Recently, one of my colleagues asked me to contribute to a promotion document for one of his reports. To be able to promote their own directs, managers in our organization need to collect feedback from multiple stakeholders. This allows us to make motivated and data-driven promotion decisions. We discussed this request and I figured out that we are talking about an engineer with whom I had very little interactions before. So I was in a position where this engineer was not visible enough to me to allow me to build up a perception of his work. I was unable to make a conclusion if he is performing well enough to get a promotion to the next level. During this discussion, I realized that this problem could affect anyone in a big organization. We as individuals need to understand strategy and best practices to avoid it. In this episode you will learn more about visibility inside a company and how to manage it.
Before we will start, I want to make a small disclaimer here. For this discussion I will focus on the visibility of individuals only. Visibility of teams and departments are similar and relies on visibility of their representatives. It shares similar concepts but has its own details and I won’t touch them in this episode.
So, what is visibility in a company and why is it important?
Visibility in a company is how much people recognize and see you. It measures how well others know your work, ideas, and contributions. In simpler terms, it’s about how others perceive you as part of the organization.
Middle managers face a dual challenge in terms of visibility. They need to get visibility with direct reports while also building visibility with their own higher-level managers. This aspect is important to understand why actively managing visibility is crucial.
Having high visibility in a company has many benefits. It leads to more career opportunities, a better chance of getting promotions or important projects, and a stronger personal brand. People with high visibility are trusted more easily and quickly, and they have more influence within the organization.
Let me give you an example from my career. I worked as a Firmware TPM on a new device. It was a next-generation product built from scratch using a new platform. This platform had more CPU cores, which made it more powerful. We wanted to keep the same look and feel as the previous generation, but this caused challenges because it consumed more power and generated more heat in a small enclosure. To address these concerns, I led multiple teams for several months to measure and understand the power consumption and heat generation profiles. We figured out how the devices would operate under different CPU loads and temperatures. This helped us to identify safe limits and understand the effective working temperature range for the device.
This was a challenging task that involved working closely with leadership and teams from different locations. We had many meetings with senior stakeholders, discussed research results, and planned the next steps. This allowed me to gain visibility and be seen as an expert in power and thermal management of the platform. As a result, I was assigned to work on all other devices based on the same platform.
What are the challenges in achieving visibility?
Lack of opportunities for exposure is common, as key stakeholders are often busy, and attending all meetings can be difficult due to conflicting schedules. In some cases, working on a self-contained project means interacting with the same people for extended periods, limiting exposure to other teams.
Stiff competition is another challenge, as colleagues with similar qualifications and ambitions also compete for attention. Standing out and differentiating yourself can be tough in such scenarios.
Rigid hierarchy structures in the company can restrict visibility, with information and decision-making concentrated at the top levels. This makes it challenging for employees in lower positions to gain recognition or visibility beyond their immediate teams.
Organizations divided into functional or departmental silos can also limit visibility. When teams work independently without collaboration or information sharing across departments, individuals find it harder to showcase their skills and accomplishments to a wider audience.
The rise of remote work and virtual collaboration further complicates achieving visibility. Limited face-to-face interactions and reliance on digital communication platforms make it harder for individuals to make themselves seen and heard by colleagues and leaders. Offline meetings attended remotely can be particularly frustrating. The current trend of big tech companies returning employees to the office can be beneficial for visibility purposes.
What are the key factors that help you gain visibility?
The first and most important factor is communication presence. No matter how well you do your job, no one will know about it if you don’t communicate your progress and results. You can’t stay silent and rely on word of mouth. You have to take responsibility for promoting yourself. This means communicating regularly, properly, and through appropriate channels like in-person discussions, meetings, chats, and emails. In my opinion, the most effective channels are meetings and emails. Efficiency here means achieving the best results with the least effort.
Meetings are great for showcasing your way of thinking, expertise and soft skills. Simply attending meetings won’t increase your visibility. Remember to actively contribute your point of view and progress in meetings, you should be vocal and proactive. In-person meetings are best, but they’re not always possible in today’s world. But even online meetings are better than email or text messages. 80% of information from human conversations is transferred non-verbally, so meetings help you build rapport with others. Rapport is a term from Neuro Linguistic Programming and it is about understanding and communicating well with others. Building Rapport is a technique that you can master. I recommend taking a course to understand how to do this.
