Self-Promotion at Workplace, Skills and How to Market Yourself?
Manakins are a special type of birds, famous for their dancing ‘courtship’ ritual.
One of the Manakin species, the ‘Blue Manakin’ male bird has a distinct group dance routine to impress female birds. It persuades three junior male birds to join him in practising a group dance. Every day they practice hard till the group achieves perfect synchronisation and the lead male bird is happy with the performance. They then present their dance to a female bird in a carousel of movements with each male taking his turn at the front as shown in gif image. The dance ends with a finishing performance from the lead male. It is a great team effort.
The dancing is the way through which the ‘lead male’ self-promotes that it is healthier than other male competitors of the species.
The ‘Western Parotia’ bird has an interesting mate attraction dance ritual. The first step, the male bird does is to keep its home and surroundings clean all the time. Female birds are particular about cleanliness. Then, before performing the dance, the male bird makes sure that the dancing area is clear of any unwanted debris.
When the female bird arrives, the male bird prepares to dance by bowing its head. The eye turns to yellow from blue.
Then the male bird lifts the feathers to form a lovely skirt and begins to dance -Twirling, rhythmically shaking the head plume with an intermittent display of iridescent throat patch -It was hard work with days of practice. Radiant throat patch excites females. The male bird tries to differentiate its dance from other males by amplifying every little skill in the dance routine. A special dance routine ensures a better chance to impress the female bird.
Pufferfish puts a lot of effort and time in making a detailed-complex pattern in the fine sand beneath the ocean waters in order to attract a mate.
Every species in this world has only one goal -To survive and reproduce.
Females of most sexually reproducing species are “choosy” and she prefers to maximize her reproductive success by mating with the “best” male. As a result, males are forced to compete with each other for access to females and/or induce a specific female to mate with him. The male has to self-promote that he is the right mate.
The male gets an opportunity to mate if self-promotion succeeds. In the case of Bower-bird, the successful male gets an opportunity to mate with a minimum of 30 female birds in a single mating season. The male bird that neglect to promote its skills properly fails to attract any females and die out.
Like every other species, humans also relentlessly strive for survival and reproduction. It’s not about only our own survival but also the survival of our genes which are part of our family relatives and our children. We work hard to assure the survival of our own genes(our own children). Acquiring power(money, respect, getting support from others) is a way of assuring the survival of our genes(Assuring future survival of our family tree).
CAREER GROWTH AT WORKPLACE
Growing up in the career ladder is also a form of acquiring more power and money. Promotion in your job place is for survival or attracting mates. Mostly it is for the future survival of our genes. Your office colleagues are unconsciously fighting with you to grab the power associated with the new ‘job position’ in order to assure the survival of their genes. When the new position opens up, you might be the deserving one but even then you need to self-promote yourselves.
Similar to the mating rituals of birds, if you do not self-promote yourself at your workplace, your career would get flattened and the person who knows how to promote himself or herself would grow quickly in their career ahead of their higher-performing peers all the time.
Is Self-Promotion a terrible idea? We are conditioned to believe that by loving our work and working diligently with a dedicated focus, our management would recognise our contribution soon and would promote us. But the reality is different. How many of you think this is true? Many people have lost promotion opportunities because they stayed silent and focussed on their work alone.
We have heard this story from many people -I have put in long hours, spent a lot of personal time in learning a new skill, and saw that my teammates and bosses were impressed by my efforts. But when the time came, I was passed up for the promotion.
We are all made to believe that self-promotion is a sin, distasteful and self-serving.
Do you want to leave your career growth in the hands of fate? Do you want your future to be at the mercy of whims, fancies and biases of some persons?
Your Work Won’t Speak For Itself -Jack Welch joined GE as a junior chemical engineer in the year 1960. Slowly he began to grow in his career and by 1981, he became CEO of General Electric. That time, the company was worth $12 billion. Twenty years later, when Jack was about to retire, it was worth a total of $280 billion. He transformed GE’s business and revolutionised the company’s entire corporate culture with his distinctive, highly personal management style.
