8 Ways to Raise Your Team Members' Profiles
Creating Positive Narratives About Your People
"This is Larry!" announces your new boss, Marvin, slapping you on the back and smiling as he introduces you around the office.
Meeting colleagues for the first time should be an exciting moment, but instead your heart sinks further with each introduction.
For one thing, your name is Barry, not Larry, but worse follows. "Larry's got experience," Marvin reports. "15 years at Davis & Sons, but his whole department was laid off and now he's with us." Marvin means well, but he's unknowingly painting an unflattering picture, leaving Barry with a tainted reputation before he's even started.
The stories we choose tell about those around us have a big effect on how people are perceived. In this article, we'll look at how you can use what organizational behaviorists Jane Dutton and Julia Lee call "narratives" to raise your team members' profiles, and to create a more positive image of them.
Why Raise Other People's Profiles?
People can be hard working and competent, but if they fly below the radar – particularly if they work remotely or are shy about promoting themselves – chances are that their efforts will go unnoticed. Their skills may be under-utilized, their knowledge may be going untapped, and their expertise is likely being ignored.
However, by raising a team member's profile, you can increase his or her value to your team and organization. For example, improved personal connections can boost team performance and information exchange, and increased visibility can reduce the potential for misunderstandings between colleagues.
Also, your team member can use his greater prominence to take advantage of any opportunities that arise, he may enjoy a greater sense of worth, and he'll likely have fewer self-sabotaging thoughts or concerns about social acceptance – all because of the positive narratives you've built about him. As a manager, you're showing people that you're "on their side," which builds trust, loyalty and commitment.
What Are Positive Narratives?
Whether you're recommending someone for a role, discussing how a colleague came across in a meeting or introducing a new starter to her team, the way that you "narrate" someone can have a considerable impact on her reputation and visibility.
A positive narrative is a way to remind her – and the people around her – of who she is and how she contributes to the team. Positively narrating a team member in order to lift her profile is a good move in situations where you'd like to see her make a positive change. These might include times when you want her to:
- Fit in with new colleagues.
- Realize her potential.
- Take on new responsibilities.
- Become more confident or resilient.
8 Tips for Building Profiles Through Positive Narration
It takes particular skill (and an awareness of the impact of your words) to narrate colleagues positively and appropriately. So, here are eight tips for getting it right:
1. Creating Positive First Impressions
First impressions matter because they happen so fast and are hard to change. Researcher Julia Lee found that managers of high-performing teams use their power to influence first impressions by creating positive narratives for people before they even join the group.
For example, consider what stories and information you might share with your team to present a newcomer in the most positive light. What are his strengths? What did he accomplish and achieve in his previous role? Why might someone want to know him? What facts about his background and interests might pique other people's curiosity?
The answers to questions like these will help you to paint a positive picture about him, and help him to build a strong personal brand.
Take care to avoid the appearance of favoritism when you're working to boost a team member's profile. A perceived lack of fairness can stir up jealousy on your team.
2. Knowing Your Facts
You want to make others aware of your team members' skills and competences. Instead of building people up in a flattering way, though, do it in a robust, quantifiable way based on facts. Make sure that what you say is accurate, otherwise you could create false impressions. When it comes to creating positive narratives, a little fact checking goes a long way!
3. Minding Your Language
Casual, thoughtless or ill-judged remarks about someone can have a powerful negative impact on her reputation. By saying the wrong thing or sending inconsistent messages through your body language, you can damage the positive profiles that you've worked hard to create. Thoughtless comments are difficult to take back once said, so be careful not to undo all the good work that you've done.
4. Recognizing the Power of Compliments
What might seem like a throwaway observation to you – for example, "She always manages to put difficult clients at ease" or, "He's a great negotiator" – can have an impact that spreads far wider than just the person you're talking to, and showcase someone's value to a wider audience.
Small but well-deserved compliments can make a big difference to someone's standing, whether you express them as a quiet word "in the right ear" or as an announcement to your team or organization.
5. Staying Credible
For positive narratives to deliver on their promises, your people need to live up to them. So it's important to keep them realistic and truthful.
Gushing over a team member's awesomeness or being dishonest by announcing how marvelous he is when you don't mean it, for example, will make you sound insincere and untrustworthy. Instead, single out specific actions and proven achievements to compliment.
Be careful about how often you create positive narratives, and for whom. If you build too many narratives that fall flat, your credibility could be called into question.
6. Supporting The Under-Confident
If a team member is being ignored, interrupted or put down by her colleagues, not only will her self-esteem take a knock, but her profile will probably have been diminished, too. As her manager, you're in a position to "build her back up" by offering support and by talking about her in glowing terms to the people who undermined her or who witnessed it taking place. (As a manager, you may have to take action to prevent any behavior that could be interpreted as bullying.)
7. Encouraging People to Act
You can do much to raise a team member's profile, but at some point you'll need him to "step up" and live up to the picture you've painted, perhaps using a framework such as Appreciative Coaching to guide you. Some people will do this naturally. Others will require more prompting, and you'll likely need to provide high-profile tasks and other opportunities where they can demonstrate their strengths.
Also, encourage him to speak up for himself, to open up more to their colleagues, and to volunteer for any opportunities to represent the team, perhaps in group projects or on staff committees.
8. Giving "Golden Goodbyes"
Departures are perfect opportunities to create positive narratives. You and your team may not reap much direct reward from raising a colleague's profile when he moves on, but it's still an opportunity to do good for a person who you've worked with.
You can create meaning for the leaver at a time when he could perhaps do with a lift as he starts a new role or joins a new team.
People can struggle to improve their visibility in the workplace regardless of how skilled, knowledgeable and hardworking they are.
As a manager, you have the power to help raise their profiles and, as a result, they are more likely to flourish in their careers and fulfill their potential.
Your team as a whole is more likely to succeed, too, and this will reflect well on your own standing.
To raise their profiles, you need to "narrate" your team members positively. You can do this, for example, by sharing information and stories about them that convey the value they bring, by offering public compliments, and by encouraging people to take the initiative and live up to the narrative.