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My boss has recently been pushing me to take up stuff and try to gain visibility across the organization.

I just do not understand the idea behind this.
Why is it important to gain visibility? If I can write awesome code, why should I care about having visibility? If the work I am doing rocks, then why should I think about standing on the roof top and telling everyone about it?

Is it ONLY about appraisals?
If yes, then what is the possible intent of my boss behind this? Does he want to create room to justify giving me a handsome appraisal?

Doesn't focusing on gaining visibility lead to politics and end up polluting the work environment?

  • 5
    This question is an example of why you need visibility: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/10880/… – HLGEM May 16 '13 at 21:16
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    How to be remarkable "You're either boring or you stand out. You're either invisible or remarkable. All your life you're told to keep your head down, work hard, don't make waves and get it done. What rubbish..." – gnat May 21 '13 at 10:59
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    @HLGEM The linked question is by the OP... – Basic Jun 2 '14 at 22:29
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    @Basic, that was my point. – HLGEM Jul 16 '14 at 17:55
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    Yakshemash ! Old post. But, I'll throw in my 2 cents anyway. You seem to be one of those nerds who just like to get things done without much fanfare. Good. But, unfortunately, you need to make the right amount of "noise" to get noticed if you want more responsibilities and promotions. Think of it like the Apple iphone. If they did not advertise it, few people would know about it, depsite it being a game changer and ahead of its time (No keypad for eg. !). You might just be like that. So just draw enough attention, without being obnoxious. Chenqui. – Borat Sagdiyev Jul 30 '14 at 5:10
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If I can write awesome code, why should I care about having visibility? The work I am doing rocks, then why should I think about standing on the roof top and telling about it.

The Lie

The important thing to realize is - no one cares about what you do at work. No one cares how great your code is. How awesome your widgets are.

Reality

What matters is how people perceive your work. How good do they think your work is?

Is this unfair? Do you think "my work should speak for itself?"

This is simply not how it works. If you do quality work and are hated because you are antisocial and arrogant and rude, people will think lower of your work. If you do quality work but no one knows, people will not think highly of your work.

PIE - Performance, Image, and Exposure

There is an idea called PIE for factors affecting career success. Most agree they are important, but don't think in these proportions.

This article contains the following graphic as well as considerable more detail on this idea.

PIE graphic

Maybe these percentages are off slightly. But unless you are a complete screw-up your actual day-to-day performance is a much much much smaller piece of the impression people have of how well you do your job than you want to think.

What if you still don't care?

Maybe you still don't care. But if you are hoping to have a successful career (whether promotions, high salary, freedom to easily change jobs, not being first in line to be laid off, etc) these things are important.

If you don't mind if people who are "worse" at their jobs get higher salaries, better promotions, and seem to have more options, then you don't have to care.


Interestingly, this question is in the "hot questions" list. The visibility provided to The Workplace through this is beneficial for the overall health of the site (unless people post low quality questions/answers) in a manner similar to exposure in your career.

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    This does not affect those that truly are doing good work, i.e. work that others are amazed at, work that builds a company. – insidesin Aug 28 '15 at 16:15
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    @insidesin, don't be ridiculous, of course it affects them. They aren't amazed at it unless you or someone else promotes your visibility. YOu can't rely on someone else doing it. If you don't promote your contribution to the wonderful thing, then there are unscrupulous people who might take the credit for your work. I've seen it happen to others and I had it happen to me before I got smarter about being visible- watching your boss get a national award (with a big cash payout) for all the things you did (and not even what anyone else on the team did!) is an eyeopening experience. – HLGEM Nov 4 '16 at 17:09
  • @HLGEM Well, they might also be lucky and have somebody else promote their work (an "evangelist", if you will). I've seen such in many companies, and they're wonderful for morale and recognition, especially for people who feel like good work should be its own reward (and require no promotion). However, few companies value these kinds of people as much as they deserve, and you might find yourself stuck if they leave (or change). – Luaan Mar 18 at 9:45
  • @Luaan It still comes down to having visibility. It is just not the person itself that works for the visibility, but someone else. – Ara May 17 at 8:28
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The answer to this depends strongly on your company. However, in many large companies, there are so many people, so many proposed courses of action in any circumstance, and so many decisions to be made, that people rely on shortcuts. One of the most reliable is reputation. Someone might say "Well, if Kate is behind it I think we can be sure it will succeed. She's smart, she works well with others, she communicates well and the last three projects she was on all succeeded. I don't think she'd be involved with this if it was a bad idea." That's so much quicker for them than actually investigating my new project.

