Q: How can I change an unfair negative perception that the senior leader of my department has of me? Just prior to my annual review, I had an interaction with our senior leader about a one-time but highly visible task I completed. The task was not representative of my work, but it was the last thing he remembers. To make matters worse, my immediate boss did not advocate for me when review time came, so I received a “meets expectations” review. When viewing my overall work, I am certain it exceeds my peers in most areas. I’m not given many chances to interact at a high level, so how do I influence at a higher level when my manager won’t help to influence on my behalf? – Alex
A: Ah, the dreaded “meets expectations.” Sounds like you’ve got a combination of a “brand” issue and an “exposure” issue. I’ll take them on one at a time.
Managing Your Brand
It appears as though your “brand”—your reputation / what people think of when they hear your name—inadvertently was formed as a result of that one high profile project. What you are going to need to do is “rebrand,” and that is no easy task. Consider the ideal brand you want, what you want others to say about you when you aren’t around, and try to list off the actions and behaviors you would need to model to result in that brand. One final note on “branding:” I’ve found that depending on how long you’ve had your current brand, consider that it will take about half that time to rebrand (Ex: if you’ve been seen this way for 2 years, it will take at least 1 year to rebrand, etc…).
The challenge with exposure for you is twofold. First, it appears your manager isn’t advocating on your behalf, and second, the organization appears as though it is not set up in a way for you to get the necessary exposure. Sounds like you might need to have a “heart to heart” conversation with your direct manager. Explain to him / her that you are concerned that your good work is getting overlooked and that others have the wrong or inaccurate impression of you and your work. Ask him / her to help you put in place a plan to get you more exposure (either high profile projects, he / she advocates for you on your behalf, more exposure to senior leaders / meetings, etc.). There is probably a 50% chance that he / she will help you. In the case where they refuse to (or more likely are scared to), you have a tough challenge. You’ll need to find other advocates in the organization. Consider building relationships with other senior leaders and work that angle. Inviting them to coffee or lunch and asking them for career advice or counsel is always a good approach.
However, if your manager really isn’t fighting or advocating for you, you actually have a bigger problem on your hands. I would recommend transferring to another manager or leaving the company all together.
Good luck! – Brandon, “The Workplace Therapist”