Prescription – Getting noticed at work

This month we’ve been tackling an overly common and self-inflicted dysfunction: “I’m not getting noticed at work.” We work hard, keep our heads down and one day realize we seem to be the only one that understands, recognizes and appreciates all of our hard work. Not good.  If this is you, here is your prescription:

SELF – DIAGNOSIS

As with any dysfunction or affliction, the first step is figuring out if you’ve got “it” and how much having “it” might be costing you. Here’s a simple diagnostic checklist. Notice how often you answer “yes” or “no”:

• Does your boss say “thank you” and “good job”?

• Are you getting regular promotions / salary increases?

• Do people know you by name when you walk around?

• Are you getting “high profile” fires to put out?

• Do members of the senior leadership team make it a point to greet you and thank you for your contributions?

• Are you being talked about in high profile meetings as a solution to the organization’s problems?

If you can answer all of the above with a “yes,” you are rock star with fans across the organization. However, if you found yourself answering many of the above with “no,” you may have a problem. Consider the following steps as you move to get yourself onto the corporate radar.

DETERMINING YOUR TREATMENT PLAN

There are several good “treatment plan” options available to you depending on the severity of your anonymity at work. Consider these three most common factors and the treatment plans for each:

Contributing Factor “I don’t talk enough (or I talk too much)”

Treatment Plan – Whether you talk too much or not enough, the course of action is essentially the same. Just be sure to do the following (for more, click here):

• Ask good questions – Leaders are not looking for someone who can say something brilliant or insightful. They are looking for individuals that ask the right questions to help get to the right answers. Be one of those individuals. Ask good questions and you’ll be noticed quickly.

• Provide positive feedback to others – Sometimes the best way to get noticed is to tell another person that what he or she did was appreciated, effective and/or valued. A simple “thank you” or a more pointed piece of complimentary feedback can go a long way.

• Keep it short – Concise and succinct communication can present you as more purposeful and intentional about what you say – always good traits to have.

Contributing Factor“I’m known for the wrong thing”

Treatment Plan – Being known for the wrong thing can be a killer to your ability to be noticed in the way you would like. Here are some quick and easy things you can do to cure this challenge (for more, click here):

• Don’t make yourself invaluable in your current role – Getting recognized for good things is a wonderful thing… unless that “brand” limits you from where you want to go. Work hard to get the brand you want and train others to take your place.

• Overcoming a negative image or changing your existing “brand” requires hand to hand combat – if you want to overcome a bad image, you’ll need to do it one person at a time. Get ready for lots of coffees, breakfasts, lunches, etc… You may never be able to eat alone again for some time.

Contributing Factor“I’m waiting to be noticed”

Treatment Plan – Hands down, the most common reason I hear for not being noticed at work is that the person is quietly “waiting” to be noticed. If that’s not bad enough, here’s the worst part – these individuals have turned the process of waiting into a noble and righteous stance. Consider these simple steps to treat this issue (for more, click here):

• Promote… just don’t self promote – Don’t look at this process as promoting yourself. That’s an easy way to turn you off (and who can blame you!). Look at this as promoting others. Those individuals that are the very best at getting noticed do two things when it comes to promotion: They promote the business (sell ideas to make the business better) and they try to promote their boss (they work to make their boss look good). Promote others and you’ll be noticed quickly.

• Don’t eat alone – If this is you, time to start networking during your lunch hours. Get out there ask questions, get curious and let others get to know you and what you do.

ON-GOING MAINTENANCE

There you have it. Some simple ways to get noticed for the contributions you are making and the impact you are having at work. A few closing points to not forget as you move forward with increasing your exposure at work:

1. Every interaction with a senior leader is an audition, an opportunity to get noticed and recognized for what you do.

2. Listen to what others say when they introduce you to colleagues / leadership. What first comes to their mind (and out of their mouth) when they introduce you is your “brand.” You have to decide if that is the brand you want.

