Being present doesn’t mean you are not invisible
A recent article in the Economist “Working from home: out of sight out of mind,” highlighted the negative impact that a flexible work place culture can have on some individual employee’s promotion prospects, if they are home-based. But the piece also prompted a wider debate, as a number of people went to great lengths to share with me!
Marianne commented “This concept of “invisibility” within organisations has been with us for some time. It isn’t just associated with the development of new technology! An employee can be forgotten even when surrounded by co-workers. Any number of corporate situations can cause employees to become invisible”
- Alone in a crowd: employees in large organisations tell me that despite belonging to a massive global workforce, where their bosses walk past them every day and they are surrounded by co-workers, they can feel as isolated as if they worked on their own. This can be related to personality type, leadership style, the function being carried out and quality of co-worker relationships. Laura says “I work in a small team involved in technical regulatory affairs. We are only 5 in total, but all have separate offices and work on different, discrete projects. Because of the management style of the head of unit, we could all go for days without direct inter-action! Even though I am the most junior I have started to organise lunches and meetings, in case I would go mad!”
- Non glory functions: most organisations have sexy or high-profile glory functions which can be sales, events or innovation, depending on the nature of the business. Back-office functions while critical to business operations, have low visibility in many organisations. “Imagine working in compliance for an international logistics company! ” Paul told me ” I have to make a real effort to meet colleagues outside my own department as well as my co-workers in other locations, otherwise I would sink into oblivion. I also run the company cycling team which helps cut across functional barriers! This is where the backroom nerd can be as visible as the most successful rainmaker”
- An overseas assignment – is for many an opportunity of a lifetime, not just a career. It is important to take into account early on, the role offered and how this function relates to the core business activity of the organisation. Peter, a Sales Director for a global pharmaceutical company was offered a regional general management position in Dubai. Although he and his family loved living in U.A.E., he was very mindful of a need to stay connected to key personnel in the company HQ to make sure he was not relegated to the role of regional expert. He was offered and accepted a second tour, but turned down a third 3 year stint. “Running a regional team was great experience, but I was very aware, despite my best efforts, that I was becoming “Our man in Dubai” which was taking me out of mainstream business management. I became too valuable for my local knowledge and was falling off the central radar. Eventually I had to leave the company to stop being sidelined in U.A.E.”
- Regional roles – many companies like hi-po executives to do a stint at grass-roots level at a production unit or regional office. But sometimes a posting in another town can create the same distance psychologically, as an assignment in another country. Lisa told me “I had a great chance to run a business unit. It gave P & L responsibility, manufacturing experience as well as heading up a technical team. But at the same time I had to fight pretty hard to be invited to the sales conferences and for inclusion in some other key meetings“
All commentators mentioned the importance of an ongoing need to raise or maintain visibility within their own departments, functions and organisations, with both bosses and colleagues equally, to avoid a drift into oblivion. There is also a need to sustain a connection to the centres of power and decision-making, wherever they might be, to stay on the corporate career progression radar.
Being present isn’t the same as being visible, or even being heard! None of these are necessarily related to new technology or changing workplace practises!