In the world of today, doing the work is only half the work. You have to do the work, talk about the work, and show up where it matters!
Once upon a time there lived a young smart hard-working lady called Bethany. She did her work judiciously and with such incredible high quality. She put her head down and did the work. She did this for many years.
Bethany never raised her hand for an opportunity, never said what she had done to demonstrate it to a wider audience. It felt pretentious to her. Her work was so amazing, to be honest, she felt it would be obvious. It was only a matter of time, her work should speak for itself. No one else was at the office at the break of dawn or left as late as she did or gave their all to the job like she did. She did this for many years, and though she was passed over for many promotions during this time, she was confident in the quality of her work. In time it would speak for her.
One particular day, her boss, Emma, saw her slaving over a project in the dead of the night, and it dawned on her how much of an asset Bethany was to the company and how she hadn’t been really rewarded. In that moment, as Emma stood at the glass door of her large office in her glossy white pumps, it flashed in her mind’s eye just how much Bethany had poured into the company and Emma made a mental note to ensure that was fixed.
In the next performance review sessions, Emma was determined to make sure Bethany was compensated. Bethany eventually was promoted 3 positions ahead her current role, got a 300% increase in her pay, and would immediately begin to lead a team. Bethany was very emotional as she was commended for all her great work and everyone rose to give her a round of applause; all her hard work eventually paid off.
She set off to her new role energized and motivated, ready to conquer, and proverbially lived happily ever after. The end.
What do you think about the story?
Many people have that story in their head as a framework of how the world works and this simply isn’t true of the world of today. I think there is this general, unfortunate misconception that most times doing the work is enough in and of itself. That if you put your head down, and do incredible work, you will be noticed, recognized, awarded, and rewarded by that alone.
That people are watching and when they see you doing the work diligently, they will reward you, with either more money, or responsibility. I wish this were absolutely true. The ideal is that it should be, most of the time. Sometimes it is, but I have news for you: in most cases, doing the work excellently well simply isn’t enough in today’s world. Our world isn’t ideal. That example probably doesn’t exist, and if it does, the chances of that happening, are really, really slim. That isn’t truly a strategy.
in most cases, doing the work excellently well simply isn’t enough in today’s world. Our world isn’t ideal. That example probably doesn’t exist, and if it does, the chances of that happening, are really, really slim. That isn’t truly a strategy.
I’ll tell you three problems with the expectation of that story above:
1. You Think the World Has an Active Attention Span
Emma is a busy, busy woman. So are your senior colleagues, peers and the entire world. Everything is fighting for that attention. Adverts, social media, family, work, entertainment, all more interesting than the quality of your work. That story really exaggerates how much, in plain terms, Emma cares. It’s not ideal. Yes – people are watching, but only for a fraction of a second every other month?
They have other things that occupy their minds and you doing the work, is simply not enough information for them to make a collective and unprompted decision to reward you. Relying on human altruism isn’t really a sound strategy in my opinion.
That people are generally "good", and reward good behaviour, is an ideal not a reality for most people alive, at scale today. Also, this story does not put into consideration the fact that people generally drift towards the path of least resistance. What exactly is the incentive to promote Bethany? Because the reality is, the fact that she is doing good work is simply not enough and the next point will add more colour.
2. You Believe You are the Only One Doing Great Work
Bethany is amazing, but there is a Myrah, a Danny, and a Joe who also do amazing work not mentioned in that story who do not just do the work, they speak up and also show up. Whether or not you realize it, you are being compared with other people and while you do great work, chances are you aren’t the only one doing great work. I don’t like to see it as a competition but merely the fact that you do not exist in a vacuum.
So besides doing the work, and with the initial point on limited attention span in mind, you have to talk about what you have done to the people that matter in a way that highlights how great it was, because most times they aren’t following you around, documenting every amazing thing you’ve done.
They probably only notice this, if at all they do, for a fraction of a second – not enough to create a convincing picture. So, it is important to realize that you are not performing in a silo; there are other things and people to consider.
3. You Do Not Realize People Make Decisions Only with Available Information
I touched a bit on this in two above but simply put, people make decisions only with available information and in my mind doing the work isn’t always proven by just doing the work. It is usually cemented by doing the work to incredibly high quality and talking about your work to the people that matter in a way that’s convincing and clearly shows the value add, and finally, showing up in the places that matter and putting a face to the name. When people have adequate information to string together in a way that gives them sufficient comfort about your competence, then it begins to yield rewards, because you have now built a strong authentic brand that works for you even when you are not present.
If you are like me, you will feel like this all sounds transactional. It all feels so put-on, Maria. It feels so inauthentic and forced. Well, for what it’s worth I think this will all backfire if you aren’t authentic. I believe in being your true and full self as much as you could possibly be within every given context, and I want to tell you that there is absolutely nothing contrived or inauthentic about doing the work and talking about it.
You did the work, didn’t you? Yes - there is definitely making sure you don’t come off full of it and not over-flogging your achievements. Yes – there are folks who have gamed this, and do not do the work, but somehow can speak about it like they have and show up in places that matter and go ahead to deceive people. I think that approach is definitely inauthentic and will eventually backfire. Because no matter how much you speak up and show up, at some point you will have to do the work, and your work will be brought to speak for you. What will it show?
I’m by no means an expert at this – I still struggle with talking about amazing stuff I’ve done. Or even saying they are amazing. Also, showing up occasionally can be a long conversation between my mind and my body. Okay, maybe a lot of the times i have to drag myself. But throughout the course of my career I have come to the realization that doing the work is only half the work. You have to talk about it to the people that matter, and also show up in the places that matter!
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