3. Waiting is the worst strategy – don’t kid yourself into thinking it is a noble position to take. All you’ll get is frustration.

Ferris Bueller is the king of getting noticed. This clip from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” sums it up nicely (my apologies for the language). Get that kind of recognition across your organization and there isn’t anything you can’t do!

 

Obstacle #3 – “I’m waiting to be noticed”

Hands down, the most common reason I hear for not being noticed at work is that the person is quietly “waiting” to be noticed. If that’s not bad enough, here’s the worst part – these individuals have turned the process of waiting into a noble and righteous stance. They “shouldn’t have to promote” themselves, they tell me. They are “above politics” they argue. Only the “sleaziest of (their) co-workers self promote” they proclaim. So there they sit. Noble, righteous and largely unnoticed at work – overlooked time and time again as promotions pass them by. Their frustration builds day by day. They are tea kettles nearing the boiling point and when they blow, it won’t be pretty.

Here are two great stories of how the good intentions for waiting (at least what we tell ourselves) cost us more than they get us.

Amir’s Story – I’m not going to play politics

“I’m not playing politics!” Amir made his stance very clear. Amir had been with his current company for nearly 8 years after getting his MBA. Initially, Amir rose in the ranks quickly but his career has stalled the last few years. Amir seemed to rationalize this career stall with his view on playing politics, “I despise politics and I refuse to play. If people want my opinion, I’m gonna tell them. Straight up. I’m not mincing words.” As a result, Amir’s boss has consistently provided Amir feedback in recent years that in this organization, the higher up he goes, the more time Amir needs to spend on bringing others with him and the more thoughtful Amir needs to be with his words. It was to the point that Amir’s boss pulled me aside and told me, “if Amir doesn’t make the adjustments, he won’t be able to go any further than where he is right now. His career here has peaked.”

Is this you? Have you decided that any efforts to get noticed equate to “playing politics”? Are you refusing to take any action? Consider the following perspectives:

• Get over yourself – Time to get off your “high horse” and accept the fact that if you are going to get anywhere in any organization of any size, you’re gonna have to build relationships with the right people. That, unfortunately, is politics… but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Politics by itself is morally neutral – it’s up to you on how you want to play.

• Promote… just don’t self promote – Don’t look at this process as promoting yourself. That’s an easy way to turn you off (and who can blame you!). Look at this as promoting others. Those individuals that are the very best at getting noticed do two things when it comes to promotion: They promote the business (sell ideas to make the business better) and they try to promote their boss (they work to make their boss look good). Promote others and you’ll be noticed quickly.

But what if you are not getting noticed because you don’t like the spotlight? You want your work to speak for itself and do all the speaking for you. Consider Joy’s story:

Joy’s Story – I prefer to work alone

Joy couldn’t stand meetings, networking, and really any work-related event that involved more than one other person. An introvert at heart, Joy desperately wanted to believe a basic ideal that we all deep down wish was true: “my work will speak for itself.” Joy would spend as many minutes in the day as possible holed up in her office, working diligently – just her and her computer. She worked hard without question. Often the first one in the office and the last one to leave, Joy was committed to her job and the organization. The problem that Joy was facing was twofold: First, it was unclear if others knew about her level of commitment and contribution. Second, Joy wanted more. She had been with the organization for nearly 3 years and still held the same position as when she started. So, Joy mustered up some courage and took some action. She decided she would go for the next internal opportunity that would be in line with the next logical step in her career. The perfect opportunity came. She applied… and was summarily rejected. Joy was so angry that she resigned on the spot. Stunned, her manager tried to convince Joy to stay. Joy couldn’t understand how others could not have noticed all of her hard work, her level of commitment and reward her accordingly. After all, she shouldn’t have to ask for what she deserved? Right? Wrong.

If you can relate to Joy’s story, there are several things you need to consider before it’s too late:

• No one is thinking about you – If you are thinking that your manager and co-workers are secretly watching you and everyone else in the office and quietly evaluating them (like you do), you are mistaken. Most everyone else is worrying about “numero uno” – themselves. So, if you want to be noticed, waiting to be seen is not your best strategy.

