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How to Make Yourself More Visible and Get Promoted

Make my work visible in a good shape.

— Manager, Reward & Recognition and Organizational Effectiveness

A general manager’s work is easy to appreciate. Earnings and revenues are up, good. Missed your numbers, bad. CEO/CFO: the stock is up, good. Down, bad. Corporate recruiting can be easily measured in terms of filling job reqs. But what about jobs like strategic marketing, corporate communications, and organizational effectiveness? How do they get credit for the company’s success?

I find today’s challenge ironic, coming from a Manager of Reward and Recognition. At most companies, “reward and recognition” means salary and benefits. Isn’t it strange that the most important reward—feeling valued for the work you do—is so often missing from the workplace? And who but the rewards manager himself to point that out?

Some people will see this as a political challenge. If your primary concern is appearances, rather than substance, check out my last post on office politics. However, if you are looking to make a tangible difference for someone other than yourself, keep reading.

How much attention your work attracts usually depends on two things: (1) high-profile projects and (2) your results. For example, the product manager of a company’s flagship product is more visible than someone responsible for a small niche. However, your niche product can become a superstar if you beat your numbers and grow your space.

You don’t always have control over the projects you get. When you do, there’s politics and competition for the more glamorous spots. One Fortune 500 CEO told me that the best career decision he ever made was to pass up a high-profile corporate job in favor of a little-known division, where he knew he could turn things around fast.

It’s profound career advice—to work where you think you can make the biggest difference. Unfortunately, it’s not intuitive to many people because we want the job to make a difference for us. We want it to improve our salary history and look good on the resume. And we often live to regret our choice.

For now, let’s assume that our Manager of Reward & Recognition and Organizational Effectiveness is in the right job. How can he make sure his work counts? The most straightforward answer is to focus on the results.

There are two categories of results. You may favor one over the other depending on your circumstances. In most cases, you will need to manage both. One is your internal customers’ perception; the other is hard metrics.

Your internal customer is not always your boss. For example, for strategic marketing, the internal customer is sales. Sales should be able to tell if the marketing strategy is working. For organizational effectiveness, the internal customer is the frontline manager, who should be the first to know whether the new initiative has the desired effect.

You make yourself visible by keeping in close touch with your internal customers. When they are happy, you’re in good shape. Of course, that’s only half of your challenge. The other half is building a compelling case for the higher-ups—and maybe for your team too. For that, you will need to measure your results.

A lot of managers ask: “What should I measure?” Your company most likely already has a set of metrics it wants you to track. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to ask this question. Sometimes a winning strategy is nothing more than setting a new measure of success.

For example, Axero used to focus on the number of leads we had in our sales pipeline. We search-optimized our site, and the leads were coming in fast and furious. However, our hit ratio stunk, and despite all the inquiries, our sales weren’t anything to write home about.

I looked at our sales process, and it turned out that we took too long to qualify our leads and give prospective buyers the information they needed to move along. We were passive and reactive. We gave demos to the wrong people at the wrong time. The result was that our sale cycle stretched out indefinitely and we were losing potential customers.

Once I realized that we needed to shorten the sale cycle, I took steps to make it happen. We created email forms to qualify our buyers and prepare them for the demo. We also packaged our customization and support options to give the buyers a quick and easy multiple choice. In the end, we shrank our sales cycle from months to weeks.

When choosing a metric for your project, keep in mind that there are two kinds: (1) lagging indicators and (2) leading indicators. A lagging indicator tracks your end goal. In my example, the lagging indicator was sales. We knew how much money we wanted to make, but we didn’t know if and how we would get there. We knew both the number of leads and the length of a sale cycle played a role. We also knew we could impact these numbers by tweaking our marketing and sales tactics. The number of leads and the length of a sale cycle are leading indicators for the volume of sales.

