to positively affect your career, and also the success of the Company you
work for (the two go hand in hand after al| !).
Employing the Principles of Professional Intelligence will change your
approach to work forever.
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Understand how your Employer makes money
Be part of the solution not the problem
Read between the lines, and listen with all senses
Play the Long Game
Write concisely and never reply in anger, or via
Don't get caught up in other people's battles
Making no decision is worse than making the wrong one
If it's a big conversation, have it face to face, and
Never challenge or undermine anyone in front of others
Like everyone, but don't expect to be liked by everyone
Learn to take a telling off
Manage your online reputation
Treat your role as a podium, not a destination
Always have a plan, even if you end up not following it
Unless you are expressly told ‘No’, assume it's a ‘Yes’
Seek out/ employ people who are better than you
Don't put your boss in an awkward position over your
Consultation is the shortcut to adoption
In chaos lies opportunity
Take every opportunity to present
Expectation Management is the secret of life
Understand how your Employer
This may sound obvious, but do you really know how the Business you
work for makes its money?
Irrespective of your job function or seniority, one of the keys to
empowering yourself to progress your career is a true understanding of
what the business delivers, and where the proﬁt margins are made
If you are employed by a business, however large, it means you have an
identiﬁed part to play in the generation of the Company's proﬁt — ﬁnd out
what it is — ask the question, and seek out the people who can show you
the numbers. Then translate that back to your role — what are the key
functions of your job that directly inﬂuence the ability of the Business to
Then focus on them and do them well — I can guarantee it will be noticed,
and often by the person you least expect.
Know where the money is.
Be part of the solution,
not the problem
The way you approach your time at work is critical to your short term
wellbeing as well as your long term career success. So many factors can
have a negative impact on your day to day experience at work, including
lack of infrastructure, weak management, inadequate processes and
ofﬁce politics. You may feel that you are not being managed well, or that
the way the business is set up prevents you from doing yourjob to its
Over time, this will build up and you may ﬁnd yourself becoming
increasingly frustrated, resulting in you pushing back against people
senior to you, or against the business as a function. Both of these
responses are quite natural, but they are not the path to career success;
you are effectively becoming part of the ’problem’.
If you are suffering, in all likelihood so are the people around you,
including the person you report to, and the person they report to.
The key is to make yourself part of the solution —this could be part of your
managers solution, part of your team's solution or part the business’
solution — in most cases they are all linked, and in all cases, your
so| ution—| ead approach will be appreciated and, importantly; recognised.
Read between the lines, and listen
with all senses
Corporate communications can be difﬁcult to digest — you may ﬁnd
yourself listening to, or reading a communication from the Business you
work for that immediately frustrates you as it doesn't reﬂect or address the
issue as you know it. That's because the issue as you know it probably sits
between the lines, and the Business is unable to address it more
speciﬁcally as it would make itself vulnerable to legislation
This is equally true of communications that happen day—to—day in the
working environment. As people move through the ranks, they have to
address wider, more variable audiences, and therefore become more
corporate in the way they speak and communicate in order to protect
themselves from the increasing variables of interpretation.
The key is to read between the lines — extract the information that is
relevant to you, and draw further insight from the way the information is
delivered — if it's delivered verbally, watch the body language ofthe person
speaking, and if the forum invites questions, don't challenge the person in
front of others — ask for clariﬁcation ofﬂine.
Play the Long Game
It's very easy to focus your own careerjourney on the person who is in the
role directly senior to yours. Whilst this is important in the short to
mid—term, especially if the person above you is inspirational and high
performing, it can also cause unexpected disruption to your own career —
that person is not necessarily a given in your World — they will have their
own career plan and, if they are talented and great in their role, you can
assume they won't be in that speciﬁc role in the long term — they will be
promoted or move to a more senior role elsewhere.
Be very careful about taking a sideways move just because you interpret
that the person directly above you is so good that they will never leave —
quite often the opposite is true, so be patient and learn as much as you can
from them in the meantime.
