“Keep Your Head Down and Work Hard”

“Keep Your Head Down and Work Hard”

February 24, 2016

It was the worst piece of advice I ever received.  “Keep your head down and work hard… eventually you will get noticed.”

The terrible news?  I listened and thought, surely, if my output is stellar, if I do what I say I’m going to do, I’ll be recognized and rewarded.  Turns out, that’s not true.

Oddly enough, I didn’t discover this contradiction to the early bit of advice until I was sitting face-to-face, one-on-one with the COO of the company I was working for at the time.  We had just had what I deemed one of the best job interviews I’d ever had… the time was flying by… we had tons to discuss… etc.  At about minute 45 of 60, he paused and said, “Well, Alana, what I’m confused about is this:  Your resume is great, you are very well qualified for the role I have in mind for you, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this discussion… however, why is it that I’ve never heard of you?”  What?  Needless to say, I was crushed.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I said, “I thought that if I kept my head down and did good work, eventually I would get noticed.”  His response, “Well, you know, none of your peers think that way.  Most of them are doing fine work.  What they are also doing, however, is positioning themselves for promotion, purposefully putting themselves in front of senior executives like me, making sure they get noticed.”

It was an important lesson.  As a young professional, what I had failed to realize is that hard work and stellar results are only part of the equation – and, often, not even the most important aspect.  Instead, what I later learned is that:

  1. It’s just assumed you’re going to work hard and deliver the goods – that’s your ticket for entry; and
  2. In order to truly get noticed, it’s critical to build relationships at every level of the organization, to establish trust with clients and vendors and to develop a great reputation. You must be intentional about getting yourself noticed.

The wonderful news?  That same executive became my personal champion.  He made sure I got exposure to senior executives, he made himself available to me when I had questions, he highlighted opportunities to me that he thought I might enjoy.  And, more importantly, I changed my behavior.  I stopped hanging out in the shadows… with my good work, sitting at my desk, head down.  Instead, I began to position myself for opportunities and to meet colleagues at every level of the company.  It was both fun and rewarding.

This scenario described above is all too common.  We must not get so caught up in the work that we lose sight of building both our personal brands and more meaningful relationships.  So, yes, work hard… deliver results… AND, also, establish and nurture relationships wherever you go.  It’s that final element that will help you achieve your goals.