Discover the secret to success at work

Chess pieces

Photo credit – Alessandro Ranica via

What do you do? I mean for work. Is it easy to explain? Or can you really only give lip service to a surface-level description of it? It seems that is entirely understandable. When we are hired for work, we accept two jobs: the one we applied for and a hidden one!

The hidden job curriculum
Jesse Sostrin uses the term “hidden curriculum” to describe the aspects of your job that are “hidden within your job!” He suggests it is the unspoken parts of work. Not the duties outlined in a job description, but the ones that are difficult to outline. Things like managing change, dealing with workplace politics, collaborating with others who may have undeclared agendas.

Sounds a little abstract perhaps? You can see evidence of it in different ways. Have you ever applied for a job where you could demonstrate the required skills and knowledge for the role, but were deemed to be not the right “fit”? Or perhaps you have been passed over for a promotion, because someone else had more political clout? Or in the case of leadership roles, you need to be “more strategic”.

Sostrin defines a hidden curriculum:

… [it] exists whenever there are two simultaneous challenges where one is visible, clear, and understood and the other is concealed, ambiguous, and undefined.

How to manage such ambiguity?
So how do you manage the hidden nature of work? How do you get a clearer picture of what is required? What is the secret to navigating these uncharted waters of a workplace?

When things are visible, clear and understood it is more likely that you can see a pathway, recognise expectations and identify specific requirements. You match like with like. You can respond in a deliberate, logical and rational way.

Concealments, ambiguity and undefined circumstances require a more intuitive approach. You need to “feel your way”. It is far less-structured and much more dependent on experimenting and sensing the right approach. In a sense, it is about testing ideas by nudging things along a little and seeing their effect.

The secret to career success
To succeed at work, gain the recognition you seek or the promotion you want, means learning to navigate both the overt and the hidden (covert) sides to your job. Those that succeed, manage this. It is not an easy road, nor a certain one. It is a voyage of discovery which is enhanced when leaders put support mechanisms in place.

Mentoring is one such support. Mentors are usually more experienced than those they support. Their role is that of a “learned friend” who helps to translate the work environment, smooth the way, open doors and more. A mentor is someone who will share their experience with their mentee, rather than tell them what to do.

How do you navigate the hidden side of work?
Do you have suggestions for how to do this? Would you share them here?

Source: Sostrin, Jesse. 2016. “The Hidden Curriculum of Work” in Strategy & Business Blogs.


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