As an individual or a department in a big organisation, you often need to stand out from the crowd and get noticed to be valued, and to help get the resources you need to deliver and evolve your work. It also helps the people in your department to feel motivated to ‘go the extra mile’, and to attract talented new people, if they are in a team that is recognised and talked about. So, this month, we look at how and why to promote the work of your department.
How to promote the work of your department
Start with the end in mind
“Cheshire Puss…Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
You can’t promote your department until you know your vision, mission and purpose. You have to know exactly what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to get there as well as how others can help you (your stakeholders).
When it comes to promoting the work of your department, consider what you want to be known for, including your behaviours and style of interaction as well as the work you deliver/value you add. Work out how you will know this is how others see you and what stakeholders will say about you, then you can decide how to achieve this.
It’s useful to create a stakeholder map to work out who you are promoting your department to. Identify who your stakeholders are and the quality of your relationship with them today. Decide which relationships you need to maintain, which to improve, and which new relationships you need to establish. Build relationships with those who can help you, and cultivate your champions.
- When liaising with stakeholders, selling is not telling – it’s asking questions.
- It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Don’t get sucked into promising the impossible. Stakeholders would much prefer to know if you say “Yes” to something it means you will deliver it rather than wondering if it will be done because you don’t like to say “No”. They’ll respect you a lot more too.
Know what your stakeholders value, find out what they want you to do and ensure that your work solves their challenges. One way of doing this is to use Porter’s ‘Five forces’ model to ‘step into the shoes’ of your stakeholders and think about how you can add value to them. This could then form a starting conversation; they will appreciate your proactivity and interest in supporting them.
Please contact me for a useful PDF document that will enable you to plot your stakeholders and identify opportunities.
Skills you’ll need
Here are some of the skills you will need to promote the work of your department:
- Openness and honesty
- Influencing skills (please see my article on Influencing skills)
- Relationship building skills (see last month’s article on Body language)
- Communication skills
- Writing skills
- Consultative and collaborative style
- Rounded business skills so you can contribute more broadly
- Staff that are both technically and emotionally skilled (see my article on Emotionally intelligent teams)
It helps you to promote your work internally if you are able to validate it externally. Here are some ways to spread your reputation:
- Find an industry model for best practice and see if you can map that onto what you do
- Get onto a best practice list or win an award
- Attend seminars to stay up to date in your industry/field and use your learning in all the work you do
- Think of ways in which you can shape the industry, for example by influencing within your industry body or doing work that is a step beyond what other companies do
- Publish external papers that establish your expertise
- Deliver presentations at conferences
- Allocate a percentage of time to build your external network. If you work in a large company or you’ve been there for a long time, it can be tempting to focus internally only, but external networking can challenge your thinking and help generate new ideas
- Give opportunities to your staff to do the above too
Writing and communication
I sometimes find that my clients say their stakeholders don’t fully understand the work they do or how to interact with them. Those who address this well often have a presentation or document that explains the work their department does and how it helps the business. I think this is a great idea – if you decide to create such a presentation, make sure you include:
- Your vision and mission
- Your strategic priorities
- Your organisation chart, including who does what and their contact details
- How you link to other related departments
- Your “brand” – an explanation of how you want to appear to stakeholders, e.g. ways of working, behaviours and values
- And maybe your history, so you can show how you have evolved and grown your value proposition
Keep this up to date and use it when you meet stakeholders. Have it on your Intranet page. Present it at inductions for new starters. Make sure your staff use it and help keep it up to date.
Ensure all your communication is clear and succinct – read it before you send it and imagine how it will be received by others to be sure you have the impact you want.
Be honest about what needs improving as well as your successes; share your plans and progress reports.
Brand your communications so they have a consistent look and feel, and send them regularly so stakeholders get used to receiving them. Show appreciation to those who have helped you.
Include pictures such as people in the department, you on stage or your product. This helps draw the reader in, makes them interested and curious, and generates an emotional connection. Also see the Story-telling section below.
Photos are useful. Apparently, when you have a photo on your LinkedIn profile, it is seven times more likely that your profile will be viewed.
When you want to get your audience with you, stories are more memorable and interesting than a standard PowerPoint slideshow, as they are more conversational and charismatic. Weave your message into the story and it’s a powerful way of making an emotional connection and drawing in your reader so they are more likely to be persuaded.
Stories (such as the one at the beginning of this article) were read to us as children. They often take the main character on a journey, where they experience problems and overcome them.
What was your favourite book as a child, and why? What’s your favourite book as an adult? Why? How can you apply these principles to story-telling in a work context?
Here’s some further advice adapted from Robert McKee, the world’s best-known and most respected screenwriting lecturer:
“A powerful way to persuade people is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotions and energy.
Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points. Any intelligent person can sit down and make lists. It takes rationality but little creativity to design an argument using conventional rhetoric. But it demands vivid insight and storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough emotional power to be memorable. If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.
Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes. It begins with a situation in which life is relatively in balance: You come to work day after day, week after week, and everything’s fine. You expect it will go on that way. But then there’s an event – in screenwriting, we call it the “inciting incident” – that throws life out of balance.
A good storyteller describes what it’s like to deal with these opposing forces, calling on the main character to dig deeper, work with scarce resources, make difficult decisions, take action despite risks, and ultimately discover the truth.
All great storytellers since the dawn of time – from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day – have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.”
Now, try and imagine what an “inciting incident” at work could be! Maybe it’s a reorganisation, instability in a country you operate in, falling sales, or a big customer threatens to leave. How can you show what your department did to overcome these difficulties and show the power of your work?
Working environments have evolved to become more informal and open. This is more effective than being closed and protective of your expertise. When your department comes across as open with information rather than trying to protect it with an air of mystique, it makes it easier for people to engage with you and helps establish what you stand for. So take every opportunity to talk about what you do, and share your knowledge. For example:
- When you read articles and books or attend seminars that address issues affecting your colleagues or stakeholders, write an overview of what you learned and distribute it
- Use all available media especially those most commonly used by your stakeholders
- Give presentations
- Use your Intranet
- Display posters in ingenious places around the office
- Distribute newsletters by desk drop or email
- Run a blog or YouTube channel
- Offer training sessions. For example, if you head a finance department, run a session for non-financial people. If you’re in HR, train people how to give feedback or do great performance management. If you run a sales department, give a course in influencing skills
- Team up with other departments and collaborate to solve problems, then publish the results. This enables your reputation to develop beyond a narrow remit
- Ensure your whole team act as ambassadors to your department. Make sure they can talk with knowledge – they know your vision, mission, strategy and progress – and are engaged and motivated with what you are all doing so they can talk with pride and passion
- Balance your attention over the short term and the long term, so you are seen as responsive and delivery-focused as well as evolving for the future, and make sure you communicate that
Please share this article with anyone you know who might find it interesting, and let me know if you’d like more information about how to promote the work of your department.
The next issue focuses on appreciative inquiry: what is it, what’s the research behind it, and how you can apply it in your organisation.