How To Be A Star At Work: 9 Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed


"Do you know what it takes to be a star at work?  Robert Kelley has the answer." --Fast Company


  Find out what separates stars from average performers

  Learn how to be the top pick for the choice jobs

  Use nine star-performer strategies to become a member of the select "ten-for-one" club, with ten times the productivity of the average worker

  Find out how using the nine strategies enables you to out-perform people with supposedly ...

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"Do you know what it takes to be a star at work?  Robert Kelley has the answer." --Fast Company


  Find out what separates stars from average performers

  Learn how to be the top pick for the choice jobs

  Use nine star-performer strategies to become a member of the select "ten-for-one" club, with ten times the productivity of the average worker

  Find out how using the nine strategies enables you to out-perform people with supposedly better credentials

  New in this edition:  special insights for women and members of minority groups

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Editorial Reviews

Fast Company
Do you know what it takes to be a star at work? Robert Kelley has the answer.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812931693
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Edition description: Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 634,565
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert E. Kelley. Ph.D., teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and spent ten years "in the trenches" researching the personal and professional characteristics of star performers.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5: Initiative

...Initiative Or Initiative Lite?: A Work Skills Session

A key finding of our research showed striking differences in the way average performers and star performers defined initiative and ranked it in importance on our expert model. Put yourself in the following scene, taken from an interview with a star producer and his average coworker.

Caren, a production specialist for the past four years in an advanced-materials ceramics company supplying the auto industry, emerged from her annual performance review confused and angry. In her mid-thirties she had gone back to school to get a combined master of science/MBA degree and expected a higher evaluation than the previous year's. Yet she once again was rated "strong and consistent," the euphemism for average in the company's ratings. Yes, Caren's work was technically competent, even outstanding at times, her supervisor acknowledged. Yes, her work was completed on time and met the objectives. Yes, she had a good record for attendance and as a team player.

Frustrated, Caren asked her boss what more she could do to earn a higher rating.

"Technical competence can only take you so far, Caren. You need to show more initiative-that's key to being more than average around here."

But when Caren asked what kinds of initiatives were expected, her boss wouldn't offer specifics.

"You should try to be more like Gary," was all she offered.

Gary! Well, why not? Everyone in the office would like to have Gary's reputation, Caren fumed to herself. He was one of the department's stars, known for taking on the tough projects. In his late forties, Gary had most recentlyspearheaded the department's difficult but necessary transition into computer-assisted manufacturing technology. He had turned down promotions to the management track, he told surprised coworkers, because he preferred his product-related work to paper pushing.

Caren knew Gary outside the office through the company volleyball team. It was after one of the matches, as team members from the department settled around their usual table at their favorite pizza shop and pitchers of beer were set down, that the talk turned to work and to the performance reviews. There was the customary dumping on the system-what a farce the reviews were and how much reviewers and reviewees hated the ordeal.

"What I really don't like," Caren said, "is how unhelpful my supervisor is in telling me what to do differently." Heads nodded around the table.

Caren then recounted her boss's comments about taking initiatives. "The worst part is that I take lots of initiatives. I know it's important, but my boss acts like I'm clueless and she's Moses giving me the Ten Commandments." There was another round of sympathetic nods.

Then Gary spoke. "Tell us about one."

Caren didn't even have to think about it. She had done one recently that she was particularly proud of, she told the group. She had been assigned by her boss to attend a series of long, technically challenging meetings with another team and their managers, she told the group. After each meeting, she was to send a detailed summary to her boss and brief the rest of her team. Caren was worried that detailed note taking would get in the way of her participating and representing her team in discussions, so she decided to taperecord the meetings and take notes from the tapes later in the day. "After listening to the tapes, I was able to give a complete blow-by-blow report to my group. Taking the tape recorder was an important initiative."

Some around the table nodded in agreement, but Elena, another star performer, shook her head. "I'm not so sure."

"It most certainly was," Caren said defensively. "Taping the meeting allowed me to add important points without losing track of the information. I was much more productive for having done that," she said.

"It was a good idea, maybe, but it seems you were just doing your job," said Elena. "How you do your job is up to you. If you want to take notes, that's up to you. If you want to take a tape recorder or to rely on memory, it's all up to you. But doing your job is not initiative."

Elena's comments led to a spirited discussion about what constitutes initiative and what kind of initiatives count at their company.

"When I think of a great initiative," said Gary, "I remember the time Elena went to the productivity-and-quality conference even though her boss didn't see the point, since it was not directly related to her work. There were no travel funds in the budget, so Elena took vacation time and paid her own way. While she was there, she learned about Europe's new upcoming quality standard ISO 9000. These bidding requirements were to ensure higher quality raw materials, products, and processes-all designed to help improve European companies' competitive advantage in world markets. If supplier companies, like ours, couldn't meet it, they wouldn't be allowed to bid on European projects.

"Elena came back all jazzed up," Gary told the group. "So on her own time, she got up to speed on ISO 9000 requirements and introduced us to them in one of those brown-bag lunches. If this had been another top-down directive, we would have avoided it like the plague. But Elena has a good rep."

Elena said that getting her boss to sign on was another matter. She wasn't thrilled that Elena had gone to the conference without her support, and Elena knew the risk in doing that. But Elena said she was careful to follow up, sitting down with her to go over the benefits of getting ahead of the learning curve on Europe's ISO 9000 bidding specs. "She also volunteered to lead the effort in addition to her regular work assignment," said Gary. "Her boss had a hard time refusing that kind of commitment."

