A question I get asked a lot is some version of “how do I get noticed and promoted?” There are a number of outcomes or goals I would group into this. How do you get the assignment you want, how do you get called for job opportunities and how do you do the most you can to consistently receive excellent performance reviews all qualify.
The key is building broad based support.
What do I mean by support? For the sake of this post, I am limiting the scope to within your current company or organization. My definition is “developing a group of people at multiple levels and in different areas of your organization who will actively help you and/or sing your praises to others”.
Why is support important?
1. It improves your ability to get things done. You will NEVER be able to get things done on your own in any organization. Everything requires some level of cooperation and approval from others. It’s a lot easier if those people already know you and value you. This logic applies, up down and across in an organization.
2. Your “promotability” increases dramatically if you have managers beyond your seeing you as a valuable commodity. Your internal leverage improves if jobs come your and/or when your manager wants to take care of you and every other leader says “they’re a star, get it done!”. You are also partly inoculated against a bad boss if others see you positively.
3. Useful information and opportunities may “find you” if you are connected and valued. You may get asked to serve on a key committee, help with some special project or be offered some other activity that allows you to “differentiate” yourself.
So, what do you need to do?
1. Build a network
It is absolutely crucial that you develop meaningful relationships. There is no substitute for this. I defer a deeper discussion to its own post. Reference my earlier post on Levels of Knowing You for discussion on qualitative measurement of your network. This is a rich topic with much more to be said.
2. Be useful & help others
Why would someone in your network have a positive impression of you? A major reason is often “usefulness”. Just use your head and go beyond glad handing people and talking a good game. Actually do something for them.
At a peer level, this could be as simple as introducing them to another colleague or coming in on a Saturday for an hour or two to help them with some small project. This accomplishes two things. First, they are naturally grateful. Second, they are now inclined to reciprocate with a favor of some kind.
Make this mutualistic. Do it to the extent you are comfortable and when asking for help in return, NEVER make it seem like the other party “owes” you. People will respond in different ways. Not all will do back for you precisely as you have done for them. But most will help in some way. This is a version of the Chinese concept of “guanxi”.
When being useful to a superior or senior person not in your chain of command, think about what they find of value and offer some solutions. You can find this out several ways: ask them, do a little research or make some assumptions based on what you know.
Once you have determined a target that is important to you I suggest you set up an informational interview or take a little time to create an opportunity to interact outside your normal work context. Take your time, you don’t need to force these things and certainly don’t want to appear needy.
Once you have created the “touch” ask a few questions to understand the other person’s needs and goals. Based on that and your availability or interest, make an offer that might assist the target. For example, if you are good quantitatively you might take on some data analysis for them as “church work”. You might create an informal group to work on solving an office issue or raising morale. Whatever. The point is to identify the opportunity and most importantly doing something about it.
I think you’ll be surprised how little effort it sometimes take to get a big return on these types of time and energy investments.
3. Create out of normal process social interactions
Try your best to create potential interactions at non-work meeting venues. These opportunities allow more personal insight and discussion. They also tend to remove some of the implicit hierarchy from work. At the Habitat for Humanity day, everyone is in jeans and working on a common cause. You get the idea.
These are great times to understand people and have casual discussions about work topics. Take advantage of them.
4. Be strategic in what you take on
Don’t try to “boil the ocean”. Do small, discrete types of favors for most. Most of the time, you can take one or two bigger things on. Choose things you feel strongly about or projects you can clearly see will impress or improve a senior person’s work situation.
Also, don’t be an “over-committer”. You know them. They promise all sorts of things, but never get anything done.
5. Be humble & generous
You don’t need to toot your own horn if you are impressing others. They’ll do it for you. As a corollary, when someone helps you be generous in praise and assistance in return.