Problem: You have a bowl of 10 fruit on the table. In the bowl are 4 oranges. The rest are all apples. How many apples are in the bowl?
“Well, you’re not wrong. But you didn’t show your work, so I can only give you part marks.” Ms. Johnson, grade 1 math.
It was a hard lesson to learn in grade 1. But many times later, I thanked Ms. Johnson for making it a habit for me to show my work. My freshman calculus grade reflected that early lesson!
Outside the classroom, this lesson is even more important. People aren’t mind readers, and they can’t see what’s in your mind’s eye either. If you don’t tell people what you’re thinking or show people what you are doing, they won’t know.
Just like wanting to make the grade in math class, wanting that recognition at work, means you need to show your work. How will your boss know to pat you on the back if you don’t let them know you did something to deserve it? How will your team know to give you congratulations, if they don’t realize that you fixed the bug that broke the build?
Visibility at work means you can get credit for what you did, help for what you couldn’t do, and support for what you will do.
You want the credit you’re due and the recognition you deserve, but are you really willing to invite the attention of the whole team and be put under the magnifying glass for it? Visibility might look like the antithesis of autonomy, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
You want to be recognized for your work and you also want to be left alone enough to just do your work. You want it all and you can have both. You can own a substantial part of your work and not have someone looking over your shoulder every 5 minutes. For that, you have to have a certain amount of trust with your co-workers and with management. After all, if others can trust you’ll get your job done, they’ll leave you to it.
Visibility is the key to unlocking all the trust you need to having it all – autonomy and recognition.
When you show others the work you’re doing they can be assured that you are getting the job done. If you explain your decision points and expose the problems you are facing you can even get support, recognition or outright solutions from your collaborative team.
Chances are your team already has some systems in place where you can showcase your work without exposing your shoulder as a perch.
Your team may monitor the continuous flow of prioritized tickets using a Kanban board. If they do, make sure your efforts are up on the board. Kanban is an actual visual representation of the workflow. So, putting your work up on the board is, by definition, being visible to your team.
Maybe your team manages work in batches or Sprints. Maybe workflow is discussed more broadly in retrospectives. Either way, engage in those meetings. Communicating in those meetings, is akin to moving your card around the Kanban board. It’s how you show your work to your team.
Kanban boards and Sprint reviews are a way for you to show your work product. But there is a lot more that goes into your work than just the deliverable.
Showing your work is more than just delivering your product.
Think about it, in a typical 8-hour work day, how much of that time do you actually spend coding? Maybe some lucky days it is 6 or 7 hours, maybe some days it’s 9 or 10 hours when you really get on a roll. But likely you have days of 1 or 2 hours of getting code out.
What do you do with the rest of your day? You’re working! Show your work. Show all your work. Not just the code.
How do you get those intangibles out there without standing in a meeting with a megaphone yelling that you are awesome and carrying the team?
I wish I could give you a Top 10 List of things to do to be more visible at work. But I don’t. I have a 1 point list.
Communicate honestly. It’s ok to have a contrary opinion from a co-worker. Tell them. Be honest about your opinion and thoughts. Be respectful.
Communicate openly. Don’t talk about people behind their backs. That’s a sure way of eroding trust.
Communicate your intentions. Tell people what you are planning. Get feedback. Your collaborative team can help if you tell them where you’re planning to go. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Lack of follow through erodes trust.
Communicate problems that come up. When you get behind in your schedule, explain why. When you’ve had to backtrack or reformulate something, tell your team what’s going on.
Communicate the information you have. Tell your team your ideas. Explain hard-to-understand concepts. Share the details of your diversions and distractions.
Communicate your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Tell people before they find out on their own. This builds trust and shows your maturity for owning the situation.
Communicate effectively. Learn to be calm under pressure. Be the diplomat and diffuse conflicts.
Communicate your feedback to others. Giving feedback is as important as getting it. Showing this honesty builds trust.
Communicate your consistency. Show your team you are dependable. Show not only your follow through, but also your dependable behavior.
Communicate your trust in others. Of course, this means you have to trust your team mates. Trust is a 2-way street so you should develop trust for your team mates. Then show them you trust them too.
What do you know, I did have a Top 10 List!
In the end, it comes down to visibility. If you want autonomy to own your work, then part of your job has to be to build trust. Trust can only come with visibility.
I spy with my little eye… everything you did, because you showed me!