“If you don’t toot your own horn, don’t complain that there’s no music.”
Janet Asks: I feel like my accomplishments go unnoticed at work and I’m not comfortable bringing them up. I want others to see my strengths and achievements, but I don’t want to come across as bragging. What should I do?
Joel Answers: No one wants to sound like they’re bragging about their own accomplishments. You want to be noticed, but not for being egotistical. However, there are plenty of ways to toot your own horn in a way that people admire and respect.
- Figure out what makes you interesting
Think about what makes you stand out at work. Do you have any hobbies most people don’t know about at work? Have you overcome any major challenges to get where you are? Figure out what aspects of your life make good stories. Sprinkle these tidbits of information into conversations at work, so coworkers see a richer picture of you.
- Create a compelling hook
Prepare how you’ll introduce yourself to new people. How can you summarize yourself in a sentence or two in a way that leaves others eager to hear more about what you do? When they have to coax more details out of you, no one will perceive you as bragging. However, don’t be too shy about opening up—when they ask, tell them more.
- Speak about recent accomplishments
When others ask what you’re doing at work these days, it’s the perfect opportunity to toot your own horn. Be prepared for those moments by mentally reviewing your latest accomplishments and current projects. Focusing on the work (rather than speaking directly about your strengths) will help you relax and start gushing about your achievements.
- Talk about your team
If you’re a manager, gushing about your team’s accomplishments shows you’re a great leader. Having pride in your team is a virtue for any leader. You won’t feel as self-conscious while focusing on them, though you’re actually speaking to your own leadership skills.
- Announce successes to organizational leaders
When you announce your successes to your boss or other leaders, no one will perceive it as bragging. They want and need to know what you’ve accomplished. In fact, it would be unprofessional not to tell them. Drop by your boss’s office; send higher-level leaders an email or give them a call, if the accomplishment seems important enough to announce to them.
- Believe in the importance of your role
When you truly believe in the positive impact you have every day, you’ll exude confidence and charisma. The enthusiasm you show for your work will draw others to you naturally. You’ll get boundless invitations to talk about how you do what you do. If you’ve gotten in a rut with your current job, reignite your passion for it by reminding yourself what you love about it and making small changes to liven up your routine.
- Get others to toot your horn
As you clue others in to your skills and achievements, they’ll naturally start tooting your horn as well, and your visibility will increase at work even more. However, it helps to ask for the support of people you trust. Cultivating relationships with advocates in your organization will build your credibility and help leaders take notice of you. Keep your advocates apprised of what you’ve accomplished, and if you’re after a promotion, tell them. People often take pride in helping others succeed.
If you were feeling awkward about tooting your own horn at work, these ideas will help those conversations feel more natural. Others will think it’s completely natural to share your achievements in these ways!
“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”
Client Mary asks: Joel, I’ve just started my new job and it’s been only a few months. I feel like I could be making a better impression on my coworkers. I know there’s more I could be doing to really shine. How can I stand out, aside from producing good work?
Coach Joel answers: Many factors aside from sheer ability to get the work done influence the impression people make at work. Furthermore, an array of social factors affect ability to get the job done as a team. Become a superstar employee by mastering these methods of making a good impression at work, and you’re sure to stand out.
Once you’ve created a good impression of yourself at work, maintaining it is easy. People’s expectations toward others guide how they treat them—in other words, we all tend to behave the way others expect us to act.
- Envision the interactions you want to have
Whether you’re going to a work party or a business lunch, or just showing up to your office in the morning, envision the kinds of interactions you want to engage in. Think about what you want to get out of the interactions. This will help you to focus your energy toward specific objectives.
- Be perceptive about others
Most of us fear that our contributions go unseen. Making a good impression means working to point out your coworkers’ large and small contributions, or qualities that you admire. This will go a long way toward relationship-building. Voicing your observations about little things you’ve noticed will show you have a keen eye for detail—and they’ll appreciate your presence more.
- Know your capacity
Define expectations when taking on a project (or turning it down). Taking on more projects won’t necessarily impress your boss or coworkers, who will quickly realize if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Articulating your capacities—regardless of whether you say “yes” or “no”—shows foresight, self-awareness, and concern for the company. If you do want to accept but know you couldn’t handle more work beyond that project, say so—it will help your boss and team plan better.