• Avoid the “love test” – a mentor of mine describes this behavior as a “love test”. Here’s how the “love test” works. The giver of the “test” quietly does things for others, secretly waiting to be reciprocated even though they never once asked for anything in return. When the receiver of the “test” does not guess properly and reciprocate the giver in the way the giver wanted, the receiver not only fails the test (“clearly they must not love me”), they are then summarily punished (to the receiver’s surprise I might add… they never saw it coming). Don’t punish others because they didn’t guess what you wanted. Make it clear what you want and expect from the beginning.

 

Waiting to be noticed never plays well for anyone. At best you are stuck in a role for far too long. At worst, you become frustrated, angry and appear unpredictable when your top blows. Figure out what you want, begin asking for it, and build relationships along the way. The more people who know what you want, more likely you are to get it!

 

Obstacle #2 – “I’m known for the wrong things”

Sometimes our challenge isn’t about getting noticed, it’s getting noticed for the right things – getting noticed in the way we want others to see us. So, in essence our challenge is to overcome people’s preconceived ideas about us based on what we’ve done in the past (whether good or bad). Think of all of those actors or actresses that just can’t get past that one famous role they had years ago. Matthew Broderick will always be Ferris Bueller, Carrie Fisher will always be Princess Leia and Daniel Radcliffe will likely always be Harry Potter. So what are you known for? What has been your brand up to this point and how can you change it?

Peter’s Story – overcoming a successful brand

Peter was a panelist several years ago in seminar I was leading on “How to get recognized as a High Potential.” His story has stuck with me ever since. Peter graduated from one of the top engineering schools in the country and began working for Turner Broadcasting. This was back in the day when Ted Turner was actively at the helm, and anyone who knows much about Ted Turner knows he has a passion for classic movies. When Peter showed up, there was a huge collection of classic movies that Ted had purchased over the years, but very little was being done with these movies. Peter was pretty good with Excel so he decided to create a model to allow all of those movies to be managed like valuable investments. Peter’s model took off. He rapidly became known as “the movie guy” in the halls of TBS. Not a bad thing, huh? The problem was that Peter didn’t want to always be the movie guy. He had bigger aspirations. How was he going to convince everyone that he wasn’t just a movie guy? He had to work diligently over the next few years to use his “movie guy brand” to get other opportunities. In the end, Peter became the youngest SVP in the history of the organization at 29 years old… and even then, people would still walk up to him and say him, “aren’t you the movie guy?”

What can we take away from Peter’s story? A few important points:

• Get known for something positive ASAP – there’s value in getting on the radar. Get known for something invaluable to the organization as soon as you can.

• Don’t stay there too long – quickly use that recognition as an opportunity to ask for the kinds of work / projects you want to be known for. You’re fighting against people’s perceptions – the longer you wait, the firmer their perceptions become.

• Don’t make yourself invaluable in your current role – if you want to shift, make sure you can! If it wasn’t for Peter’s model, he may have been stuck in the “movie guy” role for a long time. Fortunately, the model allowed him to move onto something else. If you are the only one who can do what you do, train somebody (or automate yourself) and fast.

But what if you are known for bad / negative things? Consider Nicole’s story:

Nicole’s story – overcoming a negative brand

Nicole was a rock star at work. No one was more productive or more organized than Nicole. Just to be in Nicole’s presence, the words “discipline, efficiency, quality and responsiveness” all came to mind. Good things, right? Absolutely. However, these traits were all overshadowed by Nicole’s crankiness when she encountered other’s disorganization or sloppiness. She had very little patience with co-workers and she would not hesitate to let them know how frustrated she was. Soon Nicole became known as “difficult to work with” and possessing a “bad attitude.” Nicole was stuck. If she wanted to be known as a future leader in the organization, she was going to have to do something and fast. She set out to build personal relationships with everyone in the office to counter this negative image. Hundreds of coffees and lunches later, Nicole was promoted to division VP and her poor brand was a distant memory.

