Your work does not speak for itself…

Our generation looks at careers differently. While those before us would stay in a job for decades, Millennials tend to change roles every 2-3 years.  “Lean In” compares navigating our careers to a jungle gym rather than climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. We hop around collecting experiences that build the stories of our careers, but those stories are void unless we are diligent about telling them.

I was coming to the 2 year mark in a role and was itching for something new when a colleague of mine asked me to join a team that he was creating in a different department.  I wasn’t thrilled about the  department, but I was excited about starting a new team with him and being a trailblazer of sorts.  I agreed to join him, but we definitely had some challenges ahead of us. The role was undefined and there were no clear parameters which meant that there were days when there was a lot of work all at once, and days where the work load was so sparse that “work” consisted of dreaming up processes on how we would handle work should it actually exist one day.  There were highs and lows during this period, but not even a year in, human resources decided to dismantle the team. Just like that, the journey ended.

Luckily, we didn’t lose our jobs but we did get shifted around to roles outside of our control. Keep in mind, I wasn’t thrilled about this department in the first place, but I decided to stay.  I wanted to make sure my resume showed me in the role for at least a year and I believed staying would appropriately set me up for my next position. I also knew that with the team gone, I was in a unique position to be a subject matter expert. In my mind, this meant there was no way my work would go unnoticed.

I was wrong.

Another year went by and I worked hard. I had to make decisions without direction. I had to manage my new manager. I had to explain the complexities of my product multiple times per day while building trust with my colleagues so that their confidence in me, the lone survivor of an estranged team, continued to grow.  I kept my head down, I worked under the radar, and I extinguished fires that people didn’t even know existed. I was proud of being able to handle it all. But along came performance reviews and after a year of putting in extra work and managing myself, I had to sit down with a new manager to assess my contributions.  It was here that I realized that hard work and efficiency aren’t everything. It turns out that I kept my head down a bit too much. I handled things so well that it was hard to actually see what I was doing. I never knew this was possible, but here’s what I’ve learned:

1) How can someone assess your performance, when they’ve never seen your show?  Working independently only serves you well for short term ventures. Being able to show what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and what would have happened if you didn’t do it is also important.  I would recall all of the times my manager would ask if I needed anything and I would simply respond ,”nope, I have everything under control” because in truth, I did.  But in an even truer truth, I knew that it would be harder to explain than to just do the work.

Suited and Savvy Tip: Don’t just show the finished product. Always take the time to make sure people know the value of the job you are doing.

2.) Imagine a house is on fire.  The logical first response is to figure out how to put the fire out.  You would need someone who can quickly jump to action and determine the best way to get water from a hydrant to the exact location of the fire to prevent the house from burning down.  Once that fire was put out, the person orchestrating the rescue mission would be deemed a hero.  Their work would be easily recognized.  But imagine if that same hero anticipated the fire and took steps to prevent it from happening in the first place.  The recognition would be different because the sense of panic or fear was avoided.  I was the second scenario hero. Because I simply just handled things, the gravity of my work was underestimated and hard to defend. I spent a year preventing a house from burning down and realized that I missed the opportunity to show how I could handle a crisis.

What am I saying here? Obviously, the moral of this story is not to be reactive rather than proactive. But proactivity comes with a price.  Proactivity without communication can come off as poor performance, siloed efforts, and an inability to determine your value.

Suited and Savvy Tip:  You are your work’s mouthpiece! 

I always thought my work would speak for itself. But it doesn’t. Work doesn’t speak, you do. As women, we are far too comfortable with fading into the background or playing supporting roles instead of starring in our own show. We need to be willing to make our value known by confidently (and humbly) defending our skills and accomplishments in the workplace.

Do good work. Do great work even! But be proud of the work that you do and talk about it so that you get the credit you deserve!

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