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Don’t become the invisible man (or woman)!

...many employees find themselves cut off from their colleagues and managers for long periods of time, and while absence may make the heart grow fonder it also makes the memory dimmer. When the employee finally returns to their home office they may find that less adventurous colleagues have been promoted over them or are filling staff posts and bulding a high profile with management.

A couple of articles caught my eye in the March edition of HRMagazine – the journal of the Society for HR Management. One was about the issues faced by companies that encourage staff to telecommute and work from home, the other concerned the hidden burden of having large numbers of staff working on assigments overseas.

As you would expect, given the nature of the magazine, the articles looked at these two issues from the company’s point of view. And from that point of view they are very different.

However, for employees in the modern business environment, both create a similar problem: visibility, or rather the lack of it. In some careers you almost come to expect it, fbut three major shifts in the way we work in the 21st century have made this everyone’s problem:

  1. many organisations are now looking at ways of reducing the burden of providing office space, while allowing staff more time at home. Consequently, workers in any job that doesn’t require their physical presence at a specific location can find themselves telecommuting, and only visiting their office base on a few rare occasions
  2. increasingly, staff find themselves taken out of their ‘day job’ and assigned to some form of project. Whether it is an IT implementation, new product development, or even an office move. It is all too common to come into work and find that your team are no longer your team
  3. the globalisation of business means that not only managers but also front line staff may find themselves sent overseas for short periods of time, or on more permanenet assignments. Several of my MBA colleagues joined the management programme of a UK insurer and found themselves rotated into call centres in Ireland and India. Another became a strategy manager for a major German engineering company and is now in the US. An engineer I know, who works for an energy company, has found himself sorting out work patterns in the former USSR and then heading off to South America to advise a drilling team

The result of all this is that many employees find themselves cut off from their colleagues and managers for long periods of time, and while absence may make the heart grow fonder it also makes the memory dimmer. When the employee finally returns to their home office they may find that less adventurous colleagues have been promoted over them or are filling staff posts and bulding a high profile with management.

So what can we do about this? Well, this is the kind of problem that personal branding seeks to address. In the second stage of the personal branding process, "Express", we seek to ensure that the right people are exposed to our brand message, at the right time. Underpinning this is the principle of the "Three C’s": our brand communication should have Clarity, Consistency and Constancy.

  1. Clarity: we need to be clear what message we are communicating, to whom, and why. All too often we leave these factors to chance: we hope that the project director will mention a major piece of work we are leading in their progress report, or that the client will comment on our work. That just isn’t good enough. We need to ensure that we control the message that is getting back to the company, and that we control when and how it gets communicated
  2. Consistency: the messages that get back have to be consistent. Its a bit of a cliche, but it’s worth repeating: you are only as good as your last project/presentation/report/whatever. Moreover, when you are away from the office it is all too easy for managers only to hear the bad news. You need to make sure that the messsage from wherever you are highlights your aschievements and progress
  3. Constancy: the flow of communication needs to be ongoing. It is very easy to only communicate when you need to ask a quetion or, worse, when something goes wrong. You may know that  your project is going well, but experience has taught most managers that no news is usually bad news

With these three ideas in mind, if you find yourself away from the office for any period of time set yourself up a plan. For example:

  1. agree when and how you will be filing progress reports. This could be as simple as a weekly ‘ABCD’ report (Achievements, Benefits, Concerns and Do next) or ‘Highs, Lows and Issues’, neither of which needs to be more than half a side of A4
  2. schedule some trips back to your home office, even if its only a friday once a month
  3. stay in contact with people back at base: call former colleagues, email the managers of other projects to compare notes. Build this into your plan
  4. offer to mentor junior staff. This can be done by telephone, and it shows your committment to the wider firm. Again, schedule the mentoring calls on your plan
  5. offer to take on a knowledge-management tupe role, such as editing a newsletter for an interest group. Schedule time to work on the newsletter, and schedule slots to talk to members of the interest group to find out what they are up to, particularly senior practitioners in that area

There are many activities like this that can help to keep you in people’s minds. However, they can easily stay as nothing more than good intentions unless you set up a communications plan and stick to it.

So go out there, and get planning!

Signing off (late) again.

Rob

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