From his experience, Jack says, “Your work generally won’t speak for itself. You must speak for yourself. Make sure that managers understand the effort you put into your job and the results you produce. A bit of modest bragging will not only help you come promotion time, but it will also help discredit any attacks levied against you”.
It is a common myth that if you’re good at what you do, you will make progress in your life automatically. It will work only when somebody notices and importantly, remembers it at the right time. Why should people remember about you at the right moment of your life?. It’s your life and not theirs. Most people are interested in themselves and constantly thinking about ‘What he or she would gain?’. It is up to you to make some noise to remind them about your abilities at the right time.
Self-promotion is a way of taking personal responsibility for your life and your career success.
KEEP RAISING YOUR HAND
Don’t assume things. When there is an opportunity for promotion, raise your hand and show that you would like to be considered.
In the early part of Jack’s career, in the year 1964, he was in charge of commercialising a new plastic material from the lab and it went well. For producing new plastic material in bulk quantities, GE had to put a new manufacturing plant. In the meantime, Jack’s boss got promoted to another department and the General Manager’s slot in the new factory was open. Sensing an opportunity, Jack wanted to take up the leadership role. He was looking to advance ahead of his organisation’s promotion cycle. He strongly felt that he deserved it.
Jack approached his senior boss Reuben Gutoff and evinced interest in the new leadership position. Gutoff was shocked, “Are you kidding? You don’t know anything about marketing. That’s what this new product introduction is all about”.
Jack was shocked to know that he was not at all in the list of probable candidates for the new position. Glad that he showed his interest.
Another shock Jack had was the Gutoff’s comment. He didn’t expect that kind of feedback from him. He thought Reuben was aware of how he worked hard. We all assume that our boss would take notes about our work, contributions, abilities, progress and projects. They might have noted but would have forgotten when the time comes. Their minds are occupied about their problems, their future.
Jack’s first job at GE was to get the newly invented plastic raw material out of the lab into the production. He had to work with researchers and scientists who had no direct incentives to focus their energy in the development of the materials after the invention phase. Jack struggled to motivate them. In addition to that, he had no authority over them. But he loved the challenge. It was all persuasion. He worked hard and found ways to build relationships and motivate them. Finally, he achieved the desired results and got the attention of Reuben and other senior bosses.
From that time, Reuben became aware of Jack’s contribution, persuasion capabilities, passion, ability to accomplish the tasks and determination. Yet, when the time of promotion came, the thought of promoting Jack to the new position never appeared in his mind. When Jack showed his interest, Reuben’s instinctive mind immediately became defensive and thought only about the experience which Jack lacked. Our instinctive mind plays a major role in all decision-making. We all would have gone through similar scenarios. Most of our managers would have seen us how we work from the close quarters. Yet, when the promotion time came, somehow we were ignored or we were never considered.
Now, back to Jack’s story -That’s the time Jack realised that he needs to sell himself to his bosses in order to grow in his career. He had to build a compelling case for why he deserves the promotion. He had already gained experience in persuading his team’s scientists to co-operate and collaborate. Now, he had to do that with his bosses. ‘Persuading Others’ is nothing but sales. So, Jack had to become a salesman.
BECOMING A SALESMAN or SALESWOMAN
Scott Edinger says, “Sales is the most fundamental skill for every professional”. He further adds “the resistance to sales stems from an antiquated idea that selling is pushing people to buy something they don’t want, don’t need, or can’t afford.” But that notion is outdated. Selling is moving somebody else to action”. And that should be part and parcel of professional life.
If you’re not comfortable promoting your achievements and promoting yourself, it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to grow quicker in your career.
It’s not about us but others -If you are really still uncomfortable at promoting yourself, then maybe it’s time to reframe your thoughts.
If you care for people, people will care for you.
