It’s a good time to aspire to IT stardom. For one thing, there’s the growing number of IT leaders who enjoy celebrity status, people like Gregor Bailar (the former BankOne CIO who retired early to become a consultant and philanthropist) or Douglas Merrill (Google’s former CIO, wooed to go to EMI Music). Then there are the top-tier CIOs who command hefty salaries.
Moreover, companies’ view of ICT itself is changing. Companies are looking for ICT leaders who can be bona fide business strategists, which means more control, power and opportunity. But you can’t capitalise on such opportunity, unless you’re getting noticed — and getting talked about. Quite simply, “being a best-kept secret will not deliver the promotion or raise,” says publicist Wendy Serafin, principal of PR and marketing firm Nifares Group.
To make sure your unique talents and value stay — or get — in the spotlight, try these five ways of generating buzz.
Make friends. Often.
“A crucial piece of your job is actually to make friends with people at [your] company,” says Penelope Trunk, former software industry marketing executive and current career columnist. Being hardworking and demonstrating excellence is important. However, Trunk says there’s a lot of research showing people would rather work with someone who’s likable and incompetent than those who are competent but not likeable. “And we also know intuitively that the boss always promotes the person they like the best.”
Being a star is about buzz and buzz is created when people talk about you. And “if you don’t have friends, no one’s going to talk about you,” says Trunk. So put down that project work, and get away from your desk. Wander around the office and strike up random conversations. Go to lunch with coworkers, talk about common interests with your boss. Bring in bagels for your team. Above all, make sure the adjective “isolated” can’t be applied to you.
To those who consider themselves too shy or introverted for networking, Trunk minces no words: “Get over it.” Isolating yourself is career suicide. Socialising doesn’t have to be hard either, Trunk points out. Those who find such social activities difficult may be putting too much pressure to say something sparkling and witty, she says. Simply being friendly, revealing a bit about yourself and being a good listener goes a long way towards connecting.
Practise public speaking.
CareGroup CIO John Halamka — who demonstrates his own brand of the supremely productive CIO — became so interesting to those watching him — as a rock-climber, vegan, Japanese flutist, medical RFID chip implantee — that he became a star in a BlackBerry ad.
Like Trunk, Halamka emphasises making social connections. “Look for any opportunity to not be in your office,” he says — and in front of an audience.
Halamka also stresses the importance of talking in front of groups. “Put yourself out in front of the crowd, be highly visible.” This applies not just to seasoned pros, but to those early in their career as well. “Even early on when my roles were much smaller, whenever possible, I put myself in the public eye in public venues inside and outside the organisation to speak about the kind of work we were doing. Don’t be shy.”
That may be easy to say for a guy who gave a PowerPoint presentation on a Jumbotron in front of 30,000 people at Gillette Stadium near Boston, but what about the rest of us? Start small, he says. He recommends starting with small groups, but emphasises that you should continue to challenge your comfort level as often as you can. “Once you do public speaking often enough, you realise you have nothing to fear,” he says. After presenting in front of 10 people, you realise you can do 50, then 100, and so on.
Practise open — and frequent — communication. And hold the jargon.
Halamka believes that people’s interest in him is a direct result of something he holds core: Communication.
“It is absolutely key,” he says. To that end, he uses broadcast email, public speaking and blogs to give as many folks as possible insight into his plans, doings, and accomplishments. He believes communicating on such a large scale creates openness and trust, which isn’t possible with a multitude of single-person or small-group email threads. And such public conversations have a side benefit: “I actually avoid having to write hundreds of individual emails,” he says.
Halamka’s openness is not for the faint of heart, but his information sharing provides a lesson for all: Your colleagues, managers and customers are more likely to care about what you are doing, root for your success and help out when things get tough if they have clear visibility into what your daily workings and projects are. “The consequence of being so public at everything is that you become a personality,” says Halamka. Being known as a good communicator makes others perceive him as more human, he adds. Being extremely visible with your communications turns you into a real person, not just “a CIO” or “a developer” and therefore others — even your customers and vendors — interact with you in a different way.
