Don’t Make Your Work Look Too Easy

December 6, 2011

I’m very pleased to feature this guest post by Joel Garfinkle. Joel is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the U.S., having worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, Ritz-Carlton, Gap, and Starbucks. He is the author of 7 books, including Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. View his books and FREE articles at Garfinkle Executive Coaching. Subscribe to his Executive Coaching Newsletter and receive the FREE e-book, 40 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!

Have you ever watched a figure skater glide across the ice and marveled at how easy it looks? So graceful, so beautiful, so effortless. It takes a lot of work to get to that point, though. Go down to the rink on a Saturday morning and watch the kids taking their first lessons as they stumble and fall and then get up to try again. It takes a lot of falls before you get good enough to make it look easy.

The same is true of many jobs. You get so good at what you do that no one realizes how hard you work. It’s great to be an expert at what you do, but it can sometimes backfire. If your boss thinks you’re hardly working—rather than working hard—he’s not going to want to give you any raises or promotions. It’s up to you, then, to make sure your boss knows what it takes for you to do your job so well.

For example, a local TV host in San Francisco named Ross McGowan was so skilled at interviewing his guests that his boss didn’t realize how much work went into the preparation for each show. He made it look easy, and as a result, when it was time to negotiate a new contract with his boss, the offer was much lower than he had anticipated. If he had taken care to ensure that his boss was aware of how much work, skill, and training went into making his interviews look so effortless, he may have received a better offer.

A passive approach doesn’t work when it comes to getting credit for the work you are doing. One of my clients, who worked at, thought his superiors would know what he was doing and value his efforts without any special effort on his part. This belief fell apart when he heard his co-workers getting praise at a meeting for work that he himself had performed. That was when he realized he needed to do something differently if he wanted to move up in his career, but he wasn’t sure exactly what he should do.

As we worked together, he learned how to be proactive about making sure he got credit for what he accomplished on the job. Every day, he would do something to sell himself to management and show them how valuable he was to the company. You can do the same thing, starting with three simple steps.

1. Keep track of your successes.

Most employees wait until their annual performance review is approaching, then try to remember what they’ve accomplished over the past year. If you’ve done this, you know how hard it is to remember everything. Make tracking your successes part of your daily routine. Every day, either at the end of the day or first thing the next morning, review what you have done for the day and record any significant progress you have made, projects you’ve completed, and goals you have accomplished. You won’t be able to tell anyone about your accomplishments if you don’t know what they are. If you keep track of what you accomplish on a daily or weekly basis, next time you’re updating your resume to ask for a promotion it will be a cinch.

2. Communicate your successes with your boss.

E-mail your boss at least once per week with an update. Let him know whenever you complete a project, and if possible, attach a dollar figure to it to validate your worth to the company. For example, if you saved the company $60,000 this week and you make $50,000 per year, you’ve already paid for yourself.

3. Tell others about what you have accomplished.

Your boss is not the only one who needs to know how valuable you are. Think of other people you can copy on e-mails, such as other department leaders to whom the results of your project are relevant. Engage in small talk with company leaders whenever you get a chance and look for opportunities to tell them about what you’ve been working on without sounding boastful.

As the leaders in your organization realize how much you contribute to the success of the department and the organization, you’ll be given opportunities to work on bigger and more important projects. Your visibility within the company will grow, and your chances of receiving a promotion will increase. Increasing your visibility at work helps you ensure that you’ll be paid what you’re worth and continue to move up in the company.

Thanks, Joel!

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Please also help me with my new research by completing my employee survey!

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Comments (7)

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  1. Thank you Bret & Joel for the post. I find it fascinating that managers (such as the one you describe at Amazon) do not know who to credit for results. In our competitive world, managing and assessing people effectively is critical. Good managers are close enough to their staff to know who is working effectively.

    I think that your suggestions are good, especially #1 about keeping track of personal successes. I am not sure that I would recommend self-promotion though. If it were me, I would look for another position where the manager pays close enough attention to reward the true performers.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I always tell my students its your responsibility to communicate to your manager the progress you are making toward goals. They only directly observe a small portion of the work we do. As long as we don’t embellish our accomplishments, our self-descriptions of success are seen as legitimate. Thanks, Chris! Bret

  2. Hi Christopher,
    Thanks for your response. You are right that managers should know who is working effectively. However, I’ve seen too many employees not gain the respect and appreciation for the work they do. Managers are too busy with other priorities and projects. Thus, employees need to take the initiative to inform managers of the impact they bring to the company.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Concur, Joel. Thanks for participating in the conversation! Bret

  3. Jim Taggart says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Employees walk a fine line between bragging about their accomplishments and not taking the time to ensure their bosses are aware of their efforts and results. I suppose you could say it’s branding yourself in a highly competitive and volatile labor market.

    And what role can social media play to support employees’ attempts to keep the boss informed and excited what they’re achieving?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That’s a very good question, Jim. I think there are some new social recognition platforms out there, but this is brand new territory. Five years from now should be radically different. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bret

  4. Branding is important. You want to brand yourself as someone who is reputable, credible, respected and trustworthy. When you have a solid reputation, you’ll gain the respect necessary from the most influential people inside the company.