With that, you can either skyrocket your own career or miss your chance without even noticing it. Below we will cover three topics:
- how to prepare?
- how to make it happen?
- what to do and what NOT to do?
1. How do you prepare for your chance? There are three steps:
Step 1. At any moment of time, be ready with your "elevator pitch": who you are, what your role in the company is and one recognizable fact about yourself that is easy to remember, In the Tip #3 we will talk in detail about what to include in and how to present your elevator pitch. Rehearse it weekly, while your driving to work or before you go asleep. Set up time, update it as needed, and be ready whenever you get a chance.
Step 2. Learn how to target your communication to your audience. Executives have the shortest attention span. Their time is most valuable, so once you get the opportunity, do not engage in telling a long story about your hometown or about your sister in college. Share your "elevator pitch" and prepare to listen, engage, and relate to your executive. Do not ask for favors, do not get too wordy, do not complain. Relate, make yourself memorable, stand out, show your passion and empathize. Ask questions, share successes, suggest support. Most importantly, do not overextend the time you got. Check the non-verbal clues. If the executive looked at his/her watches while talking to you, get the hint. Your emotional intelligence is the key here, not your job performance.
Step 3. Know your executives. In order to relate to your executives, you need to know who they are and what they value. I still remember this company that I joined on a Wednesday years ago. It turned out that they just moved to a new location and every Wednesday evening, they had "wine and cheese" party at a new floor with a group sitting on this floor introducing themselves. On the exact day I joined, I got an e-mail inviting everyone to join accounting department on the 5th floor. I hardly had anything to do with accounting professionally (except getting my paycheck) but I decided to go and meet my new co-workers. I asked my new colleagues if they are going, but no one was interested.
Ask yourself, what would you do? It's your first day at your work, there are "wine and cheese" Wednesdays every week, so you can go next Wednesday or the Wednesday after next and so on. None of your colleagues are going so you'll be there alone. You are exhausted because your Day 1 at a new job is most likely loaded, so you are ready to go home rather than spend an hour after work hanging with people you do now know drinking cheap wine in work environment. I did not think this way. The way I looked at it: wow! I am so lucky! It's my day 1 and I already have a chance to meet new people outside of my department! Plus wine and cheese sounds very nice (I obviously chose the right employer!) and so I went.
When I came to the fifth floor, there were very few people there, so we started chatting right away. Then, I got to the counter to grab some cheese and there was someone else over there grabbing his snack. This gentleman looked at me and said he name was John and asked me who I was. I shared my elevator pitch and we had a nice conversation with John about the future of education (it was an educational company), the benefits of running (it turned out he was a runner), and about my onboarding experience. Why did I start with the elevator pitch, you ask? Because I reviewed the company web site and LinkedIn profiles of its executives prior to joining, and of course, I recognized John, the CEO, and I was aware of his passion for running, and the rest of the conversation just developed organically, and we both enjoyed it.
The next thing I knew in a couple of days that I was invited to an introductory meeting with John, the CEO, then I was invited to present to him monthly on the progress of the initiative I was leading, and within months, I moved to a managerial role (I'd like to think that this would happen anyway, but this encounter gave me the exposure I needed to make this move fast and easily).
If I did not go to this seemingly unimportant event on my Day 1, I would never know that I missed my chance.
2. How to recognize your chance?
The previous example is helpful in understanding that you should never shy away from any exposure, no matter how new to the company or how busy you are. I recall an instance early in my career when we were getting ready to launch our web site. We replatformed and rebranded the whole company website for a large corporation, and that night was the launch day. We were working with a vendor, so there were few people on the floor involved in the effort. I was in charge of a team of business analysts who built the logic for this huge news and marketing site, from data feeds to editorial content. A big part of it was the logic of importing historic news releases for the last ten years so that the users would be able to search for them on the new site.