Of course, some of that communication should include talking about your achievements. You don’t have to be an obnoxious self-promoter, but you need to share your successes with others. And a key piece of that communication is quantifying your achievements, (which must include work on visible projects the company deems important) in terms of dollars. “So many people think they are the exception to the rule, ‘my job can’t be quantified in cost’,” Trunk says. But such ability is crucial. For one thing, talking numbers arms others with justification on why you should be given a promotion or raise. If you don’t know how to do it, go to a resume consultant or other professional who can teach you how. One important point: Keep both your written and verbal conversations a jargon-free zone. Communication should be simple, clear and easy-to-understand. Remember, communication is a two-way process: If your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying, then you haven’t communicated.
Participate in social networks and media conversations about your passionate interests.
Contributing to the conversations on Web 2.0 venues and more traditional media outlets can allow a greater number of people to see you as an expert in your field, create new job opportunities and aid in recruitment efforts as your company’s Google presence grows. (And as a side benefit, such participation will help you learn about new things that matter to you.)
You should be participating in the social media forums that feel relevant for you: Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, says Trunk.
“We’re past the point where you can successfully self-promote by just telling your message to everyone and expecting them to listen, it’s about conversation, and social media is the way people are having conversations.” Trunk says to make sure you are genuinely engaged with people — the worst thing you can do is participate merely to promote yourself. Such activity will turn people off from you (having the opposite effect you’re looking for) and could get you labelled a spammer by the site.
On top of building your general media presence on social networks, you may wish to be written up in more traditional publications and websites. One way to get a bit of visibility is to leave comments on online articles that you care about in a respectful, intelligent way (and be sure you spell-check), along with your full name and contact information. Also, don’t be shy, either, about emailing writers to tell them you enjoy their work.
After you know that you’ve established a presence either through such participation or by some other publicity you’re sure journalists would see as relevant, Serafin suggests introducing yourself to journalists you admire through email, by phone or at a conference, and offering yourself as a potential article source.
And be patient, says Serafin. It takes time to cultivate relationships with reporters, sources and thought experts.
Promote your personal brand: Blog, blog, blog.
“I can’t stress enough how important blogging is for your career,” says Trunk. Blogging is the way to move ahead even if your company has no intention of letting you grow. “Blogs tell how good you are based on your ideas, independent of your experience, so people with good ideas can get ahead very quickly by blogging about what they’re interested in excelling at.”
Halamka also believes in the importance of blogs. Blogging is a way to create your own strong brand image. Halamka’s blog has allowed him to brand himself as a tech evangelist and innovator.
Since blogs can get people into trouble — both in terms of privacy and your relationship with your employer — Serafin recommends caution. For instance, be very careful not to spill any of your company’s secrets, she says. And don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in other public venues: The web is not anonymous. Also, “learn first, blog later,” she says. Do some research by studying industry publications, blogs and articles that interest you. What topics are already covered? What are the readers’ comments? Is your idea still unique and original? Is it newsworthy? “Better to research first before putting yourself out there, and lose credibility right out of the gate,” says Serafin.
Trunk has a different take. Since in today’s world, there is no such thing as long-term employment, she says, your blog is to promote your brand (ie, you), your ideas and the things you care about. People change jobs an average of every two to five years, and careers every seven, according to research, Trunk claims. This means “you will need to promote yourself over many careers and jobs.”
She recommends creating goals about where you want to go, then it will be clear what you should be blogging about. But even if you’re not clear on where you want to go, blogging can be a great way to find out, says Trunk. Because of the time commitment (you should be publishing at least three times a week) and because writing rarely flows unless motivated by passion, it’s virtually impossible to blog on something you don’t care about, she says.
“Be yourself, and don’t worry about showing too much of yourself,” says Trunk. “That will generally be fine with the company and if not, you should ask yourself why you’re at or want to be at that company.”
Halamka also lets his personal side show through. He says that some of his more personal blogs are among his most popular. But he does note that the work-personal balance is tough to strike in a blog. The key: “Honour your own comfort level.”
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