Overcoming a negative brand is even more challenging. Here’s what we can take away from Nicole’s story:

• Overcoming a negative image requires “hand to hand” combat – if you want to overcome a bad image, you’ll need to do it one person at a time. Get ready for lots of coffees, breakfasts, lunches, etc… You may never be able to eat alone again for some time.

• Don’t slip up – Everyone is watching. If you make one slip back into your “bad image,” all of your hard work will be lost. Nicole knew she could never afford again to be negative at work… ever. Talk about discipline. Whew…

• Come clean (optional) – Some people choose to acknowledge there is a problem and tell everyone they are working on it. This can be a good and bad thing. The good – it draws attention to it and let’s people see your changes more quickly. The bad – if others didn’t know about your “bad image” they do after you tell them. They are also watching you more closely in case you screw up. Choose this path with caution.

There you have it. Ways to overcome your brand in the event you are known for the wrong thing. We’ve all been there: “The PowerPoint Princess,” “The IT Guy,” “The Survey Dude,” “The Party Queen,” etc… Getting recognized for something good is the first step, but managing that recognition into what you want is an on-going effort that separates the solid performers from the rising stars.

Oh, and just in case you don’t know who Ferris Bueller is, here you go.  Talk about managing your brand… no one did it better than Ferris.

 

Obstacle #1 – “No one hears me”

Being “heard” is a funny thing. Sometimes it has to do with saying the right thing at the right time. Other times it has to do with knowing when to “shut up” before you say the wrong thing. Regardless, too much of either can prevent us from being noticed, seen and valued. So, what can we do and how do we know if we fall into either camp? Let’s take ‘em on one at a time:

“I don’t talk much”

Pretty obvious – you’re not going to get heard if you don’t talk. Simple as that. Let me give you a story. John was your classic introvert. A brilliant mind, John was not comfortable speaking publicly or with leadership in his organization. As John put it, “I’m just afraid I’m going to say something stupid… or worse, I’ll get started and I won’t be able to stop so I just don’t say anything at all.” Consequently John is seen by leadership as a solid technical expert, a strong performer in his area of expertise. But leadership does not see John as someone who could lead others or manage customer relationships. Consequently, John has plateaued in the organization – whether he likes it or not. The takeaway from John’s story is important – every interaction you have with leadership is an audition; an opportunity to show off what you are capable of. If they don’t see it in you in their interactions with you, they won’t take a chance on you. Gambling isn’t in their nature, particularly today.

So what can you do? If you are looking to turn up the volume on your conversing in the office, consider these recommendations:

1. Provide positive feedback – Sometimes the best way to get noticed is to tell another person that what he or she did was appreciated, effective and/or valued. A simple “thank you” or a more pointed piece of complimentary feedback can go a long way. Remember, everyone (including the most senior leader) is guessing every day (if you don’t believe me, look at the global economy). No one really knows what he or she is doing. Providing positive feedback is tremendously valuable to them as a way of letting them know that they are adding tremendous value. Don’t gush. Just simply tell them what you noticed they did and the impact it had on you.

2. Add value with good questions – Leaders are not looking for someone who can say something brilliant or insightful. They are looking for individuals that ask the right questions to help get to the right answers. Be one of those individuals. Ask good questions and you’ll be noticed quickly. A good friend of mine did exactly that and rose quickly from an entry level position to the Chief People Officer of a large organization simply because of her courage and insight to ask good questions at the right time. Here are some examples to build off of as you craft your own insightful questions (picture using these either in a meeting or discussion regarding possible decisions):

• “How is this going to impact our customers?”

• “What is the greatest threat to our organization today?”

• “If we look 5 years out, what is the greatest opportunity for us as an organization?

• “What are the risks if we take this action? What are the risks if we do nothing?”