Your lagging indicator is the number your boss wants to see. The trick is to pick a leading indicator—something under your team’s direct control—that will give you the most leverage in meeting your goal. Well-chosen leading indicators are great for motivating your team. They are equally useful for parading in front of your superiors for extra visibility and credit. (Read more about this in my book, Who the Hell Wants to Work for You?, Chapter 5, Keep the Eyes on the Prize.)

Leading indicators are particularly important to quantify the impact of a support function. Our Manager of Reward & Recognition and Organizational Effectiveness is not a frontline employee, nor does he make core business decisions. But he has an important-sounding title, and he better have some stats to back it up.

What kinds of stats?

To improve organizational effectiveness, a manager needs to find the cause of a performance gap his company wants closed. According to Gary Harpst, the author of Six Disciplines for Excellence and Execution Revolution, “Organizational effectiveness is rooted in people both knowing and doing the right things each and every day.” (https://www.sixdisciplines.com/performance-management/articles/how-to-measure-organizational-effectiveness)

In other words, there’s a strong cultural element to doing well as a company. A good leading indicator measures an aspect of culture that’s critical to a particular company-wide goal. For example, Vodafone, a British telecom, uses an annual survey to track net promoter scores—willingness to recommend the company’s product—among employees.

Speaking of high-visibility projects, when a company decides it’s time to reinvent its culture, there’s plenty of work for Rewards & Recognition and Organizational Effectiveness. It may look like this:

“One method that can help is known as pride building. This is a cultural intervention in which leaders seek out a few employees who are already known to be master motivators, adept at inspiring strategic awareness among their colleagues. These master motivators are invited to recommend specific measures that enable better ways of working. It’s noteworthy that pride builders in a wide variety of companies and industries tend to recommend three specific measures time and time again: (1) giving more autonomy to frontline workers, (2) clearly explaining to staff members the significance and value (the “why”) of everyday work, and (3) providing better recognition and rewards for employee contributions.” (Jesse Newton and Josh Davis, Three Secrets of Organizational Effectiveness: How the practices of “pride builders” can help you develop a high-performance culture, Strategy & Business, July 14, 2014)

Pride builders’ insights suggest three leading indicators of organizational effectiveness: (1) frontline autonomy, (2) perceived significance and value of work, and (3) being recognized by management and peers. Our Manager of Reward & Recognition and Organizational Effectiveness could gauge these from a simple employee opinion survey and get a snapshot of his internal customers’ perception of his work. He can also use it as a metric to show off or to improve. Employee surveys bring lots of visibility to HR. Let’s hope it’s in good shape.

Now, why is it so important to our Manager to get a lot of credit for his work? It’s true, as we’ve just seen, that pride helps us be more effective at our jobs. (For more on this subject, see “How to Get Your Employees to Take Pride in Their Work.”) For many people, it’s also about being next in line for a promotion. If that’s our Manager’s case according to Liz Ryan, there are a few more challenges he might want to add to his list:

Ten Signs You’re Promotable

(Excerpted from “Ten Signs You’re Promotable — And Ten Signs You’re Not,” by Liz Ryan, Forbes, September 14, 2017)

  1. You know your current job well.
  2. You’re a responsible, reliable employee.
  3. You are known for your good judgment.
  4. You are a great teammate, respected by your peers.
  5. You are sensitive to the other people’s needs. You are not the type to gossip, criticize your co-workers or get upset easily.
  6. You are a problem-solver.
  7. You have made useful suggestions on the job.
  8. You like to organize projects and teams.
  9. You are confident enough to tell the truth, even to managers above you.
  10. You feel that as a new manager you’d have a lot to learn but also a lot to teach.

Visibility is good for your career and for taking pride in your job. You can always make yourself visible to the people who benefit the most from your work. Start there and build your case to the higher-ups through hard metrics. Be careful about what you measure. Find a leading indicator critical to your end goal and use it to focus and motivate your team. Good luck!

___

If you like visibility, you might like my book, because it keeps you in good shape.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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