The great monumental structures of ancient Greece, like the Parthenon, are said to be ones that were created with a 360-degree perspective. The building, viewed from any angle, presented the same consistent character and identity. Wouldnít you want your personal and managerial qualities expressed the same way? Thatís reason enough to be your own press agent. Some will reject the notion, saying, "I am not interested in having a public relations image." Trouble is, you have one whether you want one or not. The question is only whether you want to participate in shaping it.
Corporations call it image. You can call it reputation. But donít call it bragging or egotism. Making an honest effort to ensure that your personal contribution is duly recognized is simply called common sense.
Iíve listed seven practices that are instrumental in influencing direct impressions with your coworkers and bosses, as well as providing fodder for the image-building apparatus. The net result is your most important asset – a positive reputation.
1.Look the part. If you want to play the part, look the part. Itís no surprise that unconventional hair, tattoos, unusual beards and mustaches, and eccentric clothing have derailed many a business career. If youíre in a management environment where none of that matters, consider yourself exceptional. If youíre not, try paying more attention to a professional business management appearance and good grooming. Invest in some new clothes
2. Network for success. Some people network effectively until they reach the management ranks, but thereafter seem to retreat behind their walls. Networking is valuable at any stage of your career and is different from building a support system. The network is essentially a communications system and is composed of contacts rather than loyal allies. These contacts are almost as valuable because they can provide essential information about whoís doing what and the environment outside as well as inside your business. Incidentally, one of the people who can be most helpful to your career is your bossís assistant. Assistants frequently have a lot of influence, so you should go out of your way to be friendly and cooperative with these contacts.
3. Develop a specialty. Carve out a unique niche for yourself. Specialize in something and become an expert in it. Become your companyís focal point in that area. Study it, research it, and know more about that topic than anyone else in your area. It may be an expertise you already have – for example, you may be multilingual or have special knowledge in international relations, age and sex discrimination, government contracts, production control, environmental impacts, or the Internet. You have something that can enhance your reputation and credibility as a manager.
Now find a way to apply that expert knowledge, possibly by volunteering for an assignment or getting on a committee.
4. Show that youíre informed. If you read a lot, then you are going to run across good business information. Most of it will show up in newspapers, business magazines, and trade papers. Become an informal clipping service and send clips of interest to other managers. I even created a little notepad-size transmittal form with a tire track across it and the message: "Hereís something I ran across that may be of interest to you." The results are heartwarming. You accomplish several things. First, you really do provide a worthwhile information service for the people to whom you send these notices. Second, you convince people that youíre a person who is committed to the business and not just spending your evenings on the couch. Third, you are seeing to it that words like "expert" and "well informed" are associated with you and your reputation.
5. Be active in a professional society or association. Notice that I didnít just say join a professional association. In our company, I was happy to approve membership dues, meeting costs, and expense accounts for those who actively participated in societies and associations. I found these activities to be invaluable for myself and the staff as a way to pursue continuing education and to network, recruit new employees, and just create good friendships.
Celebrate successes in print. Create your own vehicle for spreading the good news about your departmentís exploits. You neednít turn the spotlight on yourself – and you shouldnít, since you are the issuing authority. But you can show by example that youíre leading a first-rate team that is doing good things for the company. I prefer a one-page newsletter or cover letter that highlights a noteworthy accomplishment of the group.
6. Make alliances in high places. You probably discovered during your first days as a manager that life is easier when you have a supportive boss or well-placed supportive friends. Therein lies one of the cardinal truths of business: Since you cannot personally control everything that happens to you in business, you had best establish positive relationships with those who do. I refer to those vital few who will be making decisions that affect your career. Your boss is one, of course, as well as the personnel manager and other executives, peers, and even subordinates who populate your corner of the business world. Some make decisions; others influence decisions. Either way, you must forge a critical link with these people and then service it rigorously with direct, personal contact.
Even senior managers have confided that they wish theyíd developed those relationships earlier in their career. Corporate public relations practitioners have a saying: "The time to make friends is before you need them." You canít suddenly start currying favor when youíre in trouble. Personal public relations should be treated the same way.
7. A brief phone call is also helpful. Sometimes we neglect to give a colleague a call because we think we donít have anything important to report. That may be the best time to call, just to show that you care and are interested in whatís going on in that personís life. There you have it – a seven-step insurance policy to protect your image. According to Lee Iacocca, success comes not from what you know, but from whom you know and how you present yourself to those people. Being a good press agent for yourself goes a long way toward furthering your management career.
Reprinted with permission from The New Managerís Starter Kit by Robert Crittendon (AMACOM, 2001)