On developing a reputation for project work

Over lunch, Archie and I talked about one of his business goals for this year. He wanted to work on his personal brand.

I asked him what he meant by his personal brand. “What would success look like?” I asked.

Archie said that he’d like to be known more for troubleshooting, and that he would consider himself successful if more project managers asked him to troubleshoot their projects – both technical and non-technical issues. He’s been working at the company for 12 years, and he had plenty of war stories and lessons learned to share with me. He told me that his peers know about his skills, but he wanted to hear about more projects, expand the kinds of roles he took on projects, and go into projects with more authority and leverage.

Now that was a much more useful vision than “improve personal brand.” We could work with that. It might not even have anything to do with wikis, blogs, or Twitter.

So: How can one build a reputation for project work?

We figured that the best ways to reach the people Archie was interested in would be through managers and resource deployment managers. There are a couple of ways to do that: e-mail and presentations.

In terms of e-mail, one of the best things Archie can do is to make sure that the results that he’s getting turn up in the right people’s e-mail inboxes. As it can sometimes be difficult to get recognition or documentation of results from busy project managers, I suggested that Archie write up the problems he solves, the results, and tips for avoiding such problems in the future. If he sends this e-mail to the project manager and to our manager, they can forward it to other people as needed – if they hear of a project that has a similar problem, if someone asks them who can help with a troubled project, and so on. It’s important to keep one’s manager up to date on the kinds of things one is good at or interested in, because managers talk to other managers and can refer you to opportunities.

In terms of presentations, Archie can summarize key tips from his experiences into a short presentation – maybe a top 10 list, or focused on a topic such as performance. This gives him plenty of opportunities to use and reuse the material. Speaking at a lunch-and-learn is one way to do it, and he’ll get extra exposure from the invitations going around. Speaking at one of our internal education events will let him reach even more people. The presentation can be shared internally, included with newsletters, forwarded to other people.

What else would you recommend?

2011-04-08 Fri 20:40

  • @sachac I don’t see developing a reputation in services as an electronic interaction, but a combination of (a) not failing (either through good planning or through recovery from a difficult situation), or (b) becoming known not only by direct contacts but also through acquaintances. Although it would seem that we work in a big company, I still am amazed by the number of times that I’ve met someone new and they say “yes, I’ve heard of you”.

    Some of the acquaintances can be developed by being active internally (e.g. posting to forums and sharing knowledge), while stronger impressions can be made by volunteering in professional development activities (e.g. speaking at informal seminars, coaching others, speaking on teleconferences). People may hear the name first without knowing the face, and then some months (or years) later, make the positive connection.

    Developing a reputation for troubleshooting problems suggests to me greater customer contact, as internal issues that are invisible to external parties are merely a matter of course. A project leader may ask one of the team to provide more detailed status and advice, if he or she has confidence that the individual is presentable. Demonstrating integrity — confidence on technical questions, plus admission of known knowns and known unknowns — should calm the customer rather than throwing more fuel on the fire. Making the project leader look good in front of the client is more important than the subordinate trying to place himself or herself ahead of the team. The tradeoff between being a troubleshooter and being a team player can be a tough balance.

  • Wonderful advice! =) Thank you, David. Electronic communication is definitely a tiny tiny part of reputation-building, and it’s much better to focus on making the team look good and improving client contact skills. I’ll pass your tips on.