Promoting yourself: the rules of success
Contrary to popular belief, your work does not always speak for itself
A diligent and hard-working project manager at a global bank was known for meeting deadlines. A functional expert and a team player, she never hesitated to work beyond the designated hours. Self-evasive and reticent, she strongly believed that her work would speak louder than words to get her the recognition she deserved. Much to her dismay, however, she was passed over for a promotion that year.
Inherent excellence is not always enough to fetch recognition.
In his book Power: Why Some Have It And Some Don’t, Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behaviour at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says it’s not enough to presume that success is based on the quality of your work and job performance alone. Potential sponsors need to know about your skills, competencies, accomplishments and experiences to be encouraged to make a positive difference to your career. You can share information on this so that you get career-enhancing opportunities. “If you blend into the woodwork, no one will care about you, even if you are doing a great job. Being memorable equals getting picked,” says Pfeffer.
How to do it
Self-promotion is a delicate art because if you overdo it, you come across as a braggart, and if you underplay, you don’t get the accolades. “It needs to be subtle, responsible and balanced,” cautions Saket Kanoria, managing director, TCPL Packaging Ltd. “Self-promotion that takes the toxic shape of running down other people’s work, claiming credit which rightfully belongs elsewhere, and taking advantage of proximity to one’s manager, may fetch short-term gains, but will undoubtedly prove counter-productive in the long run,” adds Sunder Ram Korivi, dean, School for Securities Education, National Institute of Securities Markets, Navi Mumbai. There should be a line between gaining a following and becoming sickeningly self-promotional, especially if you don’t wan’t to be penalized for the latter.
Here are a few strategies to generate more visibility:
Prepare your story
A senior stakeholder you meet in the elevator enquires, “What’s up?”, and you respond with, “All well. Thanks!” Instead, you could have seized this opportunity to promote yourself by highlighting an accomplishment or two. For instance, “We successfully closed a record number of 248 transactions this month—25% above average.” Or, “I finished cross-training on process ABC. I am now conversant with a range of processes in the system.” The trick lies in being prepared with your story, and arming yourself with data points that you can reel off at the drop of a hat.
Since promoting one’s accomplishments goes against the value of modesty ingrained in us, let’s first rethink the definition of self-promotion. “Just as the objective of marketing a product is to generate awareness about its key benefits to help customers make sound decisions, think of self-promotion as a responsible communication of your talents and accomplishment to those who can leverage and benefit from this information, thus making it a win-win proposition,” says Darshana Ogale, chief operating officer, S P Jain School of Global Management.
In his 2014 book Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, author Dan Schawbel highlights the disconnect between what managers look for when deciding on promotions (a positive attitude and the ability to prioritize) and what employees think managers want (communication skills and leadership ability). So, it is important to showcase a range of abilities instead of coming across as one-dimensional.
Clothe it in anecdotes
Share your success in the form of a story. Instead of saying that you did an awesome job negotiating a successful deal with a tough customer, share your strategy and challenges in cracking the deal, enabling your team to learn from your experience. Engage with humility, focus on facts, and ensure that those stories are relevant, says Dorie Clark, in a Harvard Business Review article, How To Promote Yourself Without Looking Like A Jerk.
“Align your story with the context and the audience. Share it with a genuine belief that it is relevant to the audience, rather than with a mindset of promoting yourself. Authenticity matters,” says Atul Srivastava, chief executive officer, Effective People, a Mumbai-based human resources consulting and training company.
When called upon to introduce yourself at an external conference, an internal training programme or to a visiting global practice head, go beyond the vanilla introduction encompassing your role, designation and experience. Make your introduction audience-centric and impactful by incorporating elements that differentiate and lend a recall value. For instance, something like, “I am an avid trekker, I did the Everest base camp trek last year,” is likely to stick in the minds of the audience. “A compelling introduction at an event, almost always an outcome of serious introspection and practice, certainly helps you make an impact. In fact, sometimes just asking a question at a conference or a seminar gets you noticed, and works towards your promotion,” says Srivastava.
Engage beyond your core work
As the organization expands, it is not easy to get noticed outside your immediate circle. “Participating in forums outside my core work, like knowledge-sharing forums, organizational committees, corporate social responsibility initiatives, diversity, etc. has gone a long way in helping me garner visibility and connect with people beyond my operational network,” says Ogale.
Communicate with your manager
“Proactively meeting your manager not only to seek feedback, but also to apprise him of your accomplishments, challenges and aspirations is important. While a manager is likely to be aware of your big-ticket items, your differentiator may lie in some of your smaller achievements,” says Korivi. So tracking your accomplishments and feeding your manager with regular updates would be mutually beneficial—it would not only help you promote yourself, but also offer your manager data points to identify areas where you could contribute. Managing others’ perceptions about your accomplishments separates workplace winners from those who don’t move up the ladder, says Pfeffer.
Engage on social media
Soumitra Dutta, professor at the Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (Insead), a graduate business school, and writer of the Harvard Business Review article Managing Yourself: What’s Your Personal Social Media Strategy?, strongly advocates embracing the social media as a platform for promoting yourself, building your personal brand and engaging with stakeholders by communicating who you are. “Active participation on social media is a powerful tool—the difference between leading effectively and ineffectively, and between advancing and faltering in the pursuit of your goals,” says Prof. Dutta.
Start with posting an impactful profile, portraying your expertise by engaging in discussion forums, posting articles and commenting on posts, thus creating visibility for yourself. “I have found that leveraging the organization’s intranet is a great way of getting your story before your audience,” says Ogale.
When you promote others, guided by the principle of reciprocity, they promote you in return. This reverse promotion, besides enhancing your visibility and highlighting your achievements, also helps you build relationships and earn goodwill. So, be open to connecting with people, learning about, and promoting, their talents and achievements.
Charu Sabnavis is a learning and organizational development facilitator and founder director of Delta Learning.