One afternoon, as he stepped onto the elevator to return to his office after lunch, Brinker International CIO, Johnny Earl, joined the twenty-something man already inside. Not knowing each other more than by name, they exchanged a quick pleasantry and shared the short ride together. Johnny couldn’t help but notice that the young man seemed very upbeat; as though he was extremely pleased about something.
Johnny didn’t ask about it in the moment, but later that day he inquired about it with the young man’s supervisor. Not knowing the reason, the supervisor went to speak with the young man and reported back. Apparently, he’d just returned from the latest assembly of the “Good Idea Meeting”, a monthly lunchtime gathering specifically for sharing ideas amongst peers at Brinker.
Now this wasn’t a company sponsored meeting. It was something he’d created on his own for individual contributors to come together in a “sandbox” atmosphere, where they could bounce ideas off one another. A safe space to create, innovate and refine their ideas before bringing those with real potential to management.
Johnny was intrigued and wanted to encourage their efforts, but he knew if he attended he’d inevitably change the dynamic of the meetings. So, through the supervisor, he expressed his enthusiastic support and had pizzas delivered to all the subsequent gatherings. They never tried to formalize the meetings, allowing them to remain organic, comfortable, and without management accountability.
In Johnny’s eyes, the young man became the “Idea Guy” and the monthly attendees were known as the “Idea Posse”. From the beginning, there was no fan fair, no budget, and no expectation of recognition. Yet, several initiatives eventually came to fruition because of their ongoing idea generation. The young man was ultimately invited into higher level strategic discussions and then promoted.
How do YOU create opportunities for visibility?
My clients often ask me how they can increase their visibility within their organization, how they can position themselves for that next promotion. That’s often followed by questions about how to do the same for their team, how to advocate for them. Much of the time, the discussion also includes a confession of great discomfort and concern about appearing boastful and arrogant.
When asked, I usually tell the “Idea Guy” story. It’s such a perfect example of how to demonstrate your abilities, how to get the word out about who you are and what you can contribute (leadership, innovation, facilitation, risk-taking, passion, focus, and on and on), all without verbally boasting and bragging.
Gaining visibility within an organization can be a tricky endeavor. Having to advocate for yourself and getting noticed can make the skin crawl for some people, no matter where they were raised. And for foreign-born folks working in the U.S., this can be experienced as anything between utterly-excruciating, to coming off as a bull-in-a-china-shop. Different cultures have different perceptions and values around being humble, direct, competitive, deferential, etc. Striking the right balance here is an art.
You want to get noticed so management will offer you great opportunities, right? There are lots of ways to do that, without the metaphorical chest-beating. Here are just a few ideas to try.
- Share your good works. If your company has a Lunch & Learn program or something similar, offer to do a short presentation on the type of work you or your team is doing. Have you implemented a unique project recently, developed a new product, put a new process in place? Share it with other areas of the organization. If there isn’t a program already in place… start one!
- Ask for what you want. If you’re interested in getting a high-visibility, promotion-triggering assignment… let your interest be known. Tell your manager you’re ready to try out some new skills or to take on a new responsibility. Demonstrate your willingness to learn and grow. Don’t assume s/he knows you want a new challenge. Shake things up a bit, ask for an opportunity to stretch yourself or your team.
- Speak up more in meetings. Take some risks, study up to increase your knowledge, ask more strategic questions, offer solutions to problems, throw your new ideas on the table. Don’t let your inner critic silence your brilliance and keep you from contributing to the bigger conversation!
- Acknowledge and appreciate others. Recognizing and praising the accomplishments of others may seem counter-intuitive to increasing YOUR visibility, but it can actually help get your own work noticed more. When people feel validated, they’re more likely to return the recognition. Of course, it’s got to be sincere. It may also feel more natural to talk about your awesome team than to talk about yourself to others. And if the team is awesome, their leader must be too! If doing all that is unusual where you work, start a trend. Point it out when you notice a job well done!
Not everyone needs to be an Idea Guy (or Gal). Find your own unique way to shine your light!