How to succeed in business without really trying

Dilbert comic

The musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is all about a young and ambitious window washer who uses a book of the same name to become the chairman of the board in a global company.

Have you ever found yourself on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder staring up (or through the window, like the window washer)? It’s nice to think that there’s some quick-fix book that can catapult you to the top in a single bound, but I’m sorry to say that book is more likely a textbook that comes attached to a degree or management course.

Pip it at the post(grad)

What you may not know is that a management qualification can boost your career faster than you can say ‘return on investment’. And nothing quite shows your commitment to professional development like a postgraduate qualification. In an often-crowded job market, this kind of differentiator is worth its weight in tertiary gold.

Stephen Scheeler is one such educated entrepreneur who saw the merits in enrolling in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) as a mature-age student. After graduation he was able to jump straight into a management consultant role, and went on to other top-tier positions that eventually landed him at Facebook, where he is Head of eCommerce, Retail, Automotive & QSR.

Doing an MBA definitely paid off handsomely for Scheeler, who now places great emphasis on postgraduate study when recruiting his own staff:

‘Increasingly, postgrad qualifications are becoming mandatory for most C-level (corporate title) and Director-level positions in major companies. If you don’t have the qualification, it’s harder to get the job, and therefore harder to earn that higher salary.’

Show initiative

Study will get you only so far if you don’t take what you’ve learned and apply it – you need to take action. And I’m not just talking about ticking off those tasks that your boss allocated to you in this week’s team meeting. Taking the initiative to go above and beyond demonstrates that you are proactive and can work without direction – both qualities of a good leader.

Put your hand up for projects and other opportunities to demonstrate your willingness and talent for taking on responsibility. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of overloading yourself in an effort to impress, and only take on what you know you can manage. Having said that, you need to stretch yourself and prepare to work hard.


The importance of putting yourself out there and connecting with the right people can’t be overstated – because ultimately, business is about relationships. Ask any successful businessperson and they will say that their contacts helped them to get where they are.

Advertising guru Siimon Reynolds reinforces this: ‘It’s all about establishing relationships. Merely meeting someone is establishing a relationship’. And once established, you need to maintain those relationships – because you never know when they will lead to something more. And always remember that relationships are a two-way street, so you need to pay it forward whenever you can.

Tick, tock

Another invaluable skill for any would-be business guru is time management. Siimon Reynolds stresses this as well. ‘Learn time management. There are so many people in the industry who are intelligent but don’t get much done during the day because their time management technique is so poor.’

Becoming a time expert comes naturally to a lucky few, but most of us have to work at it through a combination of theory and practice … so get practising. There are a plethora of time management techniques out there – learn them and start applying them to your current work. Who knows, your new resourceful work habits may just grab the attention of the right people too.

Don’t be complacent

Once you get the upgrade from partition to actual office (complete with closing door), don’t expect to just sit back in your new reclining swivel chair. Leadership positions are becoming more accountable and while your relationships may have helped you move up, they won’t be enough to keep you there – you need to earn and keep your position because you are the best person for the role.

Reynolds stresses that ‘at every level – beginning, middle and senior – you’ve got to be up against yourself, practising, getting better … be alert throughout your career, not just at the start’.

If you’re currently envisaging yourself in a perpetual mousewheel for the rest of your professional life, fear not. The key to getting ahead is using strategies to create maximum efficiency and ROI. In truth, you can’t really succeed without trying – but you can at least ensure that you’re trying in the right way so you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Do you have any top tips for workplace efficiency and good management? Leave a comment and let us know.

Also check out our range of business, management and project management courses to help you get ahead in your career.

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