- Share your accomplishments
If you don’t point out your successes, people might not notice them. State them matter-of-factly when they happen, knowing they’re not just your personal wins but also the team’s accomplishments.
- Become a good follower
While this might sound counterintuitive, it’s not. A good leader knows how to follow the leadership of others, and doing so shows humbleness. A good follower takes initiative, welcomes feedback, and owns up to mistakes.
- Initiate conversation about ideas
When you have a new idea, get input on it. Likewise, invite others to discuss ideas with you. Brainstorm on important topics with coworkers before a team meeting, so you’ll all have more to contribute.
- Be accessible
Getting back to people quickly about their questions will signal that you’re professional. Whether replying to email or in-person requests, communicate in a timely manner. Delaying a response can feel like a passive aggressive way of saying you don’t want to be bothered.
- Stay out of gossip culture
Gossip undermines the corporate culture. This might seem like a no-brainer, but how often have you heard idle banter that could truly hurt the subject of conversation? If there’s a problem to address and people need to compare notes, that’s fine. If it goes beyond that, however, people should be putting their energy into solving the problem rather than publicly stewing over it.
- Create a 90-day plan
If you’re starting a new job, create a plan for what you want to accomplish in your first 90 days of your job. A plan will keep you on track and help you exceed your boss’s expectations. Try using this strategy even if you’ve been at your job for a while. Imagine yourself coming in fresh, with three months to prove yourself—what would you focus on? Even if you never show the plan to anyone else, it can add an element of excitement to your work.
- Share stories about your life
Develop more positive work relationships with your coworkers and boss by sharing about your life outside of work. You don’t need to relay the most intimate details; things like hobbies, volunteering, and vacations will give people a fuller picture of you. Plus, showing that you have a zest for life outside of work will give people a more positive impression of you. When people realize, “Oh, he’s not only a great accountant; he also loves nature photography and helps a local nonprofit file its taxes,” they’re sure to be impressed. Moreover, they’ll share about their own lives and you’ll find more common ground as a result.
As you take these steps, you’re sure to create a good impression at work, making you stand out to your boss and coworkers. These tips will help you become more of a team player, and people will take notice.
“It is easier to motivate people to do something difficult than something easy.” ~Sheri L. Dew~
Lydia Asks: I don’t know how to make some of my people feel more invested in their work. I would have thought success alone would be the best motivation, but apparently not. How can I get people to care more about their work?
Joel Answers: Increasing employee engagement is vital to retaining your people and succeeding as a company. Yet many companies’ “employee engagement plan” consists of giving out a survey and then telling managers to make things better, says Gallup. That’s probably why 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged in their work—or are actively disengaged—according to the organization’s data.
Here’s how to build engagement, inspiring your people to achieve more than they thought possible.
- Be Transparent
When employees feel the company is hiding something from them, they feel less invested in their jobs and may start to look elsewhere. If the company is going through a rough time, be transparent. Share your plan and what all employees can do to help. You might be surprised at how much this will build morale, not only helping you weather the storm but emerge from it in better shape than ever.
- Get into the Trenches
If you’re hiding behind your desk all day, you’re missing opportunities to contribute more as a manager. Build your working relationships by wandering through the office, asking people how they’re doing and listening to their ideas. Ask them if they need help, showing you have no qualms about rolling up your sleeves and pitching in with whatever’s needed. It’ll earn you tremendous respect and create a true sense of working as a team, increasing employees’ engagement in their jobs.
- Allow Your Stars to Shine
Give your team a problem to tackle, so they can generate their own creative solutions. If you need to bring an idea to upper management, create the idea as a team. Give credit where it’s due when you present it, of course—execs will be impressed that you’re fostering ingenuity among your people, and your team will feel valued. Your employees will also relish the chance to contribute in meaningful ways to the organization’s success, and your top talent will soar when their creative abilities are unleashed.
- Share Gratitude Often
The power of gratitude in the workplace. Say thank you often, and be specific about what you appreciate in people. If someone just completed a project, point out the qualities and talents she used in seeing it through—and do this in front of her peers. Give frequent feedback about what people are doing well, along with guidance in areas where they’re growing.
