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Gaining Visibility Gracefully for Your Professional Efforts

by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.

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“You aren’t being valued enough for what you are delivering,” my colleague said to me quite seriously over coffee one day. “Your organization doesn’t realize how much you have accomplished and how unique your work is among your peers.”

It was a wake-up call! Her words caused me to re-think my stance as a professional. I needed to think strategically how to self-promote gracefully and productively, without going against the Midwestern, self-effacing nature of my corporation’s culture.

Do you need a boost for your learning and development efforts— well-deserved positive visibility for your achievements? Are you unsure how to go about it in a graceful way that won’t come across as raw ambition or irritating egotism? Here are six ways to build on your existing professional reputation and make sure that when credit is given, you get your fair share.

  1. Tend Your Garden. By this, I mean refreshing the communications tools that present YOU as a learning and development leader. These “self-marketing materials” underpin your reputation and, when you update them, you will discover key parts of your “message.” Bringing your marketing tools up to date ensures that you think through your strengths, assets, and experience well enough to communicate more effectively about yourself. Here’s what you’ll need.
    • A professional resume that reflects your achievements, not just tasks you performed on each job. Document your work experience and skills in a meaningful and concise way. Updating your resume doesn’t mean you are looking for a job – it means you are looking reflectively at your career and what you have done, as well as what you can do.
    • A one-page bio that includes your education, experience, publications and awards to date. You’ll need this to apply as a speaker for programs, or to be nominated for board service, for example.
    • Professional photo, a headshot (no selfies!)
    • Updated LinkedIn profile, including full use of the Summary, Experience, Education, Projects, and Skills sections.
    • Updated connections on LinkedIn, so your connections reflect the full professional network you have garnered.
    • A thoughtful presence on LinkedIn, reflecting your career achievements, intent, interests, and aspirations.
  2. Participate in professional organizations. Regardless of where you are in your learning and development career, being involved in your profession beyond your immediate organization adds to your reputation and distinguishes you among peers. If your organization doesn’t support your participation, and you have to buy your own ticket or take PTO to attend a conference, it is still worth your involvement. Here are steps to initiate or enhance your professional contribution, whether you choose to make your connection at a local, regional or national level.
    • Select Carefully. Choosing the organization(s) where you initiate or enhance your participation should tie closely to your purpose for engaging. Are you looking for more connections that you could learn from and exchange ideas with? Is the program and learning content of vital interest to you, more so than the social aspects? If you live in a good sized metropolitan area like the Twin Cities, you will have choices of organizations in the broad Human Resources field, in training and development, and in sub-specialties such as Organization Development or Facilitation. Look closely at the membership list of the organizations you consider. Where do the members draw from, and are these industries and organizations of interest to you? Knowing your purpose lets you choose among groups that meet largely in person vs. those that offer mostly programs via webinar, for example. Or, one group may offer a chance to reconnect with professionals you already know, while another challenges you to widen your circle by getting to know “strangers.” Sample more than one group before committing.
    • Show Up! Be strategic about participation. You’ll notice some members attend the same session each month, establishing themselves as “regulars” at the monthly luncheon program, for example. Others attend a variety of offerings, widening their circle of acquaintance as well as their exposure to the organization. One solid strategy, however you increase your participation, is to exchange business cards with those you connect with meaningfully, and then within 24 hours reach out on LinkedIn to establish a firmer connection. Not every new connection will read your LinkedIn profile when they agree to connect, but many will. You are educating others about who you are and what you bring the profession in a graceful, nonintrusive way.
    • Dip Your Toe in the Water: Many professional organizations rely on volunteers to run their programming, whether the offerings are social, philanthropic or learning-oriented. Joining a committee, whether it is to plan a season of programming or a single meeting or conference, exposes you to your fellow professionals in a new light and lets them see your professional talents. But there’s a caution: this is only true if you contribute. If you join only to add to your resume or to meet folks once at a planning session, your attempt at exposure could backfire. Make your commitments wisely.
    • Evaluate Leadership Commitments. Over a period of 2-3 years, most organizations will notice a talented newcomer who contributes consistently and fulfills his or her promises. You will possibly be invited to participate at a higher level. Again, this is a commitment to be made seriously as the organization’s sustainability depends even more on the dedication of its leadership.Six months to a year after you take steps to increase your participation in organizations, evaluate. Have you gained more skills, connections and knowledge of your field? Have you gained recognition, exposure and thanks that you would not have otherwise been in the running for? Chances are good that if you contribute consistently out of your areas of greatest skill and interest, your participation will garner you important and valued recognition
