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How do I get visibility?
Visibility is about others knowing your work and the value you bring to work. But how do you get it without bragging?
In my two-part posts on how to get promoted (part 1, part 2), I shared how visibility is essential for promotion. Visibility means that folks are aware of the work you are doing and know your superpowers. I’ll admit, “having visibility” can feel a bit of a vague catch-all workplace phrase. Visibility starts with your manager and closest peers knowing your contributions. Then, that visibility can extend to your skip-level, your skip-level’s peers, leadership above your skip-level, peers in other places in the org, etc. Visibility lets others speak about you and your work when you aren’t in the room. This includes both the quality of your work and how you are at work.
When others have visibility into your work, it means that others advocate for your work, you’ll get new opportunities because your senior leaders know your strengths, and you’ll be recognized and rewarded for the job you are already doing. The inverse is also true; if you don’t have visibility, you are likely missing out on opportunities because others don’t know your superpowers, and your work is less impactful because it isn’t influencing others outside of your project.
But while the advice of “get visibility” is commonplace, the approach can be tricky. Self-promotion can feel awkward like you are bragging about your accomplishments or putting them above someone else’s work. Yet, you should be authentic and sincere about sharing your work, not boastful about your accomplishments. It can also feel odd to advocate something you did that multiple people contributed towards the outcome. On the other hand, you may think if your work is great, it should speak for itself. Yet, if people don’t know of the great work or be able to attribute it to your contributions, then you miss an opportunity for your work to have more impact or for new ways to contribute in the future.
Because of how uncomfortable it can be, I spent my first four years at Amazon not trying to get visibility or self-promote my work. I tried to do great work, work with my engineering teams to deliver excellent experiences, and hope others would find out. But I learned the hard way that doesn’t happen unless you’re intentional. So I’ll share some tips I’ve learned on how to be more visible without being awkward, braggy, or self-promotional about it.
Highlight others’ accomplishments (AKA pay it forward).
To increase your visibility, start by advocating for others’ work and their superpowers. This advice sounds a little counterintuitive, right? Well, I’ve found that promoting the work of others can have a powerful impact on my visibility as well. First, anyone would like to hear something like, “Susan was telling me about the great work you are doing.” Hearing this likely bolsters your view of Susan, and you’d be more likely to return the favor of sharing Susan’s work. Next, highlighting others’ work helps you become a connector, as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. When other’s perceive you as a connector, they’re more likely to seek your perspective as someone well-informed about what’s happening. Becoming known as a go-to source of information also creates opportunities for you to share your work. Lastly, each of us can contribute to a culture of encouragement, appreciation, and sharing of quality work. This helps show others that even though we work in a hardworking environment, delivering value to our colleagues is also great. In return, this will help you build stronger relationships with your co-workers.
Use and develop mechanisms to promote your work.
Amazon drives a culture to establish mechanisms, which are repeatable processes that take inputs and transform them into desired outputs that multiple people can utilize. For getting visibility, a mechanism would be a repeatable process that takes your work or superpowers and helps others know about your work. What processes does your org already have where you learn about others’ work? Start by using practices your team or org already has. If they don’t exist, here are a few to consider introducing:
Lunch & learns are opportunities to share knowledge, an overview of projects, or retrospectives of learnings from past projects.
Status updates allow people to read updates async to stay informed about what’s happening in a project or program.
Project reviews or critiques can be forums where work is reviewed weekly or monthly, allowing anyone in the organization to present and get feedback. For UX, team UX reviews enable others to give design feedback and visibility into other’s workstreams.
Working groups create opportunities for others’ contributions to an ongoing topic or project. I’ve also used working groups to bring stakeholders together for ongoing project reviews, even if they aren’t actively contributing, but I want their continuous feedback as the work is developed.
Team events such as book clubs create opportunities to encourage a group to read and then discuss a topic. Book clubs are less direct opportunities to share your work, but driving activities like a book club creates visibility for yourself leading this effort.
When I joined Alexa Auto in 2018, I was the first embedded designer taking over for two other designers who were supporting from another org. Several cross-functional partners felt they didn’t understand what work was happening in the UX team. So, I introduced a weekly status update mechanism. Every Friday, the team compiled top updates on projects. Then, I would send it out Monday morning since late Friday emails often get missed. This mechanism gave me a repeatable process for sharing my work and helped highlight all of the work happening in the UX team in a short, scannable email. Since then, I’ve introduced this to every program or team I’ve joined.
Understand and then believe in the value of your work.