• “How will we know if we’ve succeeded? What does success look like?”

 

“I talk WAY TOO MUCH”

 

What if your problem is the opposite? What if once you start talking you begin to get nervous and before you know it, you are sharing with the CEO why your significant other won’t commit, your shopping list for the weekend and your most embarrassing moment in college. Not good. Jack had that problem. Once he started talking to someone he deemed “important,” he would get flustered, he’d lose the focus of his conversation and he would begin to ramble. “Before I knew it, I would be sharing with them my allergic reaction to shrimp and how I threw up the last time I ate shrimp at a company event. I could tell they wanted to run away… I wanted to run away.” Jack became known as the “nice guy you don’t want to get stuck with in an elevator.” It was understood that if you wanted to communicate effectively with him, it was best to either go through his manager or send him an e-mail. He was stuck.

If this sounds familiar, here are some good recommendations to get out of your own way:

 

1. Quit while you are ahead – Communication is a funny thing. You’re either adding value or diluting from existing value. Sometimes, the trick is knowing when you are ahead and then simply closing your mouth. A little bit goes a long way. Concise and succinct communication can present you as more purposeful and intentional about what you say – always good traits to have.

2. Turn the tables and ask questions – If you have a tendency to ramble, stop yourself and turn the conversation back to the other person with a question. Maybe the question could be a clarifying question or perhaps you just want to avoid verbally “throwing up” on your unassuming listener. For example, say you are asked by a senior leader: “so what are you hearing from our customers?” A broad question. If you don’t watch yourself, you might end up detailing the blow-by-blow accounts of conversations with customers. Instead, ask a clarifying question. “Before I go too far down that path, is there a particular customer group you are interested in hearing about or a particular trend you would like me to speak to?” Trust me, this will help you to stay on target and most importantly, keep you relevant. If you are relevant, you are heard.

Staying Relevant

That last statement is so important that it’s worth repeating again: If you are relevant, you are heard. Whether your problem is that you don’t talk enough or you talk too much, keep your points relevant and you will quickly get noticed and recognized for the value that you bring. Remember, every interaction with a senior leader is an audition so make them count.

Oh, and stay away from the college stories – they never turn out pretty!

 

Are you getting recognized and noticed at work?

We all want to get recognized and noticed for our work. And just because you want that, it doesn’t make you selfish or less humble… it simply makes you human. The real question is: “Are you getting recognized and noticed at work in the right ways?” The challenge in this question lies not in asking the question, but in answering it. What makes this question particularly sneaky is that it’s not a “yes” or “no” question. There are “levels” and “degrees” of recognition we need to consider. For example, it’s one thing for your boss to give you a “pat on the back” and a whole other thing to get tapped as a rising star by senior leadership. As you think about answering this question for yourself, consider the following “levels” of recognition at work. I think you’ll find them handy.

LEVEL 1 – I’m valued in my group / department

• Does your boss say “thank you” and “good job”? – Are you getting frequent “pats on the back” for your efforts and hard work from your boss? If so, you can check off this first step in getting recognized at work. Consider this the “meat and potatoes” version of recognition. We all want it and need it. It feels good, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are on the fast track to anywhere. In fact, it could very well mean that we are making our boss’ life so easy that he or she has incentive to NOT let us move. Our departure means more pain for him or her. Not a good position for us to be in.

• Are you getting regular promotions / salary increases? – Are you consistently getting merit increases and promotions at or ahead of schedule based on your work? Is “steady and consistent” your middle name? If this is you, you can check off the box of being seen as a “high performer” in your organization. However, as a good friend once told me, “there is a big difference between a ‘high performer’ and a ‘high potential’.” High performers are steady and are kept in their respective areas. High potentials are given new challenges and are seen as the future. Which are you?

