The corporate environment tells us that performance is important. We have performance targets, performance reviews and performance-related pay. However, performance is not all there is, there are also unwritten rules in every organisation. Whether you like it or not, people judge you based on what they observe. It’s human nature; we all do it, often without even realising it. In the workplace this means that judgements about you are based on all sorts of factors; not just your productivity. Even more potentially worrying, these workplace judgements can influence our pay, projects and promotions.
Still, think positive: if you are aware of the unspoken rules as well as the spoken then you can play the corporate ‘game’ with more confidence.
In his 1996 book, “Empowering Yourself: the Organizational Game Revealed”, the American business consultant, Harvey Coleman outlined the three factors influencing advancement and success in the workplace.
Performance – what you actually do; the quality and volume of the work that you produce; the clarity or otherwise of your decisions, your strategy, planning, etc. This is the factor that tends to be openly acknowledged.
Image – your appearance; how you dress; how well you appear to ‘fit in’ with your colleagues. First impressions count and this is the first visual impression that you make on those around you. Do you appear to be a ‘team player’ or a ‘loose cannon’?
Exposure – your visibility within the organisation; how well your name is known; your reputation. Doing superb work while never leaving your office or desk will not on its own help you advance. You not only have to be good, you have to be seen to be good.
So far, you are probably reading this and thinking, “That makes sense.”, maybe even “That’s reasonable.” but Coleman’s research went further. He identified a percentage split between the three factors showing to what extent each influenced advancement: as follows:
Performance = 10%;
Image = 30%;
Exposure = 60%.
The chances are that this still feels familiar to you, but it probably doesn’t feel fair. Well, to think positive, at least you know now and can make your choices in light of that knowledge. This research does not necessarily mean that you have to who you are in order to progress. You may, for example, choose to continue focusing on good work (performance) while doing more to bring it to the attention of others (exposure) and not change your appearance (image) because it feels important to you. But at least now that would be a conscious choice, made from a position of awareness.
Ultimately, whether you wholly agree with Coleman’s findings or not, they do provide food for thought. Ask yourself: “What is my reputation with my colleagues and how might that impact on me at work?”
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