The day of launch, two things happened. First, we had a visit of our CIO scheduled who was expected to tour the floor and meet with personnel for 30 minutes. Second, we found out that there was an issue with our logic for importing historic news releases, so they were not searchable on the new site. We were all trying to find out a solution when CIO came to the floor. I told my team of Business Analysts that it is up to them whether they choose to participate in this informal get together with CIO or stay with me and fix the issue. All of us stayed except for one analyst (let's call her Ankita) who chose to go meet with CIO. The rest of us worked hard, we came up with a fix, and in the evening, we went live with the new web site - a huge win for the whole company. We worked on this project for 6 months, and the last month, I almost lived at work since our Project Manager left on a 3-week cruise, so I was both leading BA team and performing project management -working with the vendor, communicating progress to executives, taking care of issues.
Out launch was a huge success, except for one hiccup. There was an issue with RSS feed for data import so we almost rolled back, and then I came up with a solution to point the section of the web site that was populated by the feed to the old site so that we can fix it as an emergency release, and we went live. I felt victorious! It was my first project of such magnitude, it was my first time in a dual role, and I felt that I saved the day. I was thinking about talking to Ankita who was the business analyst responsible for both RSS feed and the import of historic releases, the functionality that jeopardized the launch. Well, I felt excited and proud until the next morning.
In the morning, CIO issued an e-mail congratulating Ankita on a successful launch of the company site based on his conversation with her at the previous day event, our project sponsor announced a monetary award to both Ankita and the missing project manager who has not even come back from his long-term vacation, and my boss promoted Ankita to a full-time position with the company. My name was not mentioned anywhere. This was so unfair! I felt overlooked and unrecognized. I switched the department and eventually left the company. Meanwhile Ankita made a great career with this company, and within a few years became a manager, then a director, and as of now, a company VP.
Years after, I do not feel that I was overlooked or unfairly treated. While I learned this lesson firsthand and made it my primary responsibility as a manager to have people properly recognized and fairly appreciated , I now recognize our individual responsibility to "promote" ourselves and make our successes known. My mistake was to decide to skip the event with CIO to win 30 minutes of work time on the short-term problem. I did not recognize the chance, and it is no one's fault I paid for these 30 minutes with 6 months of hard work and hurt feelings and eventually my future with this employer. Recognize your chance and make use of it.
Sometimes I get the following question: if you do not get a chance, how to make it happen? There are multiple opportunities to ask questions at Townhalls and company events, to stop by and have a conversation at a company outing or a holiday party, to reach out with your ideas, to write an e-mail, or stop by their office (or ask their assistance to have an introductory meeting scheduled, depending on company policy). You can volunteer for a charity event or submit a blog on a company site, but whichever option you choose, do not go overboard and stay relevant. Otherwise, you will achieve an opposite effect. The following section describes things that can go wrong with your exposure.
3. How to use your chance?
In the sections above, we discussed the topics to share in this brief exposure: your name, role, your or your team's accomplishments, the best practices you introduced, your support of the most recent initiative, the feedback from customers, the hobby that you share - anything that is relevant. Just be brief, be prepared to listen and interact - and then build on what is happening. Most importantly, be mindful of not achieving the opposite effect to getting a chance with your executives.
What NOT to do? When you get an exposure to your company's executives, do NOT do the following:
1. Complain. Do not complain! This is not the venue. Come up with ideas, suggestions, feedback - this time is a great opportunity to achieve those objectives, but do not complain - about departments, people, vendors.
2. Discuss your manager. Do not discuss your manager. Any feedback is better when done directly. If your manager is violating any rules or showing disrespect to you, talk to them directly, then involve HR if needed. Your executives are not HR managers, so there is no reason to involve them in addressing HR issues.
3. Escalate. If there is a specific issue to be resolved, deal with it directly. If you cannot, bear in mind that once you share your issue with an executive, you escalate it to them for a follow up action. Do not try to deal with consequences of your escalation by saying "I did not mean for him/her to get fired". The moment you mentioned the issue with this person, to your business executive, you made a decision to escalate over several ranks of command, and this is a sign of mistrust to every manager on the ladder between you and this executive. If you did not mean it this way, either you are not smart enough or not telling the truth. In either case, don't ask for sympathy.
Getting exposure to your company's executive is a great chance which many new joiners miss without recognizing that they just passed on a great opportunity to be mentored and supported by senior executives. This opportunity can accelerate your career by years - don't miss it and once you get it, use it wisely!