There are no words that ring more sadly in our work world than when a boss is asked about an employee and says those words. I know. It happened to me once.
I had just completed a 19-month assignment leading a large team of professionals through a tough assignment. We were geographically split and tasked with mountains of detailed analysis and transaction review. Literally, millions of accounts were in scope.
The project netted the company tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Yet 90 days after it was over, I was sitting with a senior partner of the firm who told me the owner/founder didn’t know what I did, so my role was now in jeopardy. I couldn’t believe my ears.
The owner had been very hands-on with the project, routinely calling on me for insight, updates, and strategies to decide the next steps. We had shared details over dinners too numerous to count. Yet now, “he didn’t know what I did?” You can’t be serious.
Nonetheless, it was true. My future with the firm ended that month.
Now, you might be quick to say the owner is an idiot. Believe me, I thought that for a time. But I’m not inclined to go there.
Rather I chose to take the indictment at face value and ask myself, what should I have done differently? Despite the many meetings, clearly, I had not communicated or demonstrated value to the owner. Granted, my time with that company prior to this whale of an account had flown under the radar. Some local leaders knew me and put me up for the project, but the owner was out of state and seldom interacted with others below the partner level.
My opportunity to shine for the owner was overshadowed by my own sense of duty to dig in and get busy doing what I was supposed to do.
The Worker’s Conundrum
This fate falls on most employees. You get hired, you take a role, and simply get busy. Your opportunity to engage with senior leaders is limited. They have their jobs, you have yours. So things rock along.
But when promotion opportunities open up, who gets the job? Invariably the open job goes to the person who has in fact made an impression on the boss. So the question is, how do you do that? Especially in the modern, mostly remote, work world.
In a few words, it’s not going to be easy. In most companies, at least for now, gone are the casual water cooler moments or the brush with the boss going into or out of meetings. The simple smaller ways to connect just don’t happen.
Therefore it takes more intentional effort. Actually, I’d argue, it takes more effort from both parties.
Bosses need to be more aware and cognisant of learning who does what and how. Simply looking at a roster of people and ignoring what you may or may not know about your people cannot be the norm.
The Leader’s Role
Good leaders need to step out and make connections with their teams. Offer up that opportunity to rub an elbow (figuratively not literally). Pay more attention when those who work for you are speaking. Listen for the cues to let you know what they know.
Periodically run through your rosters with your direct reports. Get summaries and updates on how people are doing and what they are doing. You need to take ownership of filling in the blanks. A good leader would never let themselves get caught making such a lame statement.
Ok, now I’m doubling back on my old boss. But you get the idea.
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