LEVEL 2 – I’m valued in other groups / departments

• Do people know you by name when you walk around? – Do people know who you are outside of your department as a result of the impact you are making (not because you are the only one who wears tight jeans on casual Friday)? Do you walk around the office to regular greetings by people you don’t even know? If so, you may have expanded your recognition beyond your immediate sphere of influence and may be on your way. Consider this an honor and use it to your advantage.

• Are you getting “high profile” fires? – Have you noticed that the “messiness” and “importance” of the projects you are getting continues to rise? This is not a form of masochistic punishment, rather a sign that you are being valued and trusted beyond your proven track record. People throughout the organization believe in you enough to trust you with big fires. You are on the radar. But be careful. As a neighbor of mine once said, the trick is not to mess it up (although she used much more colorful language than that). This is a very high form of recognition, but one slip and you’re off the radar once again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if things are getting too messy.

LEVEL 3 – I’m valued by senior leadership

• Do members of the senior leadership team make it a point to greet you and thank you for your contributions? Do you get the sense that many of the leaders of your organization know more about you than you know about them? If so, this is not necessarily a sign of “creepiness.” It is more likely a sign that you are not only on the radar, you are on the map. They know you by name and have you on a secret list of up-and-comers somewhere. While it may feel strange to you, it is a sign that you are being noticed as a “rising star.” Use this as an invitation to engage them more.

• Are you being talked about in high profile meetings as a solution to the organization’s problems? If you have ever had a colleague say to you, “your ears must have been burning,” don’t throw that statement out as fluff. That is an important piece of data that you are being talked about as a solution to other’s problems in meetings in which you are not in attendance. If you are hearing that comment as it pertains to senior leadership meetings AND you are learning that multiple people were bringing you up, you have arrived. You can’t get any better recognition than that. Bask in all of your glory… and then get to work.

So you see, getting noticed at work is not a simple “yes/no” question. It has everything to do with who is recognizing you and for what. If you didn’t check off every form of recognition from the list above, never fear. In the next several posts I’ll tackle the most common ways we prevent ourselves from getting recognized and the steps we can take to overcome those challenges. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I thought this opening clip from the ‘80’s sitcom “Cheers” sums up this sentiment nicely – sometimes we “just want to go where somebody knows our name.”

 

 

“I’m not getting noticed at work”

Can you relate to this experience I had with a client a few weeks ago? Paul crossed his arms and with a frustrated huff said to me, “I’m not going to play politics around here. If I do a good job and keep my head down, things will work out. I just know that eventually I’ll get noticed and rewarded for all of my hard work.”

We would all love to believe that if we just do good work, that’s all it really takes to get noticed. Of course, this is contingent on the idea that someone is “scouting talent” at your work 24/7, desperately looking to find someone just like YOU – the diamond in the rough, the next hall-of-famer. This perfect scenario reminds us of those great “discovery” stories like the waitress who would occasionally break out into song during her breaks until one day, a Hollywood agent happened to stumble into her diner. Or the rural farm boy who practiced throwing a baseball out back behind the barn until one day that major league scout’s car ran out of gas and there was a fortuitous knock on the door.

I don’t know about you, but “talent scouts” are few and far between in the world. People are too worried about their own “stuff” to notice what others are up to. There aren’t many fortuitous knocks on our doors. Simply put, if we want to get noticed, the burden is on us to make that happen.

This month we are tackling this career limiting dysfunction: “I’m not getting noticed at work.” We’ll take on, amongst other things, the following questions:

• Are you getting noticed at work?

• What is being overlooked costing you?

• What are the most common ways we prevent ourselves from being noticed?

• What can we do to get the recognition we want and deserve?

Every week, I’ll kick off our conversation by addressing one of these big questions. Throughout the week I’ll collect and share stories, examples and other opinions as we dig in. By the end of the month, if we haven’t cured this dysfunction, we’ll do a darn good job treating it!

Write to me with your stories, examples or opinions on the subject. I promise to protect the innocent (and guilty!).

So, are you getting noticed at work or do you just feel like wallpaper? Help is on the way!