Staying Ahead of the Curve

Staying Ahead of the Curve

Sam Balark fields complaints about faulty voicemails and downed phone lines from discontented customers–even when he’s at social affairs or black-tie galas.

“The phrase ‘not in my job description’ is not in my lexicon,” quips the director of external affairs for the Dallas-based telecommunications giant AT&T. He insists that there is no task too small or too great for him to tackle.

Balark attributes his 11-year tenure through two corporate acquisitions to his commitment to resourcefulness in work execution and unrelenting customer service. In today’s workforce, job titles and job descriptions make up a fraction of expected job performance, says Bob Rosner, writer of, a syndicated online column and resource for corporate professionals. “Smart executives know there’s a thin line between accountability and responsibility. In the end, all company business is their business.”

Carla Harris, managing director at international investment firm Morgan Stanley, agrees. “Industry knowledge and hard work simply aren’t enough to scale the corporate ladder.” Harris has brokered lucrative initial public offerings for United Parcel Service, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Redback Networks, in addition to executing the $3.2 billion transaction with Immunex Corp., one of the largest biotechnology common stock offerings on record. In her book, Expect to Win: Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet (Hudson Street Press; $24.95), she discloses the practical tips she followed to achieve her level of success.

“In these times of market volatility and job insecurity, executives will need to prove that they are indispensable to the company,” Harris offers. She provides suggestions for achieving that objective.

Define your goal. Each year Harris spends time in self-reflection, evaluating her accomplishments and what she hopes to achieve professionally in the coming year. She also makes appointments with supervisors and advisers to make sure her objectives align with the company’s plans for growth. Karyn Pettigrew, principal of KPConsulting, a Chicago-based professional consulting firm, agrees that employees should plan to be not only the best at what they do, but also specific in what they want to accomplish. “Astute professionals accurately identify desired outcomes and then use their personal strengths to pursue the most effective and efficient ways to achieve them.”

Continually evolve. Harris creates a master evaluation plan in which she establishes rigorous benchmarks, monitors daily progress toward her goals, regularly evaluates outcomes, and solicits and incorporates ongoing feedback from supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, and mentors.
“Today’s greatest efforts won’t satisfy tomorrow’s demands,” states Rosner. He suggests taking executive education courses, obtaining relevant certifications, and staying abreast of new technologies. “Constant improvement is the only way to stay ahead of the competition.”

Use personal power. Despite the dismal economic conditions that affect her job, Harris leverages her personal resources and capabilities, which include her attitude, strengths, skills, position, and relationships to win client business. A significant level of power and influence lies in one’s ability to control his or her response to environmental changes and challenges, says Pettigrew. Don’t worry about the challenges over which you have no control; she suggests focusing your energy on areas you can control.

Like Balark, Harris works across the organization and beyond her formal job description to solve client problems and retain valuable customers.

“There’s no longevity in simply punching a clock,” says Pettigrew. “Successful professionals must add value to the organization.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.