Now if you are really serious about getting ahead in your career and life, one of the most powerful things you can do is take the initiative or create an initiative at work. This sort of thing gets you noticed by people who matter...and there is very little competition when it comes to standing up to make a contribution above and beyond the call of duty. Let's look at some really simple but powerful ideas. So how does one get better at taking the initiative?
One of the easiest things to do is to grab onto an existing charity campaign such as the United Way or a Stop Cancer initiative. If your workplace already sponsors some sort of charitable event, then get involved and volunteer to help. If your organization isn't involved yet, then this is a great opportunity for you to start the campaign.
It is okay to start small, perhaps by volunteering to shave your head for donations to the cancer foundation for example. Just going from cubicle to cubicle telling people what you are doing and why and asking for donations will get you noticed. Ideally, others will want to join you and with a bit of support from your boss, you can create an organizational wide campaign! Quite often organizations will match donations as well, so this is something to ask for.
There is rarely a week that goes by (at least in North America) where there isn't a charity event of some kind going on. Now is the time for you, yes you to initiate some corporate contribution to the event.
Now if the organization is not interested in joining an existing campaign for whatever reason, you can start your own by keeping your eyes and ears open to what is going on around you. It is often easier to start a campaign when it is not going to be an annual event, such as an earthquake relief fund or flood damage relief fund etc. These are specific events that can be local, national or international and you - yes you - can do something to help those people in need.
This can be as simple as being a canvasser at your place of work, but be sure to check this out with your leadership first as some businesses have a no solicitation policy. This approach is the most basic and as a result the least likely to get you noticed.
The next level up is to do something for the money. This can be a marathon walk, or bike ride or some other activity where people can make a donation to support your activity. The benefit here is that you are actually doing something interesting beyond just collecting money. If you are a musician, how about playing your instrument for as long as possible in the lobby of your organization? You might arrange for a silent auction or have a draw for a prize that you donated such as an iPod. This will be a few hundred dollars well spent in terms of growing people's awareness of you and your commitment to others.
The most powerful initiative to take is one where you inspire others to not just contribute to but actually join your initiative. This can be a lunch time walk to raise awareness for some situation or circumstance or it can be "donate $5 and wear a funky hat to work" sort of thing. Imagine if 25% of the people in your office or factory showed up to work one day wearing funny hats! The first question out of people's mouth would be "What is with the hat?" and all of them would respond with, "Its Gord's initiative to raise money for the homeless. For $5 the company will allow you to wear whatever you want on your head for a day.". How simple is that? All it takes is the energy and initiative to do it!
Now of course your efforts do not have to be charitable in nature although there is extra goodwill associated with charity work.
It is also possible to initiate other more seasonal activities. For example, you could start a lunch time book club of business or leadership related books. Imagine a dozen or so people all reading the same book that you suggested and not only talking about it but also taking those learnings into their work and home lives? Powerful stuff - all as a result of your initiative.
There are always seasonal activities that are waiting to be suggested as well. This can be as simple as arranging for the singing of Christmas carols leading up to Christmas, to bringing in a Halloween or St. Patrick Day cake to share with your co-workers. There are many opportunities for creating an initiative that will be appreciated by others around you and that cost next to nothing and require only a bit of space and some paper posters put up in advance of the event.
Another great way of building powerful long lasting relationships at your place of work is to start a New Employee Orientation Club. This can be either with the support of Human Resources or in addition to whatever they offer. Ideally, they would sanction the event so that you could be made aware of who the new employees are and send them an email invite. Sometimes, privacy laws may preclude them from doing this but it is worth a try.
In essence, you create the opportunity for new employees to interact with some existing employees to learn the ropes and make new friends in your organization. This can be over a pizza lunch or a coffee and donut meeting in the morning before work starts - it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that you are extending a hand to new employees when they are still in the dazed and confused mode of their employment. What a great way of making new connections and get noticed!
The additional value in this approach is that not all new employees will remain in your organization. Say hello to a very powerful networking opportunity! As people leave your organization, be sure to stay in touch with them. You never know where those relationships may take you.
Another thing I have noticed in a lot of organizations where I have done work is how "siloed" they can be. The folks in Marketing rarely know what the folks in Accounting are doing who rarely know what the people in Operations are doing who rarely know what the people in Legal are doing etc.
Well - this is your opportunity to create a series of lunch and learns by inviting leaders from various departments within your organization to come to a lunch and learn and share a "day in the life of..." with other interested parties. Not only does this grow your profile with high level people in your organization, it also helps you to become better known throughout the organization as you interact with people from different silos. This is an easy and very powerful thing to set up. One word of caution is to make sure you do some interest building beforehand so that you are not the only person in attendance when the Senior Vice President of Marketing shows up to give his talk!
I have also seen organizations create lunch and learn series around topics of general interest, such as soft skills, conflict management, leadership models, and various aspects of operations, e.g. how does this company make money etc. The possibilities are endless and just waiting for you to Take The Initiative!