This is part two of my attempt to help Ranty, who is discouraged by his slow rise out of the file room. You can find part one here.
FINE-TUNE, then PERSIST: You report you talked to your boss, and it didn’t work. You tried presenting a completed, fabulous project, and it was rejected. While I don’t advocate doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (“The definition of insanity is….”), I do suggest trying similar actions with a number of different twists before giving up. Observe your boss carefully, as suggested above, and ask trusted co-workers what works and what doesn’t, in their experience.
For example, you might want to try a more direct or indirect approach, a different time of the day or workweek, a different medium, employing more research in your pitch, or going more casual or formal based on their style. Most important, try asking your boss different questions. (What is the next step? What do I need to learn? What is holding me back? What do I need to focus on right now? Who would be a good contact for me? How can I help you? What would show you that I am ready for more responsibility? Can you tell me why you didn’t approve my idea? How can I be involved in the Miller project?)
LEARN: As far as the fated project is concerned, the one you researched and completed, only to be rejected by your boss, use it as a learning tool. Welcome to the world of work, where a lot of great ideas are met with lukewarm receptions. You can’t give up the first time, so you need to learn and move on to try again.
Ask yourself why your presentation wasn’t successful. Was your idea tied to strategic objectives? Was it something your boss would naturally warm to, or was it something that might seem to come out of left field? Was it presented effectively, in a way he/she could appreciate? Would you be more successful working with a partner or team than solo?
CONNECT: You don’t mention colleagues. Workplaces are social organizations and if you’re not already doing this, develop connections for your personal sanity and professional enrichment. Invest energy building relationships with co-workers and other departments, people who can help you understand and navigate the politics, partner with you with on projects, and maybe even champion your causes.
Ask yourself: Who can help me? Who can I ally with? Who has credibility? Who can serve as a mentor or sponsor? Who can introduce me to people I should know? Who can advise me both on this specific dilemma and my general career growth? How can I increase leadership and visibility outside my department? How can I position myself to take on projects and roles, serve on committees or work groups? Are there lateral opportunities I should consider? (And don’t forget: how can I give back to the people who have helped me with my development?)
LOOK OUTSIDE: Connect outside the company as well. Look for associations or groups to join. Connect with professionals online (Twitter, LinkedIn, industry blogs, etc.). Build your connections and accomplishments (and resume) while you decide the direction of your career. The good news is that your job is low-demand so you have plenty of energy for this! Use Ben Eubanks as a role model. You can imagine that if and when Ben decides to leave his job, he will have a range of enticing options available, and none will involve filing. You and I can’t be Ben, but we can learn a lot from what he does.
A little story to end: Today a seasoned co-worker and I brainstormed on how to bring others on board with a new technology. She said, “But I tried asking people!” I asked how she had asked, and based on her answer, suggested she take a different tact. Instead of making general requests in group settings, she could instead focus on building support one person at a time, starting with key players. She agreed, and added (quite brilliantly) that she would approach each person based on the win for them. She started teasing out what the win would be for each person.
The point? She and I have been working in a great workplace for a number of years, and still we are answering the same core questions as you: How can I get my ideas across? How can I be heard? How can I do more of what I love and less of the drudgery? Maybe this is part of the “learning” that you still need to do, and it has nothing to do with files and piles of paper.
SUMMARY: I am sorry you’re having a hard time, Ranty, and I hope you don’t think I’ve been unsympathetic. I asked a lot of questions and suggested you ask even more; if you get through most of them and still feel the advancement prognosis is poor, consider moving on. But don’t give up too quickly or too soon because you may encounter similar challenges regardless of where you work. And while you're there, learn all you can from the situation.
Good luck! Tell me how it goes and what you decide to do!
Image by lost thoughts, flickr