How to sidestep office hierarchy to get the job you want

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A lot of you know you’d like to be doing something more significant for your company, but no one is giving you the chance. This is your wake up call. You don’t need to wait for someone to bestow a title on you — you can take on a bigger role right now.

The key to taking on a bigger role is to have your current job under control. If you can’t handle your current job and another one, then you have to wait until you can change jobs. But if you get great at time management then you can do your current job and start doing another one without waiting for an invitation to climb up a rung on the corporate ladder.

Once you’re ready to take on other, more interesting work, you can use this three-step process to sidestep hierarchy.

1. Find a problem area in the company that no one is dealing with.
When I was in charge of online marketing at a software company. I knew that I wanted broader, operational experience, but it wasn’t part of my job description. So I got my marketing workload under control and then looked around for a trouble spot in the organization that no one was paying attention to.

I found tech support. The people were poorly trained, it was a huge cost center, and the company was growing at a rate that meant this problem would increase by 300% over the next year.

2. Come up with a solution you think you can execute.
I wrote a report that showed the problem and I outlined a detailed solution, with a timeline. I had no idea how to manage tech support. I outlined the solution by listing best practices that I got out of a management textbook, and my schedule was as broad as possible.

My boss was happy to give me responsibility for tech support because no other managers wanted it and he didn’t have budget to hire a new manager. But he didn’t change my title. He just said, “Okay, you can do that. Thanks.” No formal announcement.

3. Convince a team to help you.
I gathered up the three tech support people and explained to them that I understood their problems – being overworked, having no supplies, having constantly breaking products to support, etc. I told them I would help them fix these problems. They liked that, so they got on board to help me.

Then, before they could start doubting my ability to manage tech support, I asked each of them what they wanted from their job. Each had different answers. One wanted more money to support his daughter, one wanted management experience, one wanted less stress on the job. I made a plan to show how each of them could meet those goals.

The outcome: By the end of six months, I had done such a good job turning around tech support, that my boss gave me seed money to start my own company.

This last part is very important. When you are looking around your company for something new to do, don’t look for the perfect, dream job. Look for a job that will let you grow and show people how talented you are. This is the kind of situation that leads to huge opportunity.

5 replies
  1. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    I like this post but you left out a critical part – could you explain how did boss ended up giving you money to start a company?

    All of my employer have been nothing like that. Basically, they just want people to take on more work and responsibility without providing any extra compensation or appreciation.

    Your post assumes that hard work and initiative will be rewarded. Sadly, in many organizations it is not.

    * * * * * *

    Well, you bring up a good point that I do leave out details in the story. But really, I got startup money from the CEO because I chose a good person to work for and I did a great job.

    We are not in a tight job market today. In most cases, you do not need to continue working for people who do not appreciate you.


  2. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Thanks for responding..I love your blog. And my employers usually appreciate me. Just doesn’t mean they want to fork over any more money for me.

    I see you worked in some kind of business management before becoming a columnist? That, I assume, put
    you in the position to increase profits. Usually there is indeed a reward in that. There is less likely to be a reward in
    jobs that have no impact on the bottom line.

    * * * * * * *


    Thank you for this comment. It was the reason I decided to write this post about line managers vs. support staff.


  3. Tom Morgan
    Tom Morgan says:

    Great post Penelope. You provide a great recipe for success because all managers love self starters that solve problems for them.

    One normally does more before they get more.

    Too many of my colleagues complain about a situation and then say they would fix the problem if only they were given the authority.

    If they followed your advice they could volunteer to solve the problem.

  4. Mark Johansen
    Mark Johansen says:

    I work for a small company which just moved into a new building owned by the company. Everything, after 8 months, is in place except the weight room. It’s the only room that would benefit everyone, and yet has no equipment in it and is being used as storage.

    I’m going to seek a budget, get a few co-workers, clean out that room, and stock it with exercise equipment.

    Thanks Penelope.
    Mark – Louisville, Ky.

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