- Give People the Chance to Self-Critique
When an employee could have performed better, give him the opportunity to self-critique by explaining what he thinks he should have done differently. Then help him figure out how to get there. Failure itself usually gives people new insights; your job is to help them integrate these insights into their future performance. Addressing failures or shortcomings in this way feels empowering to employees, as you’re trusting them to help figure out a new plan.
- Create Social Opportunities
Give people the chance to share about their lives and aspirations in a less formal way by creating social opportunities. Having a pizza party for lunch after a team accomplishment will encourage everyone to gather in one place and chat. Taking a few employees out for lunch each week will also give you a chance to connect—and by handpicking people who don’t know each other well encourages new relationships. Asking your team to select a volunteer opportunity to take part in together is another idea. By fostering relationships, you’ll increasing their sense of comradery, which will make motivation and engagement skyrocket.
- Get Silly
If you just send a humdrum email about an employee’s accomplishments, coworkers might barely glance at it. Instead, celebrate these moments in unexpected ways. The Society for Human Resource Management describes how in one company, a group of people parade around with kazoos, horns, and cow bells proclaiming the news. Getting a little wacky turns it into a fun moment for everyone, and makes them take notice.
As you can see, these factors aren’t related to compensation. Higher pay and benefits don’t drive engagement—relationships and communication do. By boosting employees’ engagement, you’ll be increasing their loyalty to the organization and raising the bar for what you can achieve together.
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~
Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.
- Communication channels are undefined.
When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
- Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
- Communication flows only in a top-down path.
When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
- Views are unrepresented.
When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
- Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.
As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.
Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.
“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.” ~Margaret Cho~
Zachary Asks: You’ve seen a lot of people climb the ladder of success. And probably some fall back down it. In all that time, what’s the one thing people should know… but probably don’t… that would have the greatest impact on their career?
Joel Answers: Great question Zachary. We’ve been programmed that those who work hardest get ahead. But we look around and see that isn’t necessary so. We’ve also been told to dress for success, to be a team player, to communicate well, and to network.
All these things are important. They are an essential foundation to produce success. But you can do all these things and still feel you have somehow missed the growth trajectory you expected.
In my opinion, the real key that takes your strengths of hard work, communication, and all the others and propels you to success is one overriding skill: increasing your job visibility at work.
Wait! Don’t tell me, “Oh, everyone knows who I am.” It’s really more strategic than that.
If you fail to make yourself recognized at work, you run the risk that your peers and management may not actually know your impact. They may be clueless about what work you’re doing or the impact you are having on the company.
If they don’t see the overall value you bring to the organization not only might you not be promoted, you could be one of the first let go. Gaining job visibility is vital to career success at work.
Three Steps to Greater Visibility
- How does Your Work Bring Value to the Company? For some this is an easy question. They develop a product and the sales bring in revenue. But in middle management, sometimes there are more steps between your work and the bottom line of the company.
It’s helpful to chart that out. Look at each thing you do and connect the dots to the company’s profitability.
- Can Your Coworkers Identify This Value? Coworkers can be a strong advocate in raising your visibility. They can praise your work to others or share your memos that tell what you are working on and why it’s vital.
One way to increase your own visibility is to share the successes of others. “Our team worked overtime to get this report ready to present by the meeting. They really pitched in.” By implication, others will know you also pitched in and worked hard.
- Does Your Boss Know What You’re Doing? A key to success is making sure the management knows of your work, your projects, and your successes. You can do this as you:
- Schedule review meetings with him
- Send weekly updates on your projects
- Bring him or her into the loop by consulting on thorny problems
- Speak up at meetings with thoughtful questions and good solutions
- Look for your remarkable achievements and share them- tell your story
- Share what makes you unique so you stand out at work
Be aware of the ways you use to gain visibility. Your job is to check the outcome to see if they are getting the results you want. Are people aware of you and talking about your work? Are they giving you the highly visible jobs? In your annual review, is your boss commenting on some of the outstanding projects you’ve done?
Once you master the key to increasing your visibility at work, you will see your career move forward at an accelerated pace.
Are you looking to gain visibility in your job? Is it hard for you to come out of the shadows? Evaluate your visibility so you can learn how to become known for your actual impact at work.
Have you struggled to increase your visibility at work? What ways have you found to be most successful?