Some while back I read an interesting article by Mary K. Pratt on the ComputerWorld Web site entitled “Five things you should always tell your boss“. As a software manager myself for more than a decade, I agree with the list of items in the article. Item number 5, entitled “Your Successes”, triggered a memory.
Back in 1988, while still wet behind the ears, I worked for a now defunct company called Rosh Intelligent Systems, located in a pastoral suburb of Jerusalem. I was newly married at the time and was filled with enthusiasm and energy for the work I was doing.
After a two year stint, for several reasons, I decided it was time to move on. Ira Palti, the VP R&D, was then, as now, a role model for what a VP R&D should be. In the course of a conversation we had I mentioned that I couldn’t shake the feeling that my hard work over long overtime hours, which my superiors always recognized as stable and robust, was not really appreciated.
I never forgot what Ira answered me. He said that he had always recognized the quality of my work in the past but that I didn’t ‘toot my horn loud enough’. In his opinion, when concluding a project I was especially proud of, I should always follow it up with an e-mail to those involved announcing the event, listing any important points others should know — in short, tooting my horn.
I was taken aback. The last thing I would ever do was beat my chest and announce to all and sundry how wonderful my work was. I mean, it was obvious I had done sterling work. In my opinion publicly highlighting my work was arrogance and hubris run amok.
Ira’s reply was that we live in a less-than-perfect world. People are not aware of the quality, meticulous work, and long hours that goes into good work. I should not view it as arrogance; rather it was an opportunity to advance my own career while letting the rest of the company know that the project is successfully moving along.
It took me months to absorb what Ira had said. Truth be told, at the time I thought he was mistaken. By the time I was settled at my new job, however, I had assimilated his advice and have never looked back. Today, when I finish a job I feel is especially well done, I send a neat informational e-mail to my superior(s) and anyone else who should know about the results. The e-mail is always low-key and matter-of-factly, never arrogant or haughty. It fulfills two important functions: (a) it lets your superiors know you’re an asset to the company, and (b) it preempts any toxic feelings you may harbor that your hard work is not recognized.
As a manager, however, I’ve always taken it further. I’ve mentioned this philosophy to my subordinates many times, and have encouraged them to ‘toot their horns’ when they feel proud of their work. Alas, they tend to find it as hard as I did back in 1988. To remedy this, I always make it a point of writing just such an e-mail to my superiors lauding my subordinates’ excellent work when merited. The great thing is that I have the luxury of being less inhibited when praising someone else; I can let loose some candid compliments about them and their work. It’s a real win-win situation that leaves me with a wonderful feeling.
In his straight-from-the-hip book entitled “Every Mistake in the Book: A Business How-Not-To”, F. J. Lennon says similar things in his inimitable style (page 143):
73. Toot Your Own Horn
If you want respect and appreciation, remember to sing your own praises when you accomplish one of your milestones or go above and beyond the call of duty. For years I resisted tooting my own horn because I thought it made me look arrogant. After all, no one could forget the find work I had done in the past, right? Wrong! How soon they all forget.
Despite a steady track record and professional work ethic, there have been many times when my work has gone unappreciated. That’s no one’s fault but my own. I’ve learned that people who never let others forget about the good work they do are the people who survive and thrive in cutthroat business environments.
In these difficult times, you owe it to yourself to maximize your chances of finding and keeping a job, and making yourself feel better about yourself. Toot your horn when you deserve a pat on the back. Give it a try — you’ll be glad you did.