(written by Debra Bednar for Together Digital)
As a career coach, I have the opportunity to speak with talented, purpose-driven and high-achieving individuals who also feel incredibly frustrated at work. Frustrated about not getting ahead or feeling unfulfilled, stifled, uninspired, and drained. Or feeling frustrated that they’re not on a path that feels true to their goals and dreams.
Because most people don’t feel empowered to lead with their authentic, whole self at work.
What do I mean by your whole self?
Simply, that we’re not uniting our personal self with our professional self. Put another way: ”Who we are at work is different than who we are at home.”
Leading with your whole self is seemingly simple yet incredibly rare because we live in a culture where fitting in is the norm. And, that culture is heightened in our workplaces.
That’s why I developed The Works, a multi-dimensional approach that integrates both your professional self and personal self for the goal of bringing your whole self to the workplace—inclusive of:
- emotional intelligence and
- personal style
…so that you can make your greatest impact and inspire others to do the same.
One way to ensure that you’re leading with your whole self is by knowing and promoting your value. I know, this isn’t easy.
When I first entered tech, I was incredibly intimidated and felt like a fish out of water. I was one of a few women in a mostly male group. And, a business major among mostly engineering majors. I didn’t feel confident in my surroundings so I emulated my colleagues thinking that would enable me to “fit in” and be respected.
But emulating the guys around me only made me average in my role as a coder and I felt incredibly unfulfilled because I wasn’t being true to me. It wasn’t until I followed my own approach, interests and instincts – and embraced my value – that I started getting wins under my belt and earning the respect of my colleagues.
That’s why the best chance for getting ahead is you. And that means knowing who you are and what you’re capable of, and then promoting the heck out of your impact.
Here are 5 ways to help you do just that.
WAY #1: Break Down the Silos
Let me ask you a question: Do you think meritocracy matters—that if you put in the effort, it will be enough to get ahead?
Unfortunately for all the hard workers out there, meritocracy is a myth. It’s only one piece of the puzzle.
What else really matters: OFFICE POLITICS.
I know most people hate this idea, but it’s the truth. Once you understand the system you’re working in, then you’re no longer at the mercy of it – you can get strategic (in an authentic way!) about how to maneuver it to get what you want.
How do you do that?
Break down the silos and get out of your zone.
One way to start is by establishing connections beyond your team in a way that’s authentic to you. Because it’s not just that your boss needs to know what you’re doing, but your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s colleagues, they need to know who you are — and more importantly, what you do and what you’re capable of.
When I was the Head of Global Strategy and Growth for Facebook’s Creative Shop, my team focused on the top 100 brands such as Coke, American Express and Nike. We were the elite squad, if you will, coming up with custom social media solutions for each client.
However, there was another group at the company that was focused on small businesses, providing solutions that could scale across many different smaller companies. We never crossed paths. That is, until I reached out to the leader of the small business team, who was above my boss’s boss.
I told him there were a lot of things we were doing in the Creative Shop that would apply to his work and there was likely a lot that the big companies could learn from the smaller ones on our platform.
He was extremely interested, we met up, and we knowledge shared solutions that worked for both the large enterprises and small businesses.
By doing so, we were both able to help our clients grow their business, and I proved my value by showing how others could benefit from my experience.
Know Your Value. Think about how to create cross-functional relationships.
Start with the question: What am I doing in my role that could be of value to someone on a different team or department? Then, make the outreach happen — set up a time to talk about your experience, findings and insights in a way that applies to them.
This applies no matter what level you’re at: If you’re thinking about providing the company with more value, which leads to the bottom line, then you should feel empowered to go out there and do something about it.
Promote Your Value. Your value grows as you build relationships with as many people as you can. The more people who know what you do and what you’re capable of, the better.
WAY #2: Turn Your Ideas Into Products
Another way to say this: Give Your Work a Name.
Branding your work and marketing it is another way of knowing and promoting your value.
Let me give you an example – the Facebook Publishing Garage. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?
Well it was born out of a really interesting scenario: essentially, at the Facebook Creative Shop, my team was going out and working with marketers to help them create campaigns on the platform. We were helping them figure out their voice and imagery, concepts, and how to leverage data to do more relevant targeting.
We had been doing that for awhile but we weren’t getting recognized for our work and my team was starting to feel discouraged.
But I knew our value.
So, instead of continuing to do one-offs meetings, which took up too much of my team’s time, it was time to brand our work.
We put a “wrapper” on it — we product-ized our work.
We took what the team was doing on a daily basis and turned it into a two-day program with a defined agenda and registration process. We also branded it – we gave it a name called the Publishing Garage, and we made a logo for it. By turning our work into a product, it up-leveled what we were already doing, and the value totally changed.
Not only that, but the program created a lot more visibility for me and my team. Even though we had been doing the work for two years, giving it a name and turning it into a product made it more official in terms of promoting the team’s value. It even got covered in the New York Times, AdWeek, TechCrunch and many more publications.
This was a huge win in terms of knowing and promoting our value. And, it enabled me to get more budget and headcount for my team in a system where both were limited.
Know Your Value: If you’re doing something that seems repetitive – such as one-offs that keep answering the same question – think about how you can create a standardized program for it.
