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What Microsoft Taught Me About Self Promotion

By: Guest | August 22, 2011 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by Neicole Crepeau.

Recently, Gini Dietrich wrote about Achieving Workplace Equality that referenced an article  “A Rant About Women” in which the author said that women would go further if they were more self-promotional. Gini isn’t so sure we women need to be self-promotional, but I’ve found that tooting my own horn is an important and necessary part of doing business.

I learned that lesson during my 13 years at Microsoft.

Don’t get me wrong; I was raised not to brag. My parents brought me up to let my work speak for itself. I don’t like to gloat and to this day I tend to be a bit embarrassed when people praise me. Nevertheless, during the years at Microsoft, I learned to regularly note and promote my achievements. While my work is the main reason that I got great reviews and was considered a star performer, I have no doubt that my efforts to get that work noticed helped significantly.

Keeping my brand top-of-mind

Microsoft is, by and large, a male-dominated culture. From the top down, it’s a place where you are expected to have ideas, put them on the table, and defend them vigorously. Sometimes the debates get heated.

I fit into that culture pretty well because I’ve always had strong opinions and enjoyed debating. I’m able to defend my ideas well but I am also open to other good ideas, from anyone.

Unfortunately, as I participated in these debates, I found that my good ideas, on occasion, were appropriated by others. For example, I might have come up with a new design and engaged others in prototyping it. Then, somehow, it became their design. Even if I was the visionary leading our team, a more vocal person might end up being credited with the team’s stellar work, simply by virtue of his being vocal.

The problem was especially apparent if I was contributing outside of my core competency, in someone else’s area of expertise. Because I’m a jack-of-all-trades type, I did that a lot. People can’t always accept that good ideas or work came from someone who wasn’t a specialist in their field, so they tend to remember the idea or work as their own.

Out of necessity, I began to make sure that I got credit for my ideas and work. I did this in what is probably a more female way. I didn’t say, “I had this great idea.” Instead, I would say, “Remember that idea I had about blah-blah-blah.” Or I might say, “My team is xxx” instead of “The team is xxx.” I would make sure to bring up my work in many contexts. If I was meeting with another group and discussing a project that was my baby, I might say, “Well, over in our group I’m leading our team in doing this-or-that.” I wasn’t bragging. I was just making sure people knew that I was at the center.

By making claims to my ideas and work, and doing so repeatedly, I ensured that no (man) could take credit where it wasn’t entirely due.

Reputations Last

To this day, I’m still seeing the benefits of tooting my own horn. Just last spring, I was talking with a vendor about doing some writing for his company. He had worked at Microsoft for a time, though we never worked together, and I had never met him before. In our first conversation, he said, “Oh, I’ve heard your name around Microsoft. You’ve got a great reputation. I have no doubt you can fill several different writing needs for us.”

I left Microsoft in 2007, but my reputation may never leave.

Make no mistake about it: I did outstanding work at Microsoft. But sometimes it takes more than just doing outstanding work to really get noticed. Sometimes it takes talking about your outstanding work, either blatantly or subtly. So, my advice, ladies? Toot your horn, in a womanly manner.

Neicole Crepeau a blogger, columnist at {grow}, and the creator of CurateXpress, a content curation tool. She works at Coherent Interactive on social media, website design, mobile apps, & marketing.

Are you joining us this week? We have an OUTSTANDING session planned with  Marcus Sheridan and Gini Dietrich who are going to help you (or help you help your clients) produce content that fills up your sales funnel. Marcus did it for the swimming pool industry. You can do it for yours. This Thursday! August 25 at 11:00 a.m. CT. This webinar is $50 and you can buy it by clicking here.
26 comments
PJWright
PJWright

Neicole, Your post is spot on! May I extend it just a small step further to say that I believe we have the same issue when it comes time to negotiate. We need to be able to not only promote our skills but to also negotiate those same skills for appropriate compensation.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

In the corporate world, accomplishments are quickly forgotten unless they are documented and publicized. I've seen individuals and teams lose well-deserved recognition simply because they didn't stand up for themselves, or they expected their bosses to sing their praises. It's not enough to do great work--you have to campaign to be recognized for that work, whether you're a woman or a man.

