Why Quality Work Isn’t Enough To Get You Ahead

Why Quality Work Isn’t Enough To Get You Ahead

When I was a young designer, I always asked other people how they got noticed for their work. The answer I most consistently received was “do good work”. Now, when people ask me the same question, I respond with the same answer. Good work always speaks for itself. It’s a self-promoting robot.

Image remixed from Zurijeta (Shutterstock).

If you work in an agency or web department within an organisation, let’s shift that perspective from promoting your work to being considered for a promotion. Doing good work is a smaller part of the equation. My experience has demonstrated that most of the great opportunities go to people with magical attitudes. Maintaining a great attitude is far from automatic. It takes real skill to keep it positive.

While we largely deal in a world of computer interactions, it’s the personal interactions you have with your colleagues, peers, and managers that truly shape your destiny. The amazing grid structure you implemented, the engaging presentation you gave, or the sleek JavaScript you wrote won’t stick in people’s minds as much as the time you praised someone for an amazing effort or (gasp) threw someone under the bus to make yourself shine.

For better or worse, I’ve been in the position to influence the professional growth and development of many talented people. My experience is that people who achieve the most success share one or more of these qualities, in no particular order:

  • They are humble. Their success doesn’t consume them.
  • They are on time. On time for work, on time for meetings, on time for the train. They hate wasting their own time, and as a byproduct, anyone else’s.
  • They always appreciate what they have. And as a result, they usually get more.
  • They are universally respectful — to their friends, their boss, or to the person that makes their sandwich for lunch.
  • They don’t let work consume them.
  • They make sacrifices for the benefit of others.
  • They are patient.
  • They put in the extra effort when it’s needed, without any strings attached.
  • They resolve issues or conflicts directly.
  • They respectfully push back. It’s easy to push back. To do so with respect takes skill.
  • They trust their colleagues.

The truth is, I have hired people based on their attitudes alone, and it’s rarely been a bad move. People who have positive attitudes want to learn. People with great technical skills and lousy attitudes may find themselves combing through LinkedIn before they know it.

You know those passionate locker room speeches by sports coaches pounding the importance of winning attitudes in the heads of athletes? Yep, heard them a million times. But they’re not doing it to create drama. They’re doing it because they’ve learned firsthand what contributes to success.

I, for one, plan on making 2013 the year I take a step back and look at how my attitude is absorbed and affects the others around me. And I’ll adjust accordingly. And if you consider doing the same, you might be surprised by the doors that open for you.

Good work isn’t enough. [Happy Cog]

Greg is the CEO of Happy Cog, a boutique consultancy that designs and builds beautiful and highly usable digital experiences. Happy Cog’s clients include MTV, Zappos, Nintendo, Ben & Jerry’s, Thomson Reuters, and many of the world’s most prestigious colleges and universities. He has worked in interactive design since 1994, and has been managing teams for 15 years.


  • What about all those jerks, people who don’t respect others, are always late, and think being humble is a weakness?
    They tend to get the promotions? Or the ones who’s daddy is the boss, or near enough?

  • Research in the 1990’s showed that self promoters get ahead better than people who are actually good at doing their job (the self promoters are too busy promoting themselves to actually do much work).

  • Apparently social IQ is a much better predictor of how successful a person will be than traditional IQ – to simplify that ‘how smart you are is less important than how well you get along with others in determining how successful you’ll be’.
    In other words good work wont speak for itself.
    I’ve also worked in places (and the health industry has been the worst for this) where cliques dominate and how well you can get in with the dominant group determines your likelihood of success.

  • It is also not easy to get promoted in an organisation where all the higher ups are members of the same swingers scene. Might be ok if that is your idea of fun, not so much if it is not.

  • I have a mate who’s a hard worker, but fails miserably at number 1. Almost every time I see him he’s banging on about how awesome he is, but yet how under-appreciated and underpaid he is. Frankly, if I were his boss I wouldn’t want to promote someone so self-aggrandizing considering you’d have to put up with them trumpeting themselves all over the office even more than before.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!