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Career Recognition

Here's how to get recognized for the job you do

By Julie Charles

Whether you’re a whiz at logistics, a savvy negotiator, a presentation guru or a worldly travel planner, this is no time to lay low and wait to see how the chips fall in the next round of financials.

Your job depends on staying sharp, adding value and making sure that what you do really matters to your customers and the people you work with. Here’s how to start.

You can’t begin to promote your worth at work unless you understand what your colleagues and leaders really value, suggests Sue McKee, co-managing director of Integra Leadership Inc., a global coaching organization based in Toronto.

As a Certified Professional Co-Active coach, McKee works with teams and individuals to improve performance and find the “blind spots” that can hold people back. A corporate veteran, McKee spent 14 years at Unilever Canada, working across disciplines in marketing, sales, internal audit and innovation.

Whatever and wherever your job is, says McKee, “you can’t define your own value or enhance your own value if you don’t know what the organization needs and wants.”

This may take looking at your company in a different way than you’ve looked at it before, through the eyes of colleagues, clients and leaders, she suggests. “You might pride yourself on how well you do one thing, but that might not be something that’s really valued by the organization or your boss.” McKee suggests two parallel paths to help you define and raise your value:

Conduct a personal “customer service” survey
Start your own informal research project by talking to your internal customers and other influential people within your organization. Your goal is to find out what key people in your group or department recognize you for and value, among all the things you do.

“You’re basically asking for feedback, but you’re asking in a very specific way to find out what it is that you do that is of value to those you work with,” says McKee.

Know what you’re good at
You need to be aware of all your strengths to recognize work opportunities you can excel in—which can be harder than some people think, says McKee. “People think they know themselves well, but you ask them to write down their top five strengths and many sometimes struggle,” says McKee.

Start by conducting a reconnaissance mission of your successes, she suggests. Gather up your old performance reviews, letters of recommendation, commendations, complimentary letters or nice emails from colleagues. Recognize a common theme? Next, be more objective in listing and rating your top talents.

Rather than try to fix perceived “weaknesses,’’ it can be far more productive to focus on identifying and building your strengths. If you can’t bring in a coach, there are lots of great self-help tools available, says McKee, and recommends Gallup’s Strengths Finder tool, for one.

“It’s a ‘know thyself’ kind of a situation,” she says. And if you haven’t done work on yourself before, there’s no better time than now.”

BE SEEN (in a good way)
When you have confidence in your strengths, find a suitable way to blow your own horn, says Toronto-based executive coach Sue McKee. Make yourself more visible or make sure the results of your efforts are known. “Initially, this may feel like stretching a new muscle you haven’t used before, but you want to choose activities aligned with who you are and what you’re good at.” For instance, if you’re a real extrovert who can make numbers come to life, volunteering to share your team’s recent market research findings at a company event is a great way to get out there. If you’re an introvert, that’s not the best way to share the same knowledge. “Everyone’s got to find their own approach and do this with integrity.”

STEP UP (but don’t suck up)
Taking initiative is probably the best, most worthwhile thing you can do to prove your worth at work—especially during a rough spell, suggests Stephen Viscusi, New York based career and recruiting specialist, in his book Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins, 2008). “Even the highest-level managers are afraid to make a wrong move, and behaviours across the organization can become cautious to the point of being paralyzed. That’s why such times are a golden opportunity to add value when it’s needed most by taking initiative.”

BE A ‘10’ WHEN YOU NEED TO (but life’s not perfect)
Flawless execution and attention to detail in your programs and events are one thing; but excessive perfectionism can bog you down in details that obscure your objectivity. This trait can be a principal barrier to success in business for women, in particular, according to Robin Fisher Roffer, in Make a Name For Yourself (Broadway Books, 2000). Always consider what really adds value to yourwork. Recognize subtle symptoms that can keep you stuck in place rather than moving ahead—rewriting reports or emails over and over, constant rethinking, second-guessing or reorganizing. The trick is not to get bogged down in the surface stuff; “Put your ‘do-it-right’ energy into the things that really count and do the rest ‘well enough’,” recommends Roffer.

LISTEN WELL (you’ll learn something)
Dust off your Management 101 workbook on those active listening skills, and really tune in to what’s going on around you at work. In an office frenetic with activity and distractions, it takes time, patience and effort to stay alert through an entire meeting, listen without interrupting, confirm your understanding or let somebody complete a sentence. If you glean even a smidgen more information from peers, clients and bosses it may trigger more insight on their needs and how you can ably assist with a solution.

AVOID MAKE-WORK (at any cost)
Find ways to be proactive and get noticed at work, but don’t create make-work projects for yourself. Offer to take on, or lend your time to, projects in areas where you know the company has real and immediate needs. “You can only glean so much of that by observation,” advises McKee. “It really begs for conversations to be had, probing questions to be asked.” For instance, while an idea for a new prospecting sales promotion may be a great one, you’ll be out of synch with priorities if the organization really wants to focus on customer retention right now. Any ideas that help save money or track costs—such as proposing a way to better manage travel expenses, or recommending new partners to sponsor a conference—will be winners in this market.

BE STEALTHY (gather your intelligence)
Don’t just rely on internal announcements to know what’s going on in your company or industry. Follow the top names in your organization—as well as those of your main competitors—and set up alerts on Google news or other search engines so you can always scan the headlines.

INFORM OTHERS (share what you know)
We’ve all dealt with people who seem to hoard information or neglect to pass along news or details that affect your team. Make it a point to share any gold you unearth. Make it easy: for instance, don’t just forward a massive industry survey you receive; highlight the top findings you know will be of interest to your bosses or colleagues. You add value by sharing knowledge, not just data.

LEARN AND NETWORK (invent your future)
If your organization reimburses the cost of continuing education, take advantage of it. If not, see it as an investment in yourself, whether you want to become accredited in your field or simply stay current. The cost of joining an industry association is small compared to the invaluable networking opportunities you will make—helping you with current and future jobs. Look up your own best network, under Associations + Events at www.ignitemag.ca

Your cocktailparty pitch
Can you explain, before the elevator hits the ground floor, your role and value to the organization you’re in? Learn how to preach what you practice. Come up with a fresh “pitch” that explains who you are and something cool you’re doing right now—not your title, but how you fit into the team.

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