Also make it clear to them in your appraisal that you ‘technically’ want
their job — a good manager should not take this as a threat, but will take
this ambitious statement as a positive thing and will help you to get there.
The other more obvious application of the ‘Long Game’ is to remember
that you have a long working life and it's a surprisingly small World.
Someone more junior than you may one day be more senior, and vice
versa, and todays colleague or supplier may be tomorrows Client, so be
sure to treat all relationships with grace.
Write concisely and never reply in
anger or via other platforms
The written word is indelible. it may also deliver the ﬁrst impression that
someone has of you. Make an effort with everything you write, on
whatever platform — presentation decks, emails, instant chat.
Try and take the ‘less is more’ approach with workplace communications —
edit your writing and ensure the content, purpose and audience of the
article is considered and politically correct. Be very careful with BCC —
apart from the obvious implications should it get rep| y—al| ’d by the person
you have BCC‘d it to, never write anything that may come back to haunt
you should it be put in the wrong persons hands.
importantly — never scribe a work—based article whilst angry, upset or
partially informed. it can be cathartic to draft it, but then save it and sleep
on it before you decide whether to send it in written form. These
responses are often better delivered verbally.
However tempting, never respond to a work place situation via public
platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter or a blog.
Don't get caught up in other
if a colleague is mid-battle, it's easy to get swept into the ﬁring line. it may
be on moral grounds, personal interest orjust the fact that you are friends
with them and want to support their ‘cause’.
Whatever the situation, you can be sure that it is being observed by senior
stakeholders. Employee battles, ofany nature, nearly always cause damage
to the business, so it will be on the radar of senior colleagues who will
monitor it until such a time that they will step in to prevent damage to
Your position at that time will be vulnerable and there is rarely a case
whereby it will be seen in a positive light from a career progression point
Of course, the exception to this is when you adopt the peacemaker
approach, which is a tricky activity as you divide loyalties between your
colleague and the Company you work for — it takes conﬁdence,
pragmatism and leadership to act in this role — qualities that those
observing senior stakeholders will recognise and take note of.
Making no decision is worse than
making the wrong one
Active decision-making is one of the core behaviours of successful people.
It's also quite rare. Having the conﬁdence to make big decisions demands
a combination of knowledge of subject matter, experience, consultation
and risk analysis.
Big decisions trip many a senior person up — they get torn between the risk
analysis and the potential beneﬁts afforded by the decision, and none are
trickier than when it puts the interests of the Company's human capital up
against the interests of the business capital. The reality is if no decision is
made, both will suffer.
This is the case for most workplace decisions, so start practising early.
Gather as much information as possible, consult the people with relevant
input, ensure you understand the risks, and then take ownership of making
if you have consulted the right people, the contingency will automatically
be in place to manage the fallout if it turns out to be the wrong decision —
just make sure you respond quickly and change approach before too much
damage is done — and ask for help!
On balance, the ‘wrong decision’ is far less damaging than ‘no decision’.
And remember, if it turns out that was the wrong decision — you'll have
If it's a ‘big’ conversation, have it
face-to-face, and straight away
As you move through the ranks at work, the event of having to manage
‘big’ conversations becomes a more regular one. They are more frequent
if you manage a team of people, but also crop up when managing any
nature of relationship; client, supplier, legislative etc.
in the event of a big conversation being necessary, which is generally
related to either personal behaviour or commercial activity, try to ensure
that you have it face—to—face and as immediately after the event as
possible. Don't save it up for weeks so that you can deliver it for the ﬁrst
time in a deﬁned feedback forum such as someone‘s appraisal or
Most importantly, don't deliver the feedback, or parts of it, to the recipient
within an open forum, or in ‘public’ i. e. on the ﬂoor in the ofﬁce or in a
team meeting. Do it face to face and in private.