Your boss wants you to be the subject of a sentence like that in the near future. Partly as an altruistic gesture to help your career in the company. And partly as a selfish gesture to help other projects belonging to your boss. You've done well at something; let's make sure the whole company knows. You're smart enough to be on that committee; get on it and make sure everyone else on it knows you and sees what a winner you are. Some day soon, a decision will roll around that will go the way your boss wants, if only most of the room knows you and how good you are. This will help you and your boss. And yes, your appraisal, but this is a longer term play than this year's review.

If you work in a company where visibility matters, you are lucky to have a boss who knows that and will lead you through it. Do not reject that gift because you think you know how companies should work.

But on the other hand: there are occasionally little islands of "it's who you know" in a large company, who just schmooze and flatter and make sure they're visible without ever getting anything useful done, without being good or smart or wise. If you have such a boss and the rest of the company hates that, tread very very carefully. This is the rarer case but it can happen. Your best asset here is a friend in another organization of your company who can tell you which kind of situation you are in.

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    Great way to put this all into perspective about why someone wants others to be visible, and how it actually helps everyone involved (for the most part). – Irwin May 16 '13 at 22:26
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People don't know you write great code. They don't know you solve hard problems that others can't. If you want to be junior your whole life, then visibility is not important. But if you have ever asked why did he get a bigger pay raise or why did she get promoted instead of me, it is largely because they are visible and you are not. No one in any profession can afford to not be positively visible.

Of course the worst is to be negatively visible. If you do not promote your work, the only thing people will ever know about you, outside your own small group, are the things that get known because they are problems. And everyone, no matter how good they are at their technical work, can easily get known for being a problem employee. Some examples are written about below.

They may not know that you didn't cause project ABC to be a failure, but they will remember that they heard you were on it and they haven't heard anything good to mitigate that, so they will assume you are incompetent.

They may not know that your work was good because the users complained it was buggy when it didn't do something that wasn't in the requirements. Often the only thing they know about your work is what other people have said, whether it is true or not, if you refuse to be visible.

They may not know your work, but they know that you are the one who causes problems because he doesn't fill in his time-sheet and customers can't be properly billed and PMs can't tell how much of the project hours have been burned already or if they are going to need an extension of hours. And doing something stupid like not filling in a timesheet can cause them to eat the extra hours because they were spent before the client knew about them. I assure you everyone up to the CEO will often hear about that!

Without visibility of your good work, you are much more likely to be identified as a problem emplyee and problem employees get the worst performance ratings, get the lowest raises, are least likely to get promoted or get a bonus, and they are first to be on a layoff list.

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    +1 for: "If you do not promote your work, the only thing people will ever know about you ... are problems" – Peter M. - stands for Monica May 8 '14 at 23:24
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    +1 They don't know you solve hard problems that others can't - they often cannot even tell how hard that problem was - for them it was yet another problem. – sharptooth Jul 3 '15 at 9:17
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    In real world, we can't explain or get rid of those things. Sorry but your answer is completely unrealistic. – lambdapool May 9 '16 at 10:38
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    @lambdapool, that just shows your ignorance of office politics, of course you can get rid of those impressions or at least mitigate them when you have an otherwise good reputation. I have been part of project failures that didn't hurt me at all and I even came out better because people knew what I was contributing and knew that wasn't the cause of the failure. User complaints are much less serious when you have a good rep and when you show they are not part of the requirement, you are believed where you are may not be believed if you are not positively visible already in the organization. – HLGEM Nov 16 '16 at 21:50
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In addition to the great answers here, "gaining visibility" IMO, is much more than the end result of being the popular kid in school. It encompasses skills you'll inevitably acquire the route to being loved by good, feared by evil:

  • Communication skills
  • Interpersonal relation skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Office/Organizational etiquette
  • Adaptability

The journey to being a known brand in any shop will undoubtedly require you to have a grasp of these skills. Unless you've resigned yourself to a future of being the Milton Waddams of your shop, you'll eventually need to get your name out there and mix with people. Depending on the size of your organization, your relative obscurity might hurt you moving forward. Sure you bang out great code, but it'll be all too easy for your work to get lost in the deluge in a large organization. Or worse, someone else could steal your shine (or outright take credit) for your work. And no one would care, because they don't know who you are.

