An inescapable aspect of working today — for yourself or someone else — is the need for self-promotion. If other people don’t know what you’re accomplishing, you effectively don’t exist. Many of us hope word-of-mouth will do the trick, and occasionally it does. But we can’t rely on it to get ahead.
The idea of self-promotion can be agony for women.
Part of the problem is that we haven’t been raised to talk ourselves up. We’re meant to be in the background, gracefully accepting any praise that comes our way, not courting it.
I thought that way for years. My dad’s single piece of career advice was simple: “Work hard, and you’ll be recognized.” I bought it. Why wouldn’t I? It had always worked at school. But the workplace is a much more complex ecosystem than the classroom. It’s billed as a meritocracy, yet people routinely get ahead for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with merit, and far more to do with politics.
Part of being a savvy political operator is this: you need to remind bosses and clients what you’re doing, or chances are they won’t notice.
When I interviewed entrepreneur Mary Kopczynski for my podcast she pointed out that a lot of women have multiple relationships within their companies, and it’s through those relationships that they make things happen — yet they rarely get any credit.
Mary used to be one of the women who was hesitant to claim credit for her work. Then she began to observe a male colleague:
“I worked with this one guy and I’d joke that that he’d get 15 minutes of work done … and then spend the rest of the seven hours and 45 minutes of the day talking about how great he was at doing those 15 minutes of work.”
I had a similar experience once. I was still heeding my father’s advice at the time. It would no more have occurred to me to remind a manager of what I’d pulled off that week than it would to have danced naked in the streets. My English soul shuddered at the thought. As far as I was concerned it just wasn’t done. Your work spoke for itself. You didn’t need to talk about it as well.
I remember coming in one day and hearing a coworker on the phone to someone in another of our offices. He was talking about some work he’d just completed, and phrases like “Yeah, wasn’t that great?” kept floating into the corridor. I rolled my eyes. I thought this gush of glorification was 1) unnecessary and 2) vulgar.
But guess who got promoted later that year? That guy was great at reminding the world of his achievements, large or small. His tactics might have seemed over-the-top to me, but they worked. People remembered him.
This kind of thing is just as necessary for entrepreneurs as it is for regular wage slaves. Mary Kopczynski now runs her own New York-based company, 8of9 Consulting, which helps financial companies adjust to regulatory change. She compliments her employees on a job well done, and she’s equally determined to let them know what she’s achieved herself:
“I’m very public about saying, ‘This is solved. This is done.’ Because otherwise people don’t notice and they don’t pay attention.”
As CEO of a small company she says it’s important for staff to continue to have faith in her. Part of that comes from them realizing what she’s accomplished.
Tips for taking credit
Share with the group.
Perhaps your ideas get used at work but you never get credited. Maybe that’s because you originally shared the idea with an individual rather than a group. Some people feel shy about imparting ideas to a group because they’re not sure the idea is worthy enough for a wider audience. But when you only tell one person it’s easy for that person to adopt the idea as his or her own (subconsciously or otherwise). When you announce the idea in front of a group, it’s obviously yours.
Of course there are ways to do this. The world has different expectations for male and female behavior. Men can be brash and get away with it. Women can’t. So think about how you present your achievements. For women, “Wasn’t that great?!” will usually backfire. Try a more Kopczynski-like approach: let others know what you’ve done in a straightforward way. For instance, “I wanted to let you know I’ve completed X and Y.”
Don’t share EVERY achievement.
Bear in mind you can’t expect to get credit for everything you do. People will quickly start to resent someone who wants a gold star for everything. The idea is to make sure people are aware enough of the important stuff that your reputation gets a boost.
How do you claim credit for your achievements in the workplace? Please share in the comments!