Needless to say, if you feel the ‘big’ Conversation needs to be delivered
upwards, organisationally speaking, think very carefully about the impact
this will have on the person/ people you are delivering it to in terms of your
own career progression, but equally, the same rules apply— do it in private,
face—to—face. Also deploy the ‘being part of the solution’ approach, as
broached in Principle 2.
Never challenge or undermine
someone in front of others
Effective partnering of Emotional intelligence with good Decision-making
is another key behaviour of successful people — it is a shortcut to team
management and will be identiﬁed as a valuable skill in any organisation.
in general ofﬁce conditions, be very self—aware when it comes to
challenging your colleagues, and never undermine them in front of others
— regardless of their behaviour, or of the subject matter.
This is especially relevant if there are also external stakeholders such as
There is nothing positive to be gained from undermining someone — it is
weak behaviour that can be perceived as arrogant and thoughtless — 2
qualities that are not conducive to being picked out as a future star of the
Company or indeed a good Manager of people.
Like everyone, but don't expect to
be liked by everyone
We have a basic human need to feel liked and appreciated, and it's
important to be aware of your personal level of requirement in this matter.
You will spend your working life occasionally meeting people you don't like,
for one reason or another, and it's useful to be able to park these feelings
at home before leaving for the ofﬁce.
The ability to consistently appear to like people, regardless of your most
inner feelings is one of the more useful smoke and mirrors behaviours that
you can deploy to further your career. If you are seen as pragmatic and
diplomatic when challenged by a difﬁcult or unlikeable personality, senior
stakeholders will pick you out as a key relationship builder and maintainer
— a problem solver.
Equally, as you climb the career ladder and take on more challenging
decisions and governance activities, you will experience the inevitable; the
feeling that certain people don't like you.
The way to reconcile this in your mind is to always approach things on
behalf of the Business — if you are able to do this with integrity, then you
will not suffer from the conﬁdence—damaging feelings that come with the
occasional experience of recognising that someone dislikes you as a result
of your activity in your role.
Learn how to take a telling off
For the majority of us, getting told off is one of the most difﬁcult events to
experience in the workplace. it's embarrassing, humiliating and, sadly, is
often mismanaged by the person delivering the feedback.
There are many elements to consider here.
Assuming the telling off is deserved (and you'll know this deep down,
however much your initial instinct may tell you to defend yourself), you
need to ﬁnd a way to accept the feedback and move on without feeling like
it's a terminal event, and, importantly, without it damaging your
Be aware that the person who has had to deliver that feedback to you,
whether it's your Manager or other senior stakeholder, will probably be
having a hard time too — it's nearly as difﬁcult delivering negative feedback
as it is receiving it — most Managers would have had a period of anguish
whilst they decide how to handle the situation.
Ensure that it's notjust a telling off, but that you have taken away lea rnings
from the event — make sure the person delivering the feedback is also
delivering the insight into how it should have been done correctly and
offers all support necessary to prevent a reoccurrence of the situation.
Take it on the chin.
Manage your online reputation
if it's written online, it's there forever.
The digital age has been upon us for several years now, so there's really no
excuse when it comes to managing your online proﬁle. Consider yourself a
‘brand’ — your reputation can be damaged by the slightest faux pas, and
actually destroyed by the more signiﬁcant ones. We are in the age of
people losing their jobs due to inappropriate activity online, either whilst
in the ofﬁce or at home.
This comes back to playing the Long Game. ifyou tweet, blog, comment on
forums or update your status on social networks, stop for a second and
think about what your Manager would think if they read it, and how it
would be perceived. Then think about how the owner of your Company
would perceive it in respect of your future career aspirations.
Look beyond today; think of your online presence as your own ‘brand’ and
act accordingly online.
Also remember that your brand could potentially be damaged by the
inappropriate behaviour of someone with the same name as you — learn
the basics ofSEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to help neutralise
Be smart online.