Are you genuinely interested in the welfare of others? Do you love to put the happiness of other people before yours? Do you want your company to build a sustainable business so that it could continue to transform the lives of many people? Then, Self-promotion takes a different purpose here.
You are promoting your achievements and contributions not for your own benefit but for the benefit of the team and the organisation’s future. See yourself as a third person and view your character, abilities & skills and think about achievements and contributions. Will you recommend the person? If yes, then you are doing a disservice to your team and your company by not promoting yourself. It is your responsibility to talk about what you have achieved and what you have contributed. It is your duty to sell yourself across the organisation.
Also, you need to be aware that your managers probably would not have enough time and opportunities to understand your efforts, interests, abilities and skills. Their preconceived ideas, pre-occupied minds might affect their decisions. If you can appraise them about yourself clearly with just enough information at the right time would help them to decide, you would be making their lives easier and in-turn helping your company.
WHAT SHOULD WE PROMOTE?
Now, if you are convinced and ready to promote yourself, what’s next? What’s there to be promoted about you? Let’s go back to nature.
The male Bowerbird, as part of impressing females, build an elaborate nest and decorate it with sticks and visually fascinating, brightly coloured objects. Some of the structures rise up to nine feet off the ground. These nests serve only one purpose -to attract females.
Female bowerbirds will visit up to eight males before choosing her favourite to mate with. It’s very competitive. You are competing with eight people in your organisation for promotion. The fit bowerbird male demonstrates its fitness only by doing things that other males can’t do. The bird puts an extra effort and time in differentiating its nest from other nests by collecting the rare blue ornaments instead of using ornaments of readily available colours. (The male bowerbird collects blue objects because of the associated difficulty. If it is easy, even an unfit bird would have done it).
Only through differentiation, the male bird could attract females birds. Similarly, to grow quickly in your career, the foremost thing is how you can differentiate yourself or your nest of abilities from your colleagues.
The Differentiation -Jack Welch strongly believed in personal differentiation, a distinctive identity from other colleagues at the workplace. It was the principal reason for his career growth.
Personal differentiation is similar to brand differentiation. Coca-cola is the first cola product. Seven-Up is the first un-cola product. Redbull is the first energy drink. Brands enter a consumer’s mind through differentiation. You have to think like you are a brand on its own.
Differentiation Through Value-addition -A brand differentiates from other competitors by offering a unique value proposition to the customer. The differentiation lies in the add-on value a brand offers to the customer. Differentiation is about what customers like, desire and need. Differentiation has to benefit the customer. The value that would help a customer to gain something.
Like brands, Jack says that whatever differentiation we would like to show, it should be beneficial to the company. The company has to gain something because of us -maybe an extra business or something else.
Help Them To Help Us -Jack writes that one of the ways to differentiate yourself from others in the workplace is to go above and beyond your job description. Many people are content with working to meet the job expectations set by somebody else in the organisation and the company also expects the same. You could work for years in a company by just meeting the job’s expectations. Working perfectly to the script. But if you are a goal oriented person, would like to rise quickly in the career ladder, you need to be different from those people. You need to help your company to make more money.
How did Jack go beyond the job description and find a new value add-on that helped GE?
After PhD, Jack joined GE as in charge of the company’s new chemical concepts in newly formed ‘Plastics Division’. One day, his manager’s boss Reuben Gutoff asked him the complete cost and physical property analysis of GE’s new plastic versus every major competing product offered by the DuPont, Dow and Celanese.
Jack saw every challenge or task as an opportunity to get out of the pile and differentiate himself. He knew that just answering what he was asked to do would not get him anything. (Bowerbird male would not get a mate if it justs build a nest, decorate with readily available materials and wait. The bird needs to do something different).
Jack thought from the shoes of his boss -He deeply pondered on what his senior managers would do with the data he provides and how they would use and what else information would they be needing. He advises us to think bigger than the questions posed to us. Think like the owner of the company.