Self-promotion is often necessary to get visibility. Before sharing your work with others, ask yourself: What is the value of my work? What is the bigger problem that is being solved? Do I understand the narrative that explains why this is an important topic for others? By asking these questions, you can consider why someone else should care about your work. First, you have to believe your work is valuable, which comes from believing the problem is essential, the work will be impactful, or understanding the organizational issues that sharing can help address. I’d challenge you to go one level deeper than this to consider why now is the right time for this work to even happen.
A related idea for getting visibility is referencing your prior work at appropriate times. A simple approach can be subtle such as, “When I thought about X last year [link], I discovered that XYZ are important.” At large companies like Amazon and Google, many problems aren’t entirely new. Many problems at work aren’t new, and others have thought about them before, but there aren’t easy ways for others to discover similar work. Don’t be afraid to share your older work when it’s relevant to current projects.
Be a visible leader. Don’t hide in the shadows.
I’ve observed many talented people with great opinions join meetings and barely contribute their thinking. Meetings are an excellent opportunity to get visibility. Your intention here shouldn’t be “I’m speaking up because I want attention” but instead to be a leader, help drive a conversation forward, contribute a valuable perspective, or help create closure to a discussion. Don’t speak up to get visibility, but doing so is one way to have more visibility.
As I’ve grown as a senior IC, I’ve found a sign of my growth is the ability to lead and facilitate conversations as they include more senior people, people I haven’t worked with, programs I’m less involved with, and subjects I’m less familiar with. I continue to learn how to best navigate these situations where I can find the right way to add value, contribute, and even lead in murky conditions. In your growth, find ways to push yourself into more uncomfortable situations of leading others.
One way to get visibility within a project or, more broadly, is to volunteer for new opportunities. This could be new cross-functional projects or as simple as being the one who schedules the follow-up meeting. When you send the invite, you also have more opportunities to help lead the discussion. Doing this creates an opportunity for you to lead, even on projects where you aren’t the most senior person or the one expected to lead. I remember on Day 1 of being at Amazon learning that Amazon’s leadership principles apply to every employee because everyone is a leader. That mindset has stuck with me and still shapes how I operate and what I expect from others.
I want to touch on the tricky topic of when to use “I” versus “we.” It can be easy on team projects to use the term “we” to indicate the entire team’s work, collective point of view, or ongoing projects. “We” is an important word to be a team player and avoid being a jerk by taking credit for everyone’s work. “I” is likewise crucial for representing your point of view or taking credit for the work you specifically did. I’ll use phrases like “Something important to me when working on X was…” or “I prefer” or “I’ve been thinking about….” If you are over-indexing on “we” when speaking about your team’s work, refer to your thinking and rationale to use more “I” s.
Expand and nurture your network.
Your network represents who you know and who knows you. To my earlier point about highlighting others’ work, this means knowing what people are working on. With a broader network, you can find opportunities to collaborate or add value with your work. Your network also represents people who can speak to your superpowers and promote your work on your behalf. Here are a few ways to network within your company:
Attend an internal conference and meet someone new. Or volunteer at an internal conference to connect with both other volunteers and attendees.
Find a mentor who works in a different group than you. Ask your manager or skip-level to help you find someone.
Setup coffee with someone you saw contribute something meaningful to an email list.
When you come across someone’s work you haven’t met, send them a note telling them how much you appreciate their work. (Also great even if you do know the person already.)
Ask a co-worker who is someone that you should get to know at your company and ask if they’d introduce you.
Once established, your network only persists through the ongoing development of relationships. As a minimum, sending an email every few months to people is helpful. For those closer to you, face-to-face time with someone you don’t work with often is a more meaningful way to foster that connection.
I hope that helps. To recap, my tips for getting visibility are:
Self-promotion doesn’t have to be hard or come across as self-glorifying. It’s okay to share what you’ve been doing and your ideas with others!
Before trying to increase your visibility, make sure you highlight others’ accomplishments and learn about your co-workers’ superpowers.
Find repeatable mechanisms you can use to share your work and get visibility, such as lunch & learns, status updates, weekly design critiques, etc.
Believe in the value of your work and find others who will benefit from it. The value is in the importance of the problem being solved and why this problem needs to be solved immediately.
Speak up, contribute, and lead meetings for others to see your thought leadership and the value you can bring.
Use “I” to refer to your specific contributions, ideas, and learnings. Use “we” when referring to the entire project that others are contributing to.
Meeting new people will help you develop connections to learn and share your work with.
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That’s all I have for today. Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear from you: What are your tips for getting visibility? You can comment publicly or reply directly to this email. If there’s a topic you’d like to read, drop me an email. If you’re finding this newsletter helpful, I’d be grateful if you share this with friends.