Treat your role as a podium,
not a destination
if you can adopt this mantra, the sky is the limit in terms of career
progression. There is not a role in existence that belongs at a ‘destination’
(whereby you consider yourself to have ‘arrived’, with no tangible onward
activity required), although the majority of people treat it as such.
Seniority in its very essence is about driven, incremental practise of
business—related activity — increased authority, autonomy, budget size,
decision—making powers and the ability to make a difference; these are all
‘podium’ activities — you are there because you have the experience and
merit to be handed these powers — the Business expects you to stand up,
practise them, deploy them, and use them to full effect; with the end
result of the business making more money.
ifyou treat your newly acquired place as a team leader/ management team
member/ board member as a destination, you won't be there for long.
Whereas treat it as a podium, and the awards will follow.
Stand up and make a difference.
Always have a plan, even if you
end up not following it
This may sound like a cliche, but you'd be surprised how powerful it is, and
how often it's neglected. When it comes to activity at work, always have a
plan — it provides focus, mitigates risk, ensures the right people are
involved at the right time, and also helps to provide early metrics that can
be used to measure future successes and failures.
Success is rarely achieved alone, and the very process of building a plan,
even if it's scribbled in the back of a drinks mat, helps to rationalise the
idea and identify potential opportunities and problems early on — before
the investment of time and money starts.
The mere event of sharing and publishing your plan, by whatever means,
in the workplace also stamps your name in the ‘Ownership’ box — another
opportunity for you to raise your head above the crowd when it comes to
Unless you are expressly told ‘No’,
assume it's a ‘Yes’
Everyone suffers now and then from the procrastination of others.
For example; you have a good idea, do the due diligence on it, combine it
with your experience of the subject matter and submit it for consideration
by your manager or senior stakeholder. You then hear nothing in response.
So you resubmit it and the reply comes back as a non—committa| fuzzy
response that says neither “Yes” nor “No .
There are myriad reasons for this — they may not fully understand the idea
(but don't want to admit it), or they may have other things on their mind
and haven't had time to apply to making a decision. However, if there was
a signiﬁcant reason for you not to do it, you can generally rely on the fact
that you would have received an explicit “No” very quickly after your
Be brave; if you've had a good idea, want to try it and haven't been
expressly told “No”, assume it's a “Yes" and go for it. Let the procrastinator
know in advance that you're going to give it a go (allowing enough time for
them to get with the program and deliver the explicit ”No” as a
Seek out/ employ people who are
better than you
The application of this theory changes as you yourself become more
senior. From the ﬁrst day of your working life, seek out the people who
know more than you, have more experience than you, and who know
people you don't. People tend to be generous with their time and
knowledge if they know that your interest is genuine.
Always ask if you don't know something — don't consider it a weakness,
regardless of your role or positioning. Carve out a team of people who act
as your mentors and as you become more senior yourself, pay it back with
acquiring a set of mentees.
On the ﬂip side, don't be a protectionist yourself — be generous with your
proven experience, time and knowledge.
As you reach hiring manager status, employ people who are smarter than
you, or who have deeper knowledge or experience in a given discipline
than you — they will be your platform for the C—suite, after all.
Be genuine and generous.
Don't put your boss in an awkward
position over your personal life
How many people do you know who have great jobs. ... and an absolutely
chaotic private life? Many, I bet.
in fact, you may even be one of them. Try not to let the two Worlds collide
in your workplace. The art of managing people takes lots of experience and
many Managers are still learning to employ the tools of professional
man—management in the workplace. The introduction of elements from
people's private lives to the workplace can cause problems for even
seasoned Managers, and if you do not manage the distinction between
your two Worlds appropriately, it can therefore potentially damage your
if you have a private issue that is affecting your ability to perform at work,
tell your Manager discretely and, where possible take the solution with you
to that conversation — ambiently reassure them that it will not require
them to compromise their position as your Manager, but equally appeal to
their emotional intelligence to ensure you receive the support that you
require to navigate the situation.