In a large organization, performance reviews happen once or twice a year, limiting your chances to meet with all the people you want feedback from. This means you have very limited opportunities to communicate and gain visibility across a broad audience. You need to make the most of these chances. Senior leaders have less frequent availability, but their feedback is valuable. Over the course of 6 months you might be able to meet some of them only a few times. This might be barely enough to make a good impression. Luckily, there’s a solution for this problem.
Email is a great tool to reach a wide audience with minimal time investment. It helps overcome the lack of meetings with key people. You can easily send emails to as many people as needed to achieve your goals, and recipients can read messages at their convenience.
The next factor affecting visibility is the effectiveness of communication. Not all communication is necessarily good and efficient. Every message you send to stakeholders should be clear, easy to understand, provide context and motivation, and contribute to your specific goals. This applies to both verbal and written communication.
When it comes to email communication, literally think of your messages as an email marketing campaign. Consider taking a course on email marketing to improve your skills. Your leaders are overloaded with information. They have multiple direct reports, work with various peers and teams, and contribute to multiple projects. Their inbox is filled with messages from many people and departments, so your message can easily get lost. You want to optimize your communication to stand out among all the other emails. You want to win this competition. Your message should have an attention-grabbing subject, capture their interest in the first few sentences, and deliver real value to the recipient. It should contain a clear call to action statement if any is required.
You might be tempted to send the same email to all stakeholders to save effort, but it’s not necessarily a good practice. Different stakeholders have different levels of detail required. While your teammates may need in-depth information, higher-level managers may only need a broad understanding of what you’re doing, why it’s important, and the project’s next milestones. It’s a good idea to create different reports with varying levels of detail for different audiences. Also, consider the frequency of communication. The more detailed the updates, the more frequently you should send them. However, higher-level recipients may require less frequent updates due to the limited high-level progress over a short period of time and their overloaded inboxes.
The content of your messages should be clear, well-structured, and include context, motivation, challenges, and next steps. If you expect a reaction from your audience, include a clear call to action so they understand what reaction is expected of them.
Condense your information as much as possible and avoid unnecessary details that create noise. People don’t have time to read long emails. Structure your message in a way that delivers the main message upfront and provides deeper layers of detail as you progress. This allows readers to stop at any convenient point while still getting maximum value from the message.
Here’s how I usually structure my messages:
Subject. Make it self-sufficient and include the main outcome of the message. This ensures that even if the email isn’t fully read, the subject delivers the main point. For example, “Metrics are OK. Fleet monitoring weekly report.”
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) statement. This is the very first section in my emails. It provides a slightly more detailed summary of the topic. It’s usually from 2 to 3 sentences that highlight important details. For example, it could mention that most metrics are good except for one or two, which the team reviewed and decided were not a risk. TL;DR is useful when recipients have limited time but want to grasp the essence of the message before deciding if they should invest more time in reading further.
Executive summary. This is the main section of my messages and is often the only part that people read. It contains a condensed explanation of the context, task, goals, challenges, next steps, and required actions. I keep it as concise as possible, usually consisting of 3 to 5 paragraphs.
Supporting details. After the executive summary, include any necessary details to support statements or provide links to the full report on a wiki page. This section is useful if stakeholders want to dive deeper into specific problems.
Some individuals dislike sending status reports because they see them as a waste of time. However, reports are actually valuable and necessary. Customers, both internal and external, can’t evaluate the quality of your work until it’s fully completed and deployed. They can’t assess partially finished projects. All they can do is wait and hope that the final results will meet their expectations.
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and consider the development process from their perspective. Imagine you’re having a custom house built. Would you be satisfied with just one update at the end, saying the house is ready to move in? What are the chances that the house would meet your expectations? How would you perceive such a building company? Most likely, you would not be happy. You’d probably want more frequent and regular updates to have more granular control of the development process to have peace of mind.
Why do some people have negative feelings about reporting tasks? There are a few possible reasons.
Technical people are usually hired for their technical expertise and problem-solving abilities. They may prefer to focus on engineering tasks rather than administrative responsibilities like preparing status reports.
People may consider status reports as a waste of time. They might feel that spending time on regular reports takes away from more meaningful and productive work. This sentiment is especially strong if the reports are seen as unnecessary or not effectively used by the recipients. If someone feels that their reports aren’t being read or considered by decision-makers, it can lead to frustration and resistance towards the reporting process.
Engineers sometimes struggle to communicate their work and progress in non-technical terms. Writing status reports that can be easily understood by non-technical stakeholders can be challenging and time-consuming. They may prefer direct technical discussions or demonstrations to convey their progress instead of summarizing it in a written form.
