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Is It Phony to Adapt to Your Environment?

A businessman wearing a surgical mask in front of a window.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

My friend and I graduated six years ago from the same school with the same major and GPA. We currently work for very similar companies. I know him well, and we're very similar in skills and commitment, but he is light years ahead of me professionally.

We were at the same SHRM conference a few months back, and I saw him in a new light. My friend seemed to have invented a completely different professional persona: He was different in the way he spoke, how he thought, how he evaluated people and situations, how he dealt with others and they with him.

On the one hand he struck me as such a phony, but on the other hand everything he was doing made sense, and he certainly made an impact with everyone he met. I've always been taught to "be yourself." Is this right, or do I need to put on a phony front to get ahead?

The advice to "Just be yourself and everything will be fine" sounds nice, but it doesn't always reflect reality. The truth is most of us are different people at work than we are outside of work.

Companies exist to make money—as quickly, efficiently and reliably as possible. They make money by selling products or services at a profit, and they prosper by becoming more efficient while doing this. In effect, a company is a complex organization of big cogs (departments) and small cogs (individual jobs within those departments) that must run together smoothly for maximum efficiency and profitability. You can think of any job as a small but important cog in a company's complex moneymaking machinery.

Your job exists to solve the problems that arise in your professional area of expertise.

Professional Values

Most of us develop different personas to maximize our productivity and financial gain at work. And we gain the most when we adopt the values of the most successful professionals. When you observe how these professionals interact with the challenges of their professional world, you'll notice six specific professional values that they hold in common because these values best support profitability:

Commitment and reliability. Your commitment and reliability show dedication to your work. The committed professional is willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, for however long is necessary. You demonstrate reliability by following up on your actions and not relying on anyone else to ensure the job is done well.

Motivation and energy. Employers realize that a motivated professional will put energy into the work and do a good job on assignments. Motivation expresses itself in an eagerness to learn and grow professionally, and a willingness to take the good with the challenges in pursuit of meaningful goals.

Motivation is also expressed by the energy you demonstrate in your work, putting in whatever effort is needed.

Determination. Your determination shows you are a resilient professional who doesn't back off when a problem presents itself. You choose to be part of the solution rather than standing idly by and being part of the problem.

Pride and integrity. Pride in your work comes through in your attention to detail and commitment to always do your very best on every assignment. Integrity means you take responsibility for your actions, and you treat all co-workers and clients with respect. Your actions are in the ethical best interests of the company, and your decisions are not based on whim or the easy way out.

Productivity and economy. You boost productivity through efficiencies of approach, time, resources, money and effort. You make the most of what you have, using resources with the greatest efficiency. Companies that know how to be frugal with their resources will prosper in good times and bad, and if you know how to be frugal, you'll do the same. The need for efficiency and economy engages the mind and invariably generates creative results.

Systems and procedures. This is a natural outgrowth of the professional values just mentioned, because your demonstrated commitment gives you an appreciation of the need for systems and procedures. You understand and follow the chain of command. You don't implement your own "improved" procedures or encourage others to do so. If some procedures don't make sense or are interfering with economy and productivity, you work through the system to get them changed.

Phony Front?

You don't need to put on a phony front to get ahead, but do recognize that everyone has different personas for different situations. By integrating these values into how you behave at work, you are adopting a persona that will give you the greatest success in that environment. Your adoption of these professional values will improve your performance, change how others view you and go a long way to helping you catch up with your friend.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.


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