Consultation is the shortcut
This is one of the basic components of ‘Change Management’ techniques,
but it's a really useful approach for many workplace situations.
When you are planning to roll out a new process, template, workﬂow,
policy or ‘way of working’, it will be a much smoother exercise if you take
the time to identify and consult all of the key stakeholders who will be
affected by the change. if you let people have their say early on, and
ensure to address their input along the way, they will automatically
become part of the adoption framework. if you leave them out, and then
try and roll it out to them, they are more likely to become blockers.
This does not mean that you try and please everyone by taking their
‘consultation’ as ‘direction’ and attempt to apply it to your output just to
keep them happy — remember that you own the activity, and make sure
that you go through a process of validation of the input — delivering the
rationale in respect oftheir feedback in advance of the roll out.
it is rare that one person can stand in the middle of the room and impart
change — it has to be done using the positive involvement of the key
stakeholders as a col| ective. ... then you have a much stronger chance
In chaos lies opportunity
Aside from acute chaos, which is caused inevitably by a standalone fail
event and requires disaster recovery activities to mitigate, the most
common cause of chronic chaos in the workplace is lack of ownership.
This lack of ownership can be the result of a variety of elements: poor
business architecture, lack of infrastructure, inadequate or incompetent
management, an inappropriate organisational structure, incorrect
processes, inadequate systems. ..the list can go on and on.
Chronic chaos presents a formidable opportunity to the discerning career
builder. identify the glaring spaces that are un—owned — it will normally be
a point of absent or underserviced governance, process, or management,
then grab it and make it yours. Build your portfolio of ownership and you
will by default redeﬁne your role and it can only be in the
This draws off the ‘be part of the solution’ approach, but it's more speciﬁc
to chaotic working environments. The natural response to such workplaces
is to get drawn into the chaos; this results in stress, seemingly
unmanageable workloads and eventual exhaustion.
Instead, keep your head whilst everyone else is losing theirs; see the wood
for the trees and use it to your advantage by taking control where there is
none — it can only result in positive progression.
Take and make every opportunity
Being able to present well is critical to progression to the C-Suite. it's a skill
that for most can take years to perfect and even the seemingly most
seasoned presenters generally suffer from anxiety leading up to a
There are lots of techniques that need to come together to present well —
far too many for a little book like this, but get in early in your career — take
every opportunity to present to other people — start with a small number
of familiar faces and build up to team, department, company level before
setting foot in the outside speaking domain and giving a keynote.
Two important tips — write your own presentation, and tell a story. If you
write it, you won't forget it, and the art of Storytelling underpins every
Present, Present, Present!
Expectation Management is the
secret of life
This is the biggest piece of advice in the book, so I've saved it for last.
Expectation Management is accessible and applicable to every person, in
every job, in every sector, at every level of seniority. it's scalable, easy to
deploy and has far reaching effects on everyday life — at work, and also at
home. Make yourself easy to live with by being clear about your
expectations and by respecting other people's needs. Apply this to every
activity, but for example;
if you ask for something to be done, be exact about what you expect and
when you want it done by.
if you are going out, be clear about when you'll be back.
if you expect a response, ask for it.
If you request a piece of hardware, be clear about the spec.
And remember it also works in reverse:
if you promise something, deliver it.
An expert in SME Business Operations, Paula Jago has spent 20 years
working in the Creative Technology industry, forging a successful career
running businesses of varying proposition, and managing talented people
of a range of disciplines.
In an approach she calls ‘Professional Intelligence’, this ﬁrst book in the
series focuses on the 21 Principles of How to Succeed at Work. it is a
summarized digest of mentoring directives and workplace behavioral
insight drawn from her extensive experience, and proven time and again in
the working environment.
The Professional Intelligence Series’ objective is to put a mentor in every
pocket — if you are a Business Leader, give this book to your team — it will
transform the culture of your Company and foster a happy,
high—performing, successful team of people.