This doesn’t have to be a big program like the Publishing Garage. It could be a form you institute for getting something done. It could be a process you implement before taking on a big meeting. It could be a one-sheet for a franchise you create internally. It can be any of those things.
But once you give it a name and think about how something becomes an end-to-end solution— or create a “product” out of it — then it automatically makes your work more valuable because you’re bringing a scalable solution to customers and your company.
Promote Your Value: When you put a process in place, it shows you know how to be solution-oriented and provide a scalable solution for not just one person or one team, but multiple people and teams throughout the company. This promotes your value at the company in a powerful way.
WAY #3: Message Your Knowledge
I’ll cut to the chase: This is the way that addresses how to brag effectively.
It can feel really uncomfortable to promote yourself without feeling like you’re bragging. Any braggers here?
But flip it: Don’t brag about yourself. Instead, brag about the impact of your work.
When I was at Microsoft, I was the New York Agency Relations Lead, and didn’t get a promotion that I thought I deserved. A more senior colleague and friend told me that I had to make people more aware of what I was doing.
At the time, I was a marketer working with a lot of sales people. I was out every day talking to agencies about their needs. Because I was in the field connecting with partners on a deeper level, which the sales team could not be, I was able to unearth things that would help my colleagues more effectively frame and position products and services to their clients.
Then, I figured out a way to make more people aware of what I was doing: At the end of every week, I sent an Agency Report to the entire New York Sales Office that listed out the key themes I uncovered through all of my conversations and meetings.
Then, I would suggest ways that they could leverage these insights into their future sales presentations. I would also identify new opportunities that the sales force could go after.
My report was similar to a market analysis but it was also actionable. And, if anyone wanted to take on the opportunities I suggested, I was happy to partner with them.
By promoting my insights through the lens of my role, I showed my value by earning the trust with our external partners. Soon, I got that promotion I so wanted – and deserved.
Know Your Value: Ask yourself: How can I take the things I’m doing, identify themes and patterns, and make them actionable for other people in the company to leverage? Figure out how to broaden what you’re working on to a larger audience and send out reports, case studies, ideas etc.
Promote Your Value: By doing so, you’ll be seen as the person who identifies key insights and can scale these insights into bigger ideas that encompass multiple dimensions of the business.
WAY #4: Think of Your Job Description as a Starting Point
People feel compelled to stay within the lanes of their job description.
You think, “OK this is my job, and I’m going to do my job.” But I think of your job description as a starting point.
If you’re in a role and think you could be doing more, do more. Whenever you’re solving challenges outside of your day job, this is how you’re going to evolve, stretch and expand your scope. This also applies when you’re considering new roles.
I was recently coaching a woman who was interviewing with a CEO of a startup. Through her interview process, my client inadvertently identified needs of the business that interested her, but these insights went beyond the position she was interviewing for.
I suggested that she (re)package these needs into a new role with a broader scope and re-pitch herself to the CEO.
By doing so, now she has a job opportunity that is well above and beyond the original one she interviewed for (with a bigger title and compensation plan too!).
Know Your Value: Think about what interests you and how you can expand the scope of your job description to include those elements. Then, do it. When you take action, you’re redefining your job description —which could lead to new day-to-day responsibilities, job title, and much more.
Promote Your Value: By not feeling locked into your “lane” and broadening your scope, you’ll be considered for bigger opportunities because you’re already demonstrating that you’re a go-getter and problem solver.
WAY #5: Remember You’re a Culture Keeper
Most people think it’s the CEO’s job or Human Resource’s job to create culture. But every employee is a culture keeper of the company they work for.
As a culture keeper, it’s important to ask yourself, “How can I add value to this company in a way that’s authentic to me?”
For me, when people were joining my team at Facebook, they were feeling insecure in the first 30/60/90 days because everyone to their left and right was a proven star. But they were stars too, and clearly not enough was happening to make them feel that way.
So I thought, “How can I build a new onboarding program so every employee feels valued and nurtured right away?”
I didn’t join Facebook as a Human Resources lead, I was hired as a strategist. But because I created an onboarding program for my team, my management team and HR leaders saw me as a culture keeper – someone who is instrumental in creating and supporting a positive culture for the organization (and contributing to higher employee engagement and retention).
Not only that, but suddenly I was out in the world doing speaking engagements on HR panels with HR experts talking about how you nurture, grow and evolve talent.
Yes, I was the only business executive on that panel among all HR experts but because I was looking at engaging talent through a unique lens, it broadened the conversation about how to support talent (especially high achievers!).
That’s an opportunity that would not have come my way if I didn’t believe that I was a culture keeper at Facebook.
Know Your Value: Identify challenges in your workplace culture that you can solve. This can range from onboarding, to having more effective meetings, to evolving the office aesthetic so it inspires more creativity and collaboration – the options are endless.
When you see a gap, fill the gap and everyone will be better for it.
Promote Your Value: When you “fill the gap”, you’ll see a positive change in your workplace and more opportunities will come your way that you never could have planned for. And, people will look to you as a leader in the organization, who truly believes in adding value and being of service to others.