Addressing these concerns and finding ways to simplify and streamline the reporting process can help mitigate negative perceptions and improve the visibility. Reports are not a waste of time; they are a valuable tool for establishing and maintaining regular communication with key people and gaining visibility within your company. The recipients of these reports may vary depending on the context, such as your manager, peers, product management, leadership, and so on.
Addressing these concerns and finding ways to streamline and improve the reporting process can help to mitigate the negative perceptions associated with status reporting among all team members.
As you can see, reports are anything but a waste of time. Reports are a great tool to establish and maintain regular communication with a broad audience inside your organization. Recipients of these reports could differ depending on context. This might be your manager, your peers, management of a product, leadership, etc.
Next, let’s talk about networking—a crucial factor for visibility. Engage with colleagues, join cross-functional projects, and build a strong professional network. Be social in your organization, sharing knowledge with a diverse group of people.
Active engagement means collaborating with colleagues from different teams and departments. By working together on cross-functional projects, you gain exposure to various teams and build valuable relationships.
Building a strong professional network is vital for visibility and career growth. Connect with colleagues, attend industry events, and participate in networking activities.
Being social within your organization means interacting beyond your immediate team. Attend company events, join social groups, or simply chat with colleagues. Being approachable and building relationships boosts your recognition and visibility. Take advantage of opportunities like “coffee chats” with senior leaders to have meaningful discussions and establish connections.
Moreover, discussing and sharing knowledge broadens your understanding of different areas in the organization. Learn from others, exchange ideas, and contribute to collective knowledge.
Taking on leadership roles, demonstrating initiative, and being proactive in problem-solving also increase visibility. Seek opportunities to lead, take charge of tasks or initiatives, and make decisions that guide others towards common goals. By actively demonstrating your leadership abilities, you contribute to success and increase your visibility.
Initiative involves identifying and acting on opportunities or challenges without external direction. Be proactive, take ownership, and go above and beyond expected responsibilities. When you demonstrate initiative, you show self-motivation and a genuine interest in making a positive impact.
A while back, I worked for a sheds building company that had a website where you could customize and order your dream shed online. However, the existing configuration tool had limited flexibility when it came to floor planning and visualizing different shed types and sizes. It offered only a few pre-designed floor plans and sizes to choose from. The product photo showed just one floor plan, leaving you to imagine what your final shed would look like.
Around that time, web browsers were already capable of rendering 3D graphics. Recognizing an opportunity, I proposed creating a 3D-based configurator. This new tool would allow users to design their shed in 3D, place windows and door frames where the user needed them, apply various colors, and see detailed results from any angle on the screen. Additionally, it would enable the display of the shed on a mobile phone as augmented reality, right in your own backyard.
This innovative idea turned out to be a tremendous success for the company. They gradually implemented the 3D-based configurator, providing customers with a more immersive and personalized shed designing experience.
Another way to increase visibility is by being proactive in identifying and solving problems. Instead of waiting for issues to worsen or relying solely on others to fix them, take the initiative to address challenges before they become significant obstacles. Proactive problem-solving showcases your analytical thinking, decision-making skills, and ability to find innovative solutions.
For example, once I worked on a software project where users could create their own scripts to automate actions. We developed a graphical user interface that allowed users to drag and drop blocks to build action chains. This allowed us to iterate on this feature fast and release the scripting feature quickly. However, I later realized that the tool was only suitable for beginners and people unfamiliar with programming. It was a great drag-and-drop solution for them, but it couldn’t handle complex logic or advanced scripts.
One day, I noticed a customer struggling to achieve a basic task. We was using 30 nested if-else statements to achieve some basic goal. It was surprising that users hadn’t complained about this limitation. I realized that our software wasn’t capable of supporting scalable solutions, so we needed to change our approach.
I made the decision to replace the graphical tool with a LUA scripting language. This upgrade allowed users to implement any script they desired, create libraries, and reuse code. Now, the possibilities were endless. I took the initiative to make this change without anyone asking me to do so. It was the result of monitoring and analytical thinking.
By being proactive, I not only enhanced the overall customer experience, but I also demonstrated problem-solving skills and dedication to delivering high-quality results. This proactive approach increased my visibility and reputation within the organization.
It’s important to note that visibility should be built on competence, integrity, and genuine contributions to the organization. It’s not about seeking attention for its own sake but delivering results while effectively showcasing achievements and competency.
I hope all this was helpful. Please let me know if these ideas resonate with you and which one works best for your case.