If you love your job and enjoy the action, you should at least, be willing to position yourself as the go-to guy for certain things. That'll pull more action your way. Even if you decide you're going to stay above the fray of office politics, your visibility will guarantee that you're getting bigger and better projects. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, they sometimes say

13

I'm a good coder and also give myself a lot of visibility. I regularly try to give visibility to others that do well. This is important on many fronts:

  • Visibility means opportunity. You're good at something and if people know that when opportunities arise if you're visible then your name might enter the list of candidates for that opportunity. This really should not be underplayed. It is a very important aspect of visibility and it is a key to rising up in your career by being given new bigger responsibilities.
  • Good work deserves recognition by others. Like it or not this is a meritocracy at the end of the day and if you're not being exposed you're probably not getting merit. That part ties in with the above point however it is also important for setting benchmarks.
  • It sets an example to others of good work and good thinking.
  • Respect. It helps to streamline interactions if people take you seriously and know what you are capable off. They can't take you on face value.

Doesn't focusing on gaining visibility lead to politics and end up polluting the work environment?

It can. For me it is easy; as a top developer, I act on people's behalf and give them visibility where it is due. I can also counter false visibility. This is accurate and reasonably reliable. However acting on others behalf is a burden so for this reason I often try to motivate them to give themselves visibility which can be scary and intimidating for a lot of people. However it is worthwhile. You have a lot of people with real potential that would happily work quietly and be passed over for promotion again and again while big mouths shout their way up the ladder. Eventually many of them will move on so this will potentially be an important skill for them in the next workplace where there might not be someone like me around.

11

You've had some pretty cynical answers here, all of which are true, but there are further reasons.

  • You are more valuable to your organisation if more people understand how awesome you are. They can seek you out (through whatever structure the company has) as a contributor to projects most in need of awesomeness. They can plan projects knowing what people are awesome in what ways, that they never would have realised were possible otherwise. General knowledge cannot come solely through chain of command, there needs to be some cross-talk.

  • Visibility is somewhat reflective because of the process of gaining it. In making yourself visible, as opposed to your manager just hyping you on his own, you are involving yourself in the organisation and probably learning more about other people's awesomeness. Then you will make better decisions.

A workplace in which people are mutually aware of what each other can do is not "polluted", and a workplace in which you sit in a bunker, speak only to your manager, and churn out great code without any relation to the organisation other than what your manager sets up, is not "pure". The latter is one way to work, but it's not the way your manager wants you to work.

So, gaining some visibility in the organisation and especially "taking up stuff" are important parts of your professional development. There is an important political element, but it might not be as bad as you think and you won't find out unless you engage with it somewhat.

10

It seems like your boss should have mentioned the benefits of your visibility. Otherwise, we can only guess.

Do you have any interactions with other people at work? Yes, it would be great if your code stood on its own merits, but that's not reality. Many people won't see your code. Even something as simple as making a request to HR, do you want to be "the programmer" or a person who is recognizable and should be treated like a human and not a number?

Talk about your projects. Show them you care and are passionate about what you do. No one can gain that insight just from your code. Why make it harder on yourself? Is it really too much to ask?

I don't see this as playing Politics, but if it is, it affects the people who don't play along more than those who do. If your company was bought out, do you think everyone is going to go out of their way and review all the code you checked in to see how good you are? They're going to look at your name and not know who you are. Code doesn't get fired; people do.

2

I would interpret your boss request as one or more of these things:

  • Your boss thinks you're not a self-starter. He may think you need to actively tackle issues without having to be asked. If so, possibly a production and effectiveness issue, not exactly a visibility issue.

  • He may think you're a reserved or introverted type and wants you to try and be a bit more open. Hence a personality issue, solving it strictly not for the benefit of work, as it's personal.

  • He wants his team to have more visibility and wants you to help with that. Not to make you stand out, but him, through his team. Asking you to do this for him. This time personal of his, rather than yours.

You have to interpret liberally what people mean by what they say. Nobody can explain themselves 100% accurately and we wouldn't go anywhere if we relied on 100% accuracy. Just as visibility at work active comprehension is a skill.

  • Welcome to the Workplace, jchevali -- thanks for your answer. I'd encourage you to check out the newer questions as well, that still need an accepted answer. – mcknz Aug 28 '15 at 18:43
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    this doesn't even attempt to address the question asked, "Why is it important to gain “visibility” in the workplace?" See How to Answer – gnat Aug 28 '15 at 18:56
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    The OP of the question asks why his boss wants him to gain visibility. This answer address the question in that respect. It's of course an answer. – scaaahu Aug 30 '15 at 9:33

protected by Jane S Aug 28 '15 at 22:47

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