This issue was prompted by an e-mail I received from a TechRepublic member. He wanted to know how to go about getting "on the radar" at work. He feels like he's a valuable employee who does good work but he doesn't think he stands out from the crowd. He passes ideas on to his boss but he doesn't know where they go from there. He suspects his boss doesn't value his input and pretty much ignores it.
So what do you do if you're an employee who is not on the radar but you want to be? Sometimes it's because you're in a low-profile position, a worker bee that keeps things churning along but doesn't get noticed until something actually goes wrong. In that case, you don't want to be on the radar. Or maybe you have a boss who doesn't advocate for his team members so you remain a blank entity to those at the top. Maybe you haven't made that one memorable splash that forever marks you as a force to be watched. Whatever the reasons, what can you do about it?
First of all, let's rule out the extreme options like parachuting past the CEO's office window or attending company meetings dressed only in scuba gear. That will definitely garner attention. It may also garner you a straight-jacket.
I suggested to our reader that he work on developing ideas that will save the company money or that will streamline one of its processes. Most of the time, a great idea will get some attention. If what he suspects is true, that his boss won't take his idea any further, he should voice it at a company meeting where there are "witnesses" or maybe copy others on any "idea" e-mail he sends out. (I realize how devious and paranoid that sounds, but I'm trying to keep extreme circumstances in mind.)
I would also suggest that he be ultra-knowledgeable about the company and his particular area within it. If you show that you can continuously be depended upon to offer objective, solid answers to questions, then you will stand out. And "objective" is the key word here. Don't cheerlead blindly and don't reject everything just to make yourself look smarter.
If you can squeeze it in, volunteer for experimental projects. I don't mean like running out to roll up the boss's car windows when it starts raining (and yes, I was once at a company where that happened). I'm referring to projects where it's too early to formally devote personnel resources to. You will not only be furthering the company bottom line, but also positioning yourself as a pioneer. It will also take you out of your comfort zone, which is a good thing every now and then.
In addition to those things, there some other, more superficial ploys you can use. I've seen them work but they personally drive me crazy. I once worked with a woman who made a conscious effort to ask a zillion questions at company meetings just to get herself out there in the subconscious minds of the bosses. The problem was her questions were gratuitous. They served no informational purpose other than to show the "folks who matter" that she was motivated and involved. (I always wondered if top brass was onto her or if on some subconscious level the tactics worked.) If you must take this route, keep your questions focused and relevant.
I know one guy who took to exercising all of the external devices of good communication skills and assertiveness—like a firm handshake and direct, unflinching eye contact. I know he had these mastered because he'd never take his eyes from yours as he crushed your knuckles into bone particles. (And I guess you would tend to remember someone if they caused you to lose motor function in your dominant hand, so who am I to question?)
I'd be interested in other perspectives on this—please share them by commenting to this blog.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.