Reader Kay asks: I’m challenged with finding visibility outside of my unit. I’ve asked for stretch assignments and assignments that would enable me to interface with other units within the organization but those assignments have not materialized. I have no resource for getting exposure and exhibiting my capabilities and skills for career growth purposes.
I have written before about how important it is to get visibility outside of your immediate area because, yes, it’s that important. As you advance in your career, it’s likely that the decision-makers for your next promotion (or even bonus) will include people in other departments, so more people have to know you and your work. If you want a bigger scope of responsibility, working across multiple departments is critical. In order to stay challenged and grow professionally, you need to be able to work cross-functionally. So Kay is proactively managing her career by attempting to work outside her unit.
I have also written before about what happens when your promotion efforts are blocked. You want your boss to help identify opportunities or make introductions. You should also look at making an outright move – a permanently new role, not just a temporary assignment. This could be a move within the same company but to a different unit, or a move to your company’s vendor, client, partner or subsidiary, or ultimately you may need to move out of the company altogether. Sometimes, all the trying in the world will not turn a situation around, and leaving is the best option.
So what should Kay do?
First of all, I would make sure to try the less disruptive suggestions, such as soliciting your boss’ help or trying to land a temporary assignment rather than an outright transfer. Kay might join an Employee Resource Group or other cross-company activity that provides structured networking and visibility opportunities.
Secondly, I would track those change efforts. In Kay’s question, she mentions that she’s tried some things – “I’ve asked for stretch assignments” – but so far things haven’t changed. Who did you ask? When did you ask? Was your ask compelling? Can you ask again? With tracking, you want to measure both quantity and quality. Quantity is about the number of asks you have made – how many times to the boss, who else have you asked and how many times. Quality is about the style, substance, and effectiveness of the asks you have made – did you match your ask to initiatives the company cares about, did you time your ask to occur when the company was considering staffing a cross-functional assignment, did you ask clearly and confidently and did you follow up? For most clients that I coach, when I probe on the thoroughness of their efforts to date, we discover that not everything has been tried and/or we can refine the ask significantly and try again.
Finally, I would always look outside the current company with any career move I’m considering. If you want a larger network, network inside and out. If you want a higher title or more responsibility, I would launch a job search that includes other employers altogether. In this case, if you want visibility, try for visibility within the company and outside. You always want to have multiple options in play. Even if you 100% want to stay, options outside your company will give you leverage within.
When I worked at a financial firm that was quite siloed in its organizational structure and even physical office layout, I ended up with a lot of cross-company visibility because of my stand-up comedy hobby, which the firm posted in one of its inter-office communications. Once that cat left the bag, colleagues that I didn’t work with day-to-day felt like they knew me and more readily spoke to me – my personal hobby helped my professional relationships. You don’t need to do stand-up comedy to get the same effect! Focus on visibility efforts in your industry or area of expertise, such as speaking on conference panels or blogging or curating social media. Focus on visibility efforts in overall leadership, such as mentoring at your alma mater or local college or taking a trustee or committee position within your community.
There are many avenues open to professionals who want to raise their profile. Of course it’s easier if you have an employer with great professional development opportunities and a healthy process for developing talent from within. But that’s not often the case, so keep hustling to find your own visibility opportunities – they are out there.