  3. Volunteer your leadership skills through nonprofit, government, or agency board service. For many of us at mid-career and beyond, board service at a nonprofit is a significant way to develop professionally, to contribute, and to gain recognition outside our organizations. Your options might include serving on the board of a nonprofit in the learning arena, or on the alumnae board of advisors for your own alma mater, advising or critiquing a new educational program or book, or applying for a government commission in the learning or workforce development field. These are just examples of how your immediate knowledge of learning and development could benefit the broader community. In each case, alongside your contribution will come exposure, recognition and acknowledgement for your skills.
  4. Share your story as a learning professional. Do you have ideas for training solutions or methods that others might be very excited to hear about? Case studies based on training programs you have led or worked on? Descriptions of best practices that made a difference, and how they did so? If you are one who can put words to your story, writing or authoring in your field is a great way to pull together your knowledge and experiences, share them with others, and enhance your image as someone who is willing to contribute to the advancement of the field. Your choice of media includes: internal communications channels of your organization, professional publications, LinkedIn posts, or even authoring a chapter in a book. And, your options certainly always include public speaking opportunities, again ranging from venues inside your organization to professional organizations at the local, national, and regional level.If you go after speaking venues in the public eye:
    1. Start with a professional partner , such as a trusted colleague or consultant whom you’ve worked with. That way you can use each other as a sounding board as you prepare your proposal, content and presentation methods.
    2. Get professional assistance from a speech or presentation coach, to ensure that when you do have the chance to present, you are at your best.
  5. Enter formal, professional award and recognition programs. Did you expect this to be first on the list? Strategically entering award and recognition programs should follow the work, rather than precede it. When you’ve increased your involvement professionally in the steps outlined from 1-4, you are more likely to learn about award possibilities, more likely to have colleagues interested in nominating you or attesting to your nomination, etc. Your options range from the annual Association for Talent Development (ATD) award programs in the learning and development field, which cover individual as well as organizational achievement, all the way to the Learning Leadership Award offered annually by Chief Learning Officer magazine. And there are many other types of recognition in between, from being named and recognized at a monthly professional meeting or conference, to having your board chair write a letter of thanks to your supervisor or your organization’s CEO for your board service, etc.
  6. Create and nurture an ever-expanding network. From each step that I’ve outlined, especially if it is a reputation-building area you have not paid much attention to before, you will also experience the benefit of a richer professional network. As your network grows, and as you contribute to and assist organizations and individuals in your network, your reputation and recognition will expand naturally. Here are more steps you can take to be sure that you keep growing these connections in a meaningful and authentic way.
    • Set a goal to attend one event monthly that puts you with people you don’t know.
    • Challenge yourself to meet and chat with those you know, and reach out to those you haven’t met yet.
    • If necessary, plan in advance the topics or questions you’d like to chat about, so that you don’t just exchange platitudes about how busy you are!
    • Share relevant contacts, information, and assistance with your network.
    • Reserve time for informational interviews, meetings with job seekers, professional mentoring relationships, and generally using your skills and experience to help others. If you love doing job descriptions for new positions in learning and development, be sure to offer help when a colleague at another organization is sweating over a new job description. Part of recognition is serving and helping even when nobody is noticing!

Please Share the Wealth

Whatever you do to gain exposure for your gifts and contributions, be sure to share the recognition with your colleagues, suppliers, supervisor, and other partners. Most of our successes are gained through collaboration, and by sharing your recognition you will encourage others in their careers as well. By gracefully seeking visibility for yourself, you actually bring kudos and favorable exposure for your team, your department and your entire organization!

About the Author

Sue Plaster holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota, with a focus in leadership development. She advises individuals in job search, career transition and onboarding, and consults with organizations on diversity, succession planning and leadership development. Sue’s corporate career includes communications and human resources roles with the Fairview Health System, Honeywell Inc. and Boston Scientific. You can connect with Sue through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com.

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