Challenge: How To Expand Your Role And Work Less
Last week we dissected different ways to get promoted. This week’s eyeroll is courtesy of an Instagram post that shall go unnamed:
“If you want to manage a bigger project, manage the one you are currently managing as if it was the most important project for your organization.”
Or give 110% or its cousin, “Hard work is all you need.” At face value, all of these sound good. However. What if you work hard and nobody cares? After all, you may act as if your project is the most important for the company, but does that really change the company’s perspective?
Maybe. Maybe not.
I know a bright, young woman at a startup who stays later than all her colleagues. Her work is impeccable. But when she recently asked for a raise, management politely denied her.
On the other hand, for example, when my last department decided to go after programming rights of a major sports league, the mere acronym in the subject line of an email was enough for an immediate response from the CEO.
While it’s important to take your responsibilities seriously, the point is blindly acting as if your project is the most important to the organization risks appearing, well, a little clueless.
“Just because you can dance well does not mean you’ll get invited to the ball.”
Let’s dive in.
The nuance lost in the initial quip is awareness. To manage a bigger project, it’s important to be aware of how your current project impacts the bottom line and how it relates to everything else in the pipeline.
And if you don’t know, ask your manager. To soften the conversation, you can say how you think it relates and ask them to clarify if that’s correct or not.
Even small projects in context can be extremely important depending on what the endgame is. Know what the endgame is.
Know Importance Is Relative
While big companies tout shareholder value, this idea of importance can take many different forms in a large corporation. There are three main dimensions that I’ve observed:
- Financial – does it help the company make money? If yes, how much?
- Political – does this make our department look innovative? Collaborative?
- Social – does this make our company stand out in the industry?
All three are (no pun intended) important. Different organizations may weigh each differently depending on their specific market and position, but they will have an eye on them all.
Now that we’ve deconstructed how important your project is, let’s turn to how to prove to the powers-that-be that you can handle more.
The ultimate goal here is to build trust. Generally speaking, people tend to hire people like them because they remind them of themselves. And of course, it’s natural to trust yourself. I will even go out on a limb to say this may be why women only make up 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Look at the boards governing these companies and choosing the candidates…
So, short of changing your gender or race, it’s imperative to be dependable. What does that mean? Here’s a shortlist:
- Do what you say you will do.
- Be honest.
- Be open to feedback.
- Sincerely care.
- Look people in the eye.
- Be responsive.
- Make things right when you make a mistake.
- Don’t be perfect – watch the movie Election for why.
There are many other one-liners you can find online, but they all boil down to treating others the way you would like to be treated.
Ask & Deliver
Managers are not mind readers. If you feel safe enough to show interest in taking on bigger projects, ask. This is especially true for recurring projects that comeback every year, every product launch, every client, etc. They are more likely to give you a chance when you’ve seen it before.
There is something to be said about showing initiative.
And even if the manager punts your request to later, don’t let them off the hook. Ask to setup time to talk about what skills you need to develop to take on the bigger challenge.
I know that that can feel uncomfortable. So chalk it up to exploration. Talk to a friendly higher up to endorse you. Practice with a mentor.
This tip may be controversial, but there are tons of studies that show how we’re more productive with less time.
I knew a human resources manager who worked in the same position for 16 years and unleashed her resentment of never being promoted on every rising woman in the company…all while justifying her toxic behavior as “helping” women. If I felt like she cared to listen, I would have gently suggested a well-deserved vacation. But she had gone off the deep end. Last I heard, she was no longer with the company.
I only wish her well and hope that she’s healed for everybody’s sake.
The point is you can grip the bat/racket/sports-equipment-of-your-choice tighter, but will it help you hit the ball farther? No. The irony of the universe is that oftentimes the more you try, the less you succeed.
Take a deep breath.
Sign up for classes to force you to limit work hours. Better yet, register for an improv class.
The experience will force you to think on your feet and have fun. It’s great practice for dealing with the unexpected…which is the real skill that will get you that bigger project.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
-Sydney J. Harris