Jack provided whatever details Reuben asked but also added the projected long-range product costs of nylon, PP, acrylic and acetal against GE’s new products. It was unusual from a guy from the research department. Reuben was pleasantly surprised and took note of him. Jack’s additional work had simplified many of Reuben’s tasks and helped him in swift and effective decision-making. It provided him with a fresh perspective.
Go beyond and above the job description to differentiate yourself.
CRITICAL ACHIEVEMENTS with Long-Term Impact
We have already seen how Jack Welch always worked above and beyond the job description and added value to the company. Whenever he achieved one of those value-add outcomes, he would note down the results and long-term impact. Those three to five of the biggest and appreciative professional accomplishments were the critical elements that enabled him to set himself apart from the competition. Jack promoted those critical achievements, with the support of sufficient data.
Ask yourselves. “What your company would have lost if you were not there for the last year?”. The answer would make your value additions explicit.
FACTS, NOT INTERPRETATIONS
Jack presented his achievements, abilities as facts and not as interpretations. Though he had good knowledge of plastic materials, he never called him a ‘Plastics Expert’. Though he could persuade fellow scientists to collaborate, he never interpreted that as an accomplished skill. He just presented the facts. Some of his colleagues loved his way of dealing with people and followed it but Jack never interpreted that as ‘ability to inspire’. If you are calling yourself as influencer, thought-leader, expert, think about it. It might be your interpretations. Present them as facts.
If you have followed Jack’s speeches, you could see that he loves telling his achievements through stories. Stories connect with the feelings of listeners. Stories will also help us to advertise our skills, abilities without coming out as a braggart.
In one thousand and One nights, Scheherazade uses her artful storytelling to stave off execution and win the affections of the king -from the book “The Elephant In The Brain’
A successful sale is based on how well you understand your customer and customise your offerings. To understand them, observe and think from their shoes. Jack Welch used to think from the perspectives of his boss. Everyone is interested in themselves and in their own benefits. A boss promotes a person who would help him to grow in his career ladder. It was important to understand their expectations, requirements, anxieties and customise the benefits your promotion would offer to them in their language. If they feel that the chances of their success are high if they promote you, then you have hit a jackpot. Remember, It is about them and not about us.
HAVE LITTLE EGO BUT BE HUMBLE
The foremost thing is ‘To be humble’ while promoting yourselves. Though the above points would help you to come out humble, still you need to be conscious about not crossing the line. Experts, on the other hand, say that we need to be little egoistic to grow in the career.
Lee Iacocca, former chairman, Ford writes, “A certain degree of ego for self-promotion is necessary and natural. A large ego is destructive. The small ego knows our strengths, helps us to be confident, will move us purposefully towards our goals. Large Ego, on the other hand, will always look for recognition. It constantly makes us the desire for the need to be patted on the back. The large ego will make us think that we are cut above everybody else. It will force us to talk down to the people who work for us”. Large ego is detrimental to leadership skill development.
In his earlier part of the career, Jack used to brag about his achievements -He boasted how he sold more plastics in his first year than anybody else in the previous ten years. He was full of himself and had no regard for previous leaders as well as his colleagues. Later, Jack began to appreciate and gave due credit to people around him, which helped him to network and build strong relationships which further ensured support for his leadership aspirations.
The one important thing to remember is ‘There is no success without the presence of other people’.
Can you go to Mars and try to succeed with no one around? Success will mean nothing if there are no people around.
While talking about his accomplishments, Jack used to do that with confidence and conviction. Be confident. Practice confidence.
Remember, every one of us has to develop sales skill. You are the product. If you don’t communicate the ‘product’ benefits, it would be difficult to convince anyone to buy it. the more recognizable your accomplishments are, the more that someone in a higher position will take notice of your unique skill set.
References: ‘Our Planet’ Show from Netflix, The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life -Book by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, IACOCCA -An Autobiography by Lee Iacocca, HBR articles on Self-Promotion by Heidi Grant, Rebecca Knight, Dorie Clark, Anna Ranieri.