Have you ever been told to increase your visibility at work?
In a communication skills training a woman once shared that she’d gotten the feedback from senior managers that she’s not visible enough.
Many of my clients get that feedback and the first reaction is to roll their eyes and be frustrated. They strongly believe that the work should speak for itself. And they look at those who are more visible and what they do—and cringe.
(As if there’s only one way to get visible!)
The way I see it, there are three negative effects that come with a lack of visibility on your company.
If you’re not talking about your work often enough, you’re not just not promoting it. Others feel the downside, too. Your boss, for example. They have a need for knowing what’s going on and if everything is on track. Not because they’re micromanaging, but because they have to answer to their boss as well. Thinking about that, it’s actually kind to regularly catch others up on the work that you do.
It’s not just about you, when you get more visible with your work. It’s also about the project. Every team has a lot going on, so there’s a constant battle for priority and attention. If you don’t show up for yourself and your project, then there’s a real risk of losing access to resources or budget. This is something that the leaders sponsoring the project won’t accept and, yes, they will take it away and give it to someone who advocates more openly.
The other downsides that come with a lack of visibility is that you’re missing out on collaboration. That might be access to information and resources or hands-on support from peers and other teams. It might also be the budget or getting decisions on time from senior managers, simply because you’re not on their radar and they don’t understand what you want from them and why. All this makes moving projects and initiatives forward like pushing a bolder uphill. It’s exhausting and the moment you let go, it rolls back.
And let’s not forget about the progression of your career. If people don’t see you, don’t know who you are and what you can do, they can’t consider you for new opportunities. Even when your boss drops your name in a succession planning meeting: If all the other managers go „Who’s that?“, you don’t have a chance. And it’s understandable, how can you trust someone you don’t know and never heard of to get the job done?
But there’s a reason why many women shy away from networking.
The inner dialogue that women have when confronted with the challenge to get more visible includes sentences like:
- „They probably receive the information another way.“
- „I don’t know what to say and how to say it.“
- „I’m afraid I’ll get negative feedback.“
- „Thy don’t seem approachable.“
- „They don’t know who I am. I’m not part of their team.“
- „My question/ idea/ proposal is insignificant.“
Many of these thoughts are assumptions. And all of these root in the believe that talking to people, introducing yourself, talking about your project, asking for help and so on is selfish.
That’s not true. It’s symbiotic.
The power of symbiosis.
Like the relationship between the Black Rhino and the Red-billed Oxpecker. It’s easy to think that the little bird are the only ones profiting sticking with the rhino. They get transported from one place to another, they find their food on the rhino, and they’re safe. Because who in their right mind gets too close to a rhino?
But the rhino profits, too. Their eyesight isn’t the best and that makes them easy prey for poachers. The bird warns them. And that can make a difference between life and death as scientists have found out: Without the Red-billed Oxpecker, the Black Rhino only notices approaching humans in 23% of the cases. With the alarm call of the bird, the rhino was alerted in 100% of the cases. This gives them a chance to spot the danger and start getting to safety.
Think of the relationships you build with other as equally symbiotic: You increase your visibility, get more support for your work, and are considered for more opportunities. Others feel seen just the same and get access to information and support through you.
Why should you build your internal network?
And the benefits don’t stop there.
A summary study shows that„individuals who excel at networking more likely excel in their careers compared to those who do not. […] A number of significant advantages afforded to individuals through networking are information exchange, collaboration, alliance development, acquisition of tacit knowledge, visibility, and support.“
We also shouldn’t forget that being connected to others is one of our basic psychological needs. The better we fulfil this need, the better we feel and the more satisfied we are with our job. You’ll also feel more empowered as you notice your social resources increase.It’s not just about you:
The whole organisation benefits from your network.
- It promotes knowledge sharing across the whole organisation.
- Regular communication builds trust, ideas are exchanged more freely and openly and this facilitates innovation.
- Communicating well promotes a focus on problem-solving rather than finding someone to take the blame.
- The trust that builds creates a safe place for sharing disagreement, discussions get richer and healthier.
- We have the feeling to belong to the company which boosts our engagement and we stay at the company longer.
- Even the random conversations at the coffee machine often are a source for great new ideas and inspiration.
