Are there any words you like hearing less from your boss than being told you need to get out there and “raise your profile”.
When I worked in Investment Banking raising your profile was about being known by the decision makers; by the ‘who’s who’ of the function in which you worked. You had to meet with senior people and get yourself known to them so that they could advocate for you or give you a leg up on the career ladder. It still makes me cringe when, as an associate many years ago, I was told I had to meet with all of the Managing Directors in the area and tell them about myself in order to get promoted. The whole process was mortifying.
The problem with raising your profile is that it is synonymous with self-promotion. The whole act feels exploitative and self-serving because…. well…. it pretty much is. You do it because you need to get people on side. You want them to buy into you, advocate for you, like you.
You also have to meet with people who are extremely busy, who don’t know who you are and who probably aren’t all that interested. You both know why you are there which makes it worse.
The problem is that however much we dislike doing it, we know how important our profile-raising game is for our career. We know we need to be known by the powers that be. We know we need to promote ourselves but still we don’t do it.
If you don’t like raising your profile, you will likely convince yourself that you are just too busy with your day job so you will de-prioritise it. You will procrastinate. The more you procrastinate, the bigger an issue it becomes and you will dread doing it even more. I am willing to bet that if you have been told that you need to raise your profile or promote yourself more, I bet you have had that feedback more than once.
Unfortunately, this form of self-sabotage is pretty commonplace. And yes, it is a form of self-sabotage, be under no illusion of that. But you can overcome it. So, how do you stop self-sabotaging? What do you need to do to get yourself into gear and bite this particular bullet?
In short, be smart in your approach, don’t sell yourself and have a purpose.
Here are the key strategies:
- Don’t sell yourself. Ever.
Whilst I appreciate my advice is contrary to what you may have read, I remain very clear on this; Never ‘sell’ yourself. Decouple you from the act of profile raising. I know that seems odd as its your profile you are looking to raise but once it stops being about you having to sell you it becomes a lot easier. You are not going in with your begging bowl.
- Make it about something. Have a point and a purpose.
Organising a meet and greet to talk about oneself seems self-serving and a bit purposeless. This is often why women don’t do it. I mean, who is going to want to spend an hour listening to you brag about yourself?
So, to the earlier point, don’t make it about you. Make it about something. Do your research. Map the stakeholders that you want to get on side. Work out who they are, what they do and what they are about. Get to know the function that they lead and what it’s about then work out what you bring to the table or what experience you might have that is complimentary. Are there parallels between what they do and what you do. Are there common goals and mutual benefits? Don’t just rock up with vague notions, do your research and talk to specifics.
- Find the problem and the opportunities.
One strategy I pass on to my clients is to work out what their stakeholders pain points are and how they can help. It’s not rocket science but if you can go in with a view on opportunities and potential solutions it becomes an objective conversation as opposed to you going in to ‘get’ something.
If you can take a pain point away from a senior person and make their life easier, they will forever thank you for it. Clearly, this may require you to get involved and do something over and above (and you have to do it well) but it’s a small price to pay.
So, lend a hand on something. If you are also coming in with an experienced view, it allows you to talk to your experience, your skills, and your talents. You can promote yourself in the context of solving a problem which is much more natural.
- Get to know their trusted advisors.
Get to know the people who work for the person you are targeting. In my previous employment, I always ensured I got to know the board members Executive Assistants. Just enough. I got to know who they were, introduced myself, went to meet them face to face if I needed something and I treated them with respect. Always.
Get to know your targets trusted advisors. Build trust and build mutual respect. Talk to them about what’s on their plate, mutual opportunities, and problems they face. The more educated you are, the better chance you have of converting your stakeholder into an advocate if you go in with some understanding.
It’s worth noting that this also increases your chances of them making time for you if you advertise the fact you have met with ‘such and such’ in their team. It shows you have done your homework. It also helps if their trusted advisor(s) also advocates for you with the stakeholder in question.
- Be crystal clear on your skills and qualities. Know them off by heart. Say them out loud with conviction.
What skills do you possess? What qualities or capabilities do you have? What are you really great at? What sets you apart from others?
If you don’t know the answer, you should. If I were your coach, I would give you a (metaphorical) kick up the backside. What you bring to the table is something you have to be crystal clear on. In my course ‘Your brand as a business’ my clients work through a series of strategies and tools to identify their skills, values, capabilities and so on. You have to know this stuff.
Once you have identified what you bring to the table, say it out loud. You have to learn to say ‘I am really good at problem solving’ or ‘I have a great grasp of French’ or ‘I know how to jumpstart a car if the battery dies’. Whatever it is, you must be able to say it without looking or feeling embarrassed or playing it down.
Note here that being able to articulate what you bring to the table in the context of a mutual opportunity or problem is not the same as a hard sell. There is purpose to your self-promotion and you give them confidence that you know what you’re doing. So, if you can help them with problems with your outstanding problem-solving skills, tell them. Own your power.
- Play the long game.
Meeting with someone and selling yourself is a short-term solution. What happens after that first meeting…..nothing right? You might send them an email to thank them for their time but you probably won’t speak to them again. If you are lucky, when it comes to performance review time, you might be remembered by the stakeholder as the person he or she met once who seemed pleasant enough but that won’t cut it. One time contact is a wasted opportunity.
The advantage of the common goal strategy I’ve outlined here is that it doesn’t just end after one conversation. Identify the problem, let your stakeholder know you are on it and what you intend to do then fix it, go back to your stakeholder, and tell them what you have done and how you did it. You may want to do this via email rather than meeting with them for the follow up but by adopting this strategy, you have connected with them 3 or 4 times. They will remember you far more after that than if you were a one hit wonder.
- Make it a habit.
You have to make this habitual. There is no other way around it. Practise makes perfect. So, do your stakeholder map, set yourself a target of doing a set number per month or quarter and go get it done. You’ve got a strategy now you can deploy so go do it. The more of a habit you make it, the easier it becomes.