Sep 16, 2016

Be known for something

The guest speaker for my ethics seminar this week talked about navigating politics at work. To win the political game, he advised “making yourself known for something.” He gave an example of a coworker at GE, “Jamie,” who made a name for herself as a pricing expert. Although she worked on other projects and had a “regular” (read: non-pricing) job, she benefited from having “pricing expert” as her personal brand. As proof, the speaker described hearing a presenter at an international conference for a totally different industry hail Jamie as a “great pricing person.”

In a small organization, you can develop trust within close relationships, but I think it’s true that, in a big organization, being known for something helps. This observation tracks with Václav Havel’s essay, “Politics, Morality and Civility,” in which Havel advises political leaders to make their values known.
"I must repeat certain things aloud over and over again. I don’t like repeating myself, but in this case it’s unavoidable. In my many public utterances, I feel I must emphasize and explain repeatedly the moral dimensions of all social life, and point out that morality is, in fact, hidden in everything. . . . People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence. They want to be told about this publicly. They want to know that those 'at the top' are on their side. They feel strengthened, confirmed, hopeful."
When you are in a large group, it’s impossible to know everyone well enough to build trust. The only way to demonstrate your trustworthiness is to be vocal about what you stand for.

Earlier this week, someone in our class posted an unfortunate joke in the class group text. My friend shared an event about organizing computer science outreach programs for girls, and someone responded, “Do we have more events to meet girls? We don’t need additional unnecessary tags such as ‘in tech.’ Just meeting more is good. Thanks.” It’s the kind of joke that might pass if you were close friends, but it was completely inappropriate in an MBA-wide group text. With a friend, it could be interpreted as a joking way to entice sexist men to support a feminist cause. But in the context of a group text with hundreds of people, many of whom you’ve never met, in an MBA program that is 42% female, you do not want to be “known for” sexist jokes. In that context, you need to be earnest and values-driven.

I think I have made a decent name for myself in my MBA program by starting a running club over the summer. People ask me if I am “the runner” when they introduce themselves, which is a pretty positive way to be known. I didn’t design it that way, but it worked out. In LGO,* on the other hand, which started three months earlier, I didn’t come in with a personal brand. I have had a more difficult time establishing myself in that group

Except for my college internship, I have never worked at a company with greater than 50 employees, and I am about to enter a huge multinational corporation for my LGO internship. I am very determined to join a company where trust is valued and where morality is valued, to feel “strengthened, confirmed, hopeful.” I want find an opportunity to “be known for something” at work, too. That would be good.
 




*Leaders for Global Operations, dual MBA and SM in mechanical engineering