Running Your Career Like a Small Business

Run your career like a small business.

Even with all the assessments, scorecards and performance reviews, there appears to be a growing chasm between performance and perception.  Why just yesterday a coaching client of mine  – we’ll call him Tom – scratched his head when saying, “I thought my work would speak for itself. Now it appears, that in addition to my other roles, I need to be my own PR agency.”

He’s right.  Since most of us will change jobs 11 times in our lifetime, the employee has become, what Daniel Pink calls in his book by the same title, a member of the Free Agent Nation.  In such a world the employee/employer relationship is based less on loyalty and more on projects that begin and end; much like how temporary workers and small businesses operate with their clients.  Add to that, virtual meetings, email-addiction and the increasing speed of work, you get a growing distance between the value people create and the perceptions others have of that work.

In some distant fantasyland called the Good Old Days, business leaders had more time to understand and appreciate the full value of their employees.  Sure the employee/employer relationship had its own challenges back then, but chaos, uncertainty and the speed of change didn’t create a super-race of multi-taskers who can’t sit still and take full notice of those around them.  Today, we’re in what Thomas H. Davenport, an expert in business process innovation, calls the ‘attention economy”.  Get noticed; good for you. Don’t; good luck.

Which brings up the question Tom asked: “How do I ‘manage up’ when I’m so focused on keeping my head down on my work?

Treat your work like you would as a small business owner.  In addition to your external customers, get to know the needs, whims, and concerns of your internal customers, namely, your employees, peers, and most importantly, your boss.  What goals does your boss have for her department?  How are those goals measured? What expectations does he have for you? I asked Tom to ask his boss two additional questions: “What three things should I do that will provide great value to the department and to our working relationship? What three things would I do that would severely damage your impression of me?

Next, no news is not always good news.  In a communication-vacuum, your boss will fill the void. Your job is to fill those voids with stories and impressions that accurately paint the picture of your performance and the value you provide to the organization.  So, shift your work priorities to match those of your boss, schedule regular meetings to provide updates, send emails, consistently, sharing your latest successes and setbacks.  Why share setbacks?  No one likes surprises.  Sooner or later mistakes will be known. Be upfront with your setback, and share how you will remedy the issue.  No one expects perfection.  But pro-active problem solves are well respected. Lastly, you’re allowed to brag if you give credit to others.