Upper managers were a harder sell, Elena told the group. They didn't believe the Europeans would ever agree on these new standards, let alone enforce them. After all, the United States had not set up national quality standards based on the Malcolm Baldrige Award criteria. But she kept working on the decision makers, sending relevant articles and writing memos to her boss about the benefits of being first. Finally, the company's top executives saw some concrete advantages and got behind it.

"Well, you all know the rest of the story," said Gary, filling his mug from the pitcher. "Europe is now our biggest customer, and our improved quality is attracting U.S. business as well."

Elena's initiative had all the critical ingredients—a willingness to move beyond her narrow job description, even the boss, to reach a goal that benefited everyone. Plus, she wouldn't give up.

Elena was dead-on correct about why Caren's boss would not see the tape recorder as a workplace initiative, and Gary's understanding of why Elena's initiative merits the label reinforces his star performer rating. Taking initiative involves more expansive thinking than going after ideas that make you more productive at your own job. If the ideas Elena picked up at the conference had only made her more productive, she still would not have reached the level of star initiative.

Not My Job: Living In The White Space

One of the foundations of American business in the twentieth century has been the job description, a document that proposes to detail the tasks and responsibilities of the person collecting a regular paycheck. But in the brainpowered workplace, job descriptions are becoming more of an anachronism each year.

Fewer and fewer positions are defined by what one person can accomplish in isolation. The increasingly complex, technically based products produced in our workplaces are beyond one person's knowledge capacity. Knowledge sharing and team interaction are essential.

Consider the telephone switches that connect your phone call to whomever you are calling. Every worker on that marvelous machine has a job description buried in a desk drawer somewhere, but the nature of the beast-so many gizmos, so many complex functions, so much sensitivity-requires a completely different orientation to the workplace. No engineer would be able to meet individual job description responsibilities without cooperation from colleagues.

Job descriptions are giving way to job spheres that can permeate other job spheres-think of them as soap bubbles-gently merging ideas, experience, and specific technical knowledge.

Taking initiative involves moving out of your own protective job description to bridge the spaces between job spheres. This bridging of spaces is more conventionally referred to as "managing the white space"—the areas poorly covered or not covered at all by job designations or the organizational chart (sometimes they're huge chasms). These white spaces exist in abundance in every organization, but the downsizing trend has caused them to expand. Brainpowered organizations are defined by white spaces, since so much is unknown-rapidly changing knowledge and technology, new competitors, and the impossibility of fully knowing what any job will eventually entail. To succeed, brainpowered businesses demand a workforce flexible enough to float from one job sphere to another.

When Kimby was hired as a human resources professional after completing her doctorate, her boss and colleagues had high expectations. They assumed she would fill in some of the white spaces created in a recent restructuring. But within the first few months, it became clear that Kimby took a very narrow view of her role. As a team in the department rushed to meet a tight deadline in developing a new training program, they asked her to take over the registration end of the program. Kimby balked at the request. It was clerical work, she said, not befitting the job description of an employee with a PhD. That didn't sit well with other team members, some of whom also had graduate degrees and job descriptions similar to hers.

In fact, coworkers noticed that Kimby only responded to assignments that came directly from her boss. Rather than becoming the sorely needed extra bridge across responsibilities, she was viewed as a stumbling block.

Those who willingly move out of their job description spheres to fill gaps are showing initiative. Yet our research offers an important qualifier: Stars don't let the job responsibilities that are specifically assigned to them slide in the pursuit of outside initiatives.

If the emergency room of a large metropolitan hospital has reported an alarming increase in the number of drug-addicted pregnant women brought in for treatment, the charge nurse does not put aside regular shift duties to take an initiative on the problem. His efforts to start a program to station drug counselors out in the waiting room close to the patients' families is done above and beyond the regular job sphere...

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Table of Contents

Part One:The Productivity Secrets Of The StarPerformers
Chapter 1: What Leads to Star Performance?
Chapter 2: Stars Are Made, Not Born
Chapter 3: Creating the Star Performer Model
Chapter 4: Questions from Interested Readers
Part Two:The Nine Work Strategies Of The Star Performers
Chapter 5: Initiative: Blazing Trails in the Organization's White Spaces
Chapter 6: Knowing Who Knows: Plugging into the Knowledge Network
Chapter 7: Managing Your Whole Life at Work: Self-Management
Chapter 8: Getting the Big Picture: Learning How to Build Perspective
Chapter 9: Followership: Checking Your Ego at the Door to Lead in Assists
Chapter 10: Small-L Leadership in a Big-L World
Chapter 11: Teamwork: Getting Real About Teams
Chapter 12: Organizational Savvy: Street Smarts in the Corporate Power Zone
Chapter 13: Show-and-Tell: Persuading the Right Audience with the Right Message
Chapter 14: Become a Star Performer: Making the Program Work for You
Part Three:Some Productive Last Words
Chapter 15: A Conversation with Women and Minority Employees: Useful Tips on Becoming Stars
Chapter 16: A Message for Managers: Productivity in the Brainpowered Economy
Chapter 17: Conclusion: The Rewards of Star Productivity
Appendix I: The Research Story Behind the Book: The Hunt for Higher Productivity
Appendix II: Resources for More Help
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2003

    Best Career Book Yet!

    This is the best book I have ever read for jumpstarting your career. I read it 3 years ago as a secretary and lent it to everyone I knew. Now I have to buy a new copy because someone didn't return it, and I need to re-read it in my new position as Administrative Manager. I suggest reading it every year or two to refresh your memory on these valuable techniques. Buy one for yourself but don't loan it out, or buy two copies so you have a spare!

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    Posted August 31, 2011

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