Forget Self-Promotion; Try Idea Advocacy

Business friends discussing brainstorming and ideas at meeting inside beautiful modern building place.jpeg

It only takes one jerk to ruin things for the rest of us.

Early in my career, I was in a meeting with my peers and my senior management. We were all giving updates on our projects. Perhaps you’ve been in one of these meetings once or twice

The problem with this meeting was that one of my colleagues was showboating for senior management, while the rest of us were trying to get done with the meeting, so we could get on with our lives.

He interrupted our project updates to talk about the superiority of his project.

After senior managers provided us with their advice, he chimed in with his thoughts on how we should lead our projects.

When a senior manager praised one of us, he would jump in to talk about he had been doing that practice already.

He was being a jerk, promoting himself the way he did.

But he wasn’t being a jerk by promoting himself.

Allow me to explain.

The Problem

Many of us are raised with the notion that we should be humble, team-oriented, self-effacing. We shouldn’t seek to be the center of attention. We shouldn’t brag. We shouldn’t even think highly of ourselves. Pride comes before the fall. Maybe you’ve heard all this before.

This kind of upbringing creates some serious downstream disadvantages for people that are raised that way.

And I mean serious:

  • Sometimes, humble people are left in junior roles because other people take credit for their achievements
  • Sometimes, humble people don’t get raises because they don’t get enough popularity votes at annual compensation time
  • Sometimes, humble people are the first to go when layoffs come, no matter how competent they are or what results they’ve achieved, because senior management just has no clue who they even are

One clear solution to this issue will be to try to find a middle ground. We will covertly promote our achievements, while also praising the results of others. We will try to get a word in edgewise about our results, while not approaching the obnoxiousness of the obvious self-promoters.

Unfortunately, this half-in-half-out approach creates no good results. There usually is no result at all.

We need another approach.

Our Requirements

What are our requirements of this approach?

First, it must help (or at least be neutral to) our organizations. This is a must-have. We can’t prosper at the expense of our organizations.

Second, we need an approach that will demonstrate the value that we add to our teams and organizations. This is nonnegotiable.

Third, we need the approach to work for us individually, taking into consideration that we might not like to brag or showboat. This is also nonnegotiable as we need our approach.

Fourth, it would be good for our approach to demonstrate what business analysis can uniquely bring to the table. This is a nice-to-have.

The Solution

The best solution I have found that meets each of these requirements is idea advocacy.

Idea advocacy is simply the championing of ideas. And not just any old ideas. We have to champion ideas that are right and important.

Instead of bragging about our superb requirements analysis capabilities, we are proponing positive changes that our organizations need to make.

Instead of exaggerating the importance of our project, we are pinpointing opportunities for our team to take advantage of.

And very importantly, instead of annoying everyone around you (literally), you’re giving your colleagues new possibilities to explore.

And yes, it will do wonders for your perception among both your peers and senior management.

Let’s look at an example from the real world.

A Real-World Example

Some time ago, I was working at a bank and (among other things) wearing a product manager hat for what I thought was a pretty cool product. We were developing this product as one leg of the bank’s future technology platform, and probably about half of the technology team was working on this program. It was a really big deal for the entire organization.

The head of the technology part of the program was as senior as you could get in this organization. Think of him as the CTO; he was my manager’s boss. And he asked me to get on his calendar to talk about my product and what we wanted to do with it.

When the appointed time came, I walked up to his office and stuck my head in the door. I was a little nervous; he was one of those brilliant types with rough edges. And the conversation went something like this:

CTO:    Hey Don. Are we supposed to be meeting now?

Me:      Yes – to catch up on [product] – as long as now works for you.

CTO:    And why should I give a $^*% about [product]?

Now, from past experience, I knew that whatever I said next had to be pretty good. I had a number of choices:

  • Talk about how important business management thought my product was
  • Talk about how happy it would make the front office
  • Talk about the actually-important idea

And, of course, you know I went with the last bullet point:

Me:      Because, out of everything your team is doing this year, [product] is the only thing that’s going to make this bank any money.

CTO:    Have a seat.

Why did this work? For two reasons.

First, I didn’t speak about me. I didn’t speak about my interests. I didn’t speak about how he ignored me the past three months. I didn’t talk about getting to know him. I didn’t even talk about the happiness of stakeholders. Instead…

[Second,] I talked about a big idea. People like ideas. They open doors. They create possibilities. People can run with them and do new things.

What was the result? I moved up a notch or two in his mind without having to talk about how wonderful I am.

* * *

Consider for yourself how you can implement this approach. You know your work environment so much better than I (or any other business analysis talking heads) do. The ideas that you yourself create will be at least as good as what I come up with. I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

By the way, we had a webinar where we talked about highly-related and highly-relevant topics, called "Advanced Soft Skills for Business Analysts." You can check out the replay and materials here.