According to Tara Mohr in her book “Playing Big”, girls, in particular, learn at school to keep their heads down, do a good job, and assume their success will be noted. When success involves getting good marks in homework and exams, that works. But in the workplace, not everyone sees the good work we do. And with so many distractions for leaders at the moment, we need to work harder to make an impact.
To give an analogy, I enjoy visiting gardens, and if the option is there, I will always take the guided tour. I know that I’ll be so busy talking or people watching or looking at the big showy blooms that if some of the smaller but no less stunning flowers are not pointed out to me, I will miss them.
But self-promotion can feel a little, well, “icky”. Many of us are taught that being a bighead and boasting about our achievements is a cardinal sin. So how do you make sure that everyone knows about the great work you are doing, in a way that’s authentic to you, and without feeling that you’re selling out?
Before you do anything else, if the term “self-promotion” sends shivers up your spine, you need to reframe how you see it. Instead of thinking of it as about selling yourself, think of it as sharing information to help other people solve their problems.
How can you do this effectively? Here are some suggestions:
Share ideas and concepts, things that you are doing that are working well. It goes without saying, but make sure they put you in a positive light! It could be something as simple as a question you regularly use in meetings that’s helping move conversations forward. Or something you did differently on a project that made a difference to the outcome
Make whatever you share relevant and interesting to others. Think about it from their point of view. What is forefront of mind right now? Is it keeping up team morale at the end of a very long 15 months of virtual working? Then share something you’ve done to make your team feel happier and more connected.
Be specific. Make it easy for the person you tell to promote you to others. Focus on the outcome and results, mention one or two key things about the process, and give enough information that clarifies that you are behind the success.
Think carefully about the positioning. If it is a team success, point out the role you played; for example, “I spent a lot of time building relationships with the tax team, so they knew all about the client’s issues and were able to respond immediately.”
Be strategic in who you tell. This will depend on your career goals, but generally, think about where you want to be visible and who is influential in that space.
Two other concerns about self-promotion that come with my clients are “glory stealers” and finding the right time and place to promote.
Firstly, if someone is promoting your success as if it's theirs, pause before acting. Often it’s not deliberate; they’ve just got overexcited and spoken as if they were the hero. Speak to those who want to raise your profile with and add more information to clarify your role. “I hear that John told you about the new business that the team won? Their feedback was that we won it because of how we could demonstrate customer service. I’m glad I’d done a similar role at Client X - I was able to explain the processes we put in place that time and how it could help them too.”
With finding the right time and place, remember that it’s not about having one conversation; it’s a series of them. You need to speak with a few key people, sharing successes that create a positive story around you. Make a plan. To start with, you could practice sharing positive stories in forums such as team meetings, where people are specifically asked to share successes and it’s the norm.
But you need targeted conversations as well. When we are back in the office, make the most of that awkward moment in the lift or by the coffee machine. Asking an influential person how work is going for them will probably elicit the same question in return - that’s your opportunity. Requesting a more formal meeting or call is also a great idea - pitch it that something’s worked brilliantly on one of your projects and that you’re wondering whether other pieces of work could benefit from the same techniques.
Remember - frame it as if you are sharing information to help people solve their problems - and good luck!