- It breaks down silos and silo-thinking which leads to better decisions and more holistic solutions.
- And of course, if people know where to get help, they complete tasks more effectively and productivity goes up.
How can you build your network strategically?
Researchers suggest that „in addition to actions that organizations can take to foster a climate conducive to women’s networking and career development, there are a number of actions women can take to help advance themselves.“
1. „invest more time in leveraging existing network connections. This is particularly important given that access to informal networks within an organization is limited for women.“
2. „make strategic choices about which networks to build and how to build them; […], a smaller set of strong ties seems to make sense for support networks, while having broader weak-tie networks may be particularly helpful for task accomplishments and advice seeking.“
3. „because women are often viewed as outsiders in organizations, it becomes more essential for them than for men to acquire social capital by borrowing from a sponsor. Such a sponsor can be identified through networking and mentoring relationships.“
The easiest way to get better at building your own network is start looking at each situation with fresh eyes.
Keep asking yourself: “How can I connect with and create value for others in my company?” When you learn something new, think “Who might benefit from this?” and then go and share it.
Be as generous as you can be. Don’t hold back on information, ideas and support because you’re afraid that you’ll run out of good thoughts or you lose power. There’s always more where that came from!
Be kind and friendly. Smile at people, say Hello and ask how they’re doing (and then wait and listen for the answer). Show some interest in others’ work and their goals, and celebrate their wins with them. You can ask people to have lunch with you and make connections between people who don’t know each other yet. Make it a point to give before you ask and try to create win-win situations even when asking. Reconnect frequently. Don’t be one of those people who only show up when they want something.
Strategic vs. Emergent: How you find your allies and supporters.
The emergent approach:
This goes hand in hand with the ‚leverage‘ component we spoke about earlier. You simply start paying attention to who’s already there. Who helps you out? Makes you laugh? Shares information? Teaches you new things? Asks you for help? Wants your advice? Values your opinion?
You’ll notice you already know a lot of people. A network that grew organically through day-to-day work and projects you’ve been involved in. Do not underestimate what this network can do for you. Invest in these relationships regularly. That doesn’t mean you have to have coffee dates every week with everyone you know. But that you’re more intentional about keeping in touch and making the connection points you have with them anyway more meaningful.
The strategic approach:
Sometimes though we want something. It might be advancing in our career or getting support for an idea or project. Then a more strategic approach in selecting the people we want to have in our network makes sense.
Start by being clear about what exactly you want support on. Then create a good old stakeholder map. Place people in an x-y-plot depending on how high or low their interest in your topic is and their influence on what you’re trying to achieve.
Now, think about whom you can connect with directly. There may be a few people you have (almost) immediate access to. Think about how you can get in touch with them. Then there may be others whom you can’t access yourself easily. This often happens when there are a few levels of hierarchy between you and the other. In that case, you can try and go an indirect way.
Who are the people that are a connection point between you and the one you want onboard? How can you build or leverage a relationship with them to influence the person you can’t reach directly?
It goes without saying that the more relationships you’ve built over the years, the more momentum you have even when you need to get strategic.
But sometimes we start from scratch and then the danger (or fear) is that the strategic approach feels (or is) very transactional. There are two ways you can make sure you’re not just using people:
(1) Be upfront about why you’re getting in touch. Nothing’s worse than schmoozing without clearly saying what you want. If you disguise your meeting as a ‚coffee chat‘ but what you really want is budget approved, then neither of you will feel very good.
(2) Give after you asked. It’s ok to ask people for what you need. No one feels used or exploited if you do that once or twice, even without contributing first. But be sure to show your appreciation afterwards and find ways to reciprocate later on. Plus, that person you connected with is now part of your existing network. So keep investing in the relationship.
Overall then: Build a network in your company to increase your visibility and do it your way.
We covered a lot of ground in this article. From why you might not want to ’network‘ and why you should anyway. We also tapped into how you can get started.
You might still be wondering: What do I talk about with people? Well, for one you can always ask them questions about their work or how the kids are or what they did on the weekend. Share a little bit about yourself, too, so they can get to know you better.
But don’t forget to sprinkle in work-related topics. After all, we’re increasing our visibility to maximise our opportunities. Speak about your strengths and skills, recent achievements, the things you like most about your job, or what you admire about others.