Don’t have time to read the entire post now? Watch this video with the summary.
My newest client, Rhina, told me during our first session, ‘I have been at this level for the last 10 years; most years my rating is ‘exceeds expectations’, I want to be promoted and I deserve it’. This is a common complaint. I hear it all the time from my clients, colleagues, and friends. They are doing excellent work, delivering on their goals, and exceeding expectations. And yet, there is no promotion in sight. How come?
We have the incorrect notion that our work will speak for itself. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore. For sure, being awesome at what we do is a first requirement. And we also have to let others know how incredible we are.
Imagine that a great pizza place opened in your neighborhood. They make excellent pizza; they work hard for many hours in the day. They relied on word of mouth to promote their business. After all, that strategy worked well when their grandfather and then their father opened similar businesses in their neighborhoods.
In today’s world, that pizza parlor would have to be on Yelp, Google Maps, and other places where restaurants normally advertise. Of course, word of mouth (now known as customer reviews) will benefit or hurt them based on the quality, price, service, etc. The point here is that the owner must let other people know that they are now open and that they offer unbelievable pizza. It is not enough to rely on literal word of mouth anymore.
Think about major brands like Nike, BMW, McDonalds, etc. that pay millions of dollars to advertise during the Super Bowl. We are the product and the brand of ourselves and the amazing work we and our team do. How come do we insist on our work speaking for itself (as if ‘work’ could talk)?
For my client Rhina, setting up a 1:1 meeting with a senior executive without a project-related reason seemed too pushy. For me, it was ‘what am I going to talk about with the Chief Risk Officer of my division?’ For another client, it was ‘wouldn’t my boss think I am going over his head?’ For my client Beatrice it was, ‘this is part of my job; I do not understand why I would need to make a big deal out of it.’ All of these are internal blocks, inner obstacles linked to our emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and our perspective on life.
How can we shift our mindset and let others know about us, our work, and our team?
1) Think about yourself as a brand
How many ads do we get when we open a website, a YouTube video, an article, or any of the social media apps? When I browse on Facebook, I would see at least 3 ads in the first 10 minutes.
Some of the companies or people who advertise are unknown to me. Others are very well known and still they pay good money to be front and center.
We have invested time, money, blood, sweat, and tears to hone our craft, our leadership skills, manage our emotions, increase the emotional intelligence competencies, and create productive habits.
People deserve to know about it. Advertising your brand is not selfish. On the contrary, it is an act of love and service: you are communicating to people what your talents are, what you bring to the table, how you can better contribute.
When we see an ad for Nike, for example, we get to know both the latest product and what the company stands for. They are sharing their value with the rest of us.
2) Make it easy for your boss
The whole set of activities related to talent and performance management is both time consuming and challenging. Not many people know how to write strong self-assessments, let alone reviews for others.
We want to make it easier for our managers to write about us. It is very possible that we are not their only direct report. And the last thing we need is for him or her to write our review at the last minute or to scramble for information. We also want to control the message as much as possible.
A couple of years ago, I started a routine with my manager. In our 1:1 meetings, I updated her with people, project, and career matters. I also created a monthly summary where I included key accomplishments, challenges, recognition my team and I received in the month, top things on the radar, and general comments. My objective was for her to have 10-12 messages that she could copy and paste from when writing my performance evaluation, having to discuss me with her peers, or when she had to put in my promotion.
3) Help decision makers choose you
When it comes to promotions inside the company, usually there are two paths: a) to apply for an internal job at a higher level; b) to have your current role being re-evaluated at a higher level AND demonstrating that you have grown with the role (in-seat promotions).
In large companies there is usually a committee to review in-seat promotions. The head of the division, who may not be your direct boss, will submit all the in-seat promotions for his/her entire organization.
Let us imagine a common scenario: the head of the division is discussing in seat promotions with all her direct reports. They have three slots and seven candidates. Each of her direct reports presents their submissions. If you are among the seven people and only your boss can talk about you, your chances are not certainly high that you will end up with one of the three slots. This is what is happening to my client Rhina. Her manager’s peers and boss are not familiar with her accomplishments, leadership style, how she contributes to the organization, etc. They only know her as one of their project managers who do solid work.
4) Craft the response to ‘what are you working on now?’
This is one of my favorites and the one I find most challenging. I think most of us when asked this question say things like ‘it’s been busy; there is a lot going on’, or ‘you know, the usual stuff’, or ‘not much, same old same old.’
None of these responses have meaty content. I consider the answer to this question as a customized elevator pitch. There are several ways to craft this message. I like to think about it as if I were explaining it to a young person (maybe someone in high school); this way I use no jargon. Here is a fictitious example:
‘My team and I are working with Acme, our biggest client, to help them install our application to manage their records. We will start testing next week and we are so excited. There were some challenges migrating their information from their old system. I have a solid relationship with my counterpart there and we were able to pull both teams to fix the data two weeks earlier than the due date.’
Note how this message combines the team and individual effort.
5) Imagine you are talking about someone else
For many of us, it is difficult to talk about ourselves. From our perspective, it is rude, immodest, and we are afraid to come off as bragging, which for some reason has a negative connotation.
However, when we talk about someone else’s accomplishments we are super enthusiastic. I know I am. Of course, I am not suggesting we talk about ourselves in the third person like Elmo or to refer to us as ‘oneself’. It is simply to add the same enthusiasm to our accomplishments as what we dispense to our friends, family members, and colleagues’ achievements.
After all, we are not lying or inflating. We are really talking about what we are working on, the key challenges we overcame, and our approach or style.
“Self-promotion is a leadership and political skill that is critical to master in order to navigate the realities of the workplace and position you for success.” – Bonnie Marcus, The Politics of Promotion: How High-Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead
Our brand and work ethics (quality of our work, execution, influence, etc.) will get us only so far when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder. To go into the realm of executive leadership we want others to know our brand. We become our own Public Relations and Press Secretary. Let us help them help us. We want to make it quite easy for them to choose us for one of the available slots.
We can self-promote with kindness, authenticity, and generosity. We celebrate others’ accomplishments. We use our own words to let them know about our projects, challenges, and aspirations. After all, we are letting others know about the already amazing work we do.
How do you let others know about the great work you are doing? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.
My mission is to help women transition from mid to senior level leadership by transforming their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential.
To join our email list, please complete this form with your name and email and receive a free gift.