Great post Neicole. Thanks for sharing!

CristerDelaCruz
CristerDelaCruz

Thank you for a great post Neicole. Regardless of gender, sometimes we find it difficult to differentiate between bragging and OWNING the awesome work we do and sharing that with others. But great point in that women must toot our horns louder (and in creative and subtle ways) to highlight those accomplishments.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

First, thanks for doing this post and so quickly! I don't know that I can write as quickly as you put this together. Super impressive!

I don't know if this really is about self-promotion, though. I think it's more about leadership and team involvement and collaboration and not taking credit for other people's ideas.

Shirky's point was that women should say things such as, "I'm the best person for this job and this is why." Or even, to use your example, "I did that work" even though it was a team effort.

One of the things I coach my team on is saying "we" instead of "I." And using your "I led the team to do XYZ" is completely appropriate in our office.

But that's leadership and team collaboration, in my view, not self-promotion.

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I have a good friend who retired from Microsoft. She is a great mentor for me. That kind of culture is such a great "training ground" and gives you a much-needed thick skin. I don't mean it in a negative way at all. If we don't look out for Number One, who will?

Thanks for the great perspective, Neicole!

Hajra
Hajra

Hey Neicole,

Loved the article! I thought being modest was the way to go about it; but seeing this, I might need to blow my horns soon! As I commented on that article, I am the single female in my team and being new to the team I am targeted in many ways - being female, being young, being unqualified- inspite of the fact that the team is doing extremely well and I have played my part well. Time to blow my horns there too... watch out men, tomorrow is "ladies blow their horns day"!

lisarobbinyoung
lisarobbinyoung

Great point. So many of us aren't willing to put ourselves in the spotlight in the first place, let alone take credit when we're already in the middle of it. I can't tell you how many people i interview, and when I start listing their accomplishments, they're shocked at themselves. "Did I really do that? Is that me?" I often hear.

Yes. It's you. Be awesome. Don't be a jerk, but be awesome. The world needs you to recognize your awesomeness.

TheJackB
TheJackB

I can't speak for women but I can say that it is a mistake for men too not to promote their work. It is not always comfortable and it can feel awkward but you need to be your own advocate.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@FocusedWords You are so right! Asking for money, like asking for recognition, is something women need to feel totally comfortable doing.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@marianne.worley I've seen similar things happen, Marianne. It's a shame when you know a team or person has done great work, and just hasn't gotten enough notice for it.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@ginidietrich Thanks, Gini. Yes, fast writing is one of my strengths--a very handy one! I don't see anything wrong with saying "I'm the best person for this job and this is why." I've done that in interviews, to be certain. But I wouldn't be willing to say I did work that was actually team work. I think it's important to take credit for your work, but only your work. I also really try to give other people credit for their work, and go out of my way to do so. I wish more people did that. I'm glad that you've created a work environment where people are free to claim credit, though.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@Lisa Gerber Thick skins sure come in handy. Thin ones can plague your whole life. Something I worry about with one of my kids, actually.

Neicolec
Neicolec

@Hajra You definitely should. We don't have to do it the same way that men, do. But make sure they know where the credit goes!

Neicolec
Neicolec

@lisarobbinyoung I think we women are often raised not to take the spotlight. Maybe that's changing, but it certainly was the case in the past. When you deserve it, though, you should get a little shine and let yourself feel good about it!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Neicolec No, we agree. I don't want people to claim credit for something that it teamwork. My point was that this blog post (IMO) isn't about self-promotion. It's about great leadership and team collaboration. I would fire someone for taking credit for a) something they didn't do or b) something the team did together. That's why the "we" vs. "I" is so important in our vocabulary.

TheJackB
TheJackB

@deleted_91832_Sean McGinnis For me the hardest part has always been trying to balance telling people about my accomplishments without sounding arrogant or obnoxious.

FWIW, I have found that hiring a personal town crier works well.

PJWright
PJWright

@ginidietrich I do agree with you to a point Gini. In a corporate environment I have seen the "we" become an "I" for an individual team member. There is a fine line in making sure that it is understand that "We did XYZ when I suggested ABC."