Career Guidance: Become a More Successful IT Professional by Managing Your Own Personal Brand Within Your Organization

While you may not think of it this way, the impression you create on other people within your organization significantly affects your success as an IT Professional. In other words, how the people you work with view you as a person can make all the difference between you being an average IT Professional and being a successful IT Professional.

I’ve worked with IT Professionals of wide-ranging ability and attitude. I’ve worked with people who always show up to work on time, don’t mind staying late if they have to, constantly work hard to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology, and always follow through with whatever they promise to do. Conversely, I’ve also worked with IT Professionals who come to work late, create a big scene if they have to stay late, know more about DOS than anyone else in the company, and can’t be depended upon to follow-through with tasks that are assigned to them.

Which of these two types of IT Professionals would you prefer to work with? Which of these IT Professionals has the potential to be a successful IT Professional? In this case, the answer is obvious. Most people, however, fall within these two extremes of behavior, standing out neither as an outstanding IT Professional, nor as an IT Professional you’d cross the building to avoid. In this article, we will explore some of the habits and attitudes that will help you develop a good reputation wherever you work, and move you towards the “outstanding and successful IT Professional” end of the scale.

Developing Your Brand Within Your Own Organization

If you want to succeed as an IT Professional, then you need the help of others. One of the best ways to get this help is to create a positive, personal image (brand, if you will) within your organization. People tend to be drawn to “positive” people and to want to help them. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important things you can learn if you want to be successful in your career.

In other words, if you want to be an outstanding IT Professional, you need to manage your internal brand in such a way as to present yourself in the best possible light. This does not mean faking characteristics in order to manipulate people. It does mean working hard, being honest and realistic about what you can and can’t achieve, and generally adopting habits and attitudes that will help you work well with other people, and make them willing to help you.

So, how do you set about achieving this? The following advice is designed to get you focused on some of the things you can do differently in order to improve your own personal brand within your organization.

Focus on Business Goals

How many times have you heard something like the following, from a co-worker?

“Why did management cut our budget? We don’t even have enough resources now to do our job.”

I have heard similar comments from co-workers at virtually every job I have ever had. When a decision, such as a budget cut, affects you directly, it is natural to accuse upper management of not knowing what they are doing. Of course, if they had any clue about what was going on, they would increase your budget instead of reducing it, right?

In some cases, your assumption may be right. Upper management doesn’t always make the right decisions. On the other hand, if all managers were stupid, then most businesses would fail and the economy would sink. However, this is not the case. Many businesses adapt successfully to changing market conditions, even if it means that difficult and unpopular decisions need to be made along the way. Over the long term, these businesses continue to thrive, producing more profits, adding more jobs, and generally helping the economy.

So what’s my point? My point is that, as an IT Professional, you might not be privy to all the reasons why your organization’s leaders make the decisions they make. For example, maybe the reason they are cutting your budget is to prevent layoffs. Alternatively, it may allow dollars to be freed up that can be invested in a new market that may be more profitable than your organization’s current market. In other words, what you may perceive as a foolish decision may actually be a great decision.

What does this mean to you? As an IT Professional, your focus should be on understanding the true business goals of your organization, and helping it meet them. It is too easy to focus only on what you think the organization should be doing, or on the goals that are most attractive from your own team’s point of view.

If you are facing a budget cut, don’t complain or whine to others. Instead, focus on how you can get the most out of the budget you do have. If you are not clear on your organization’s business goals, or why they have changed, then ask for an explanation. If you can build a very strong case that not cutting the budget is better for the organization than cutting, then by all means make it. Just because you agree to focus your efforts on helping your organization achieve its overall business goals, it doesn’t mean you are a “yes” person.

There are exceptions to this advice of course. If you find you work for a company of foolish managers, then I would suggest you start looking for a new job now, as the odds of the organization surviving long term are not great.

Be a Leader, Take the Initiative

Many organizations are leadership wastelands. Nobody wants to take the lead or make critical decisions. Nobody wants to stand out, be a little different and move out of their comfort zone. People often avoid taking the initiative, either because they are scared of failure, or because it might involve too much work, or because they think that their peers may think of them as some sort of company suck-up. For these reasons, and others, many people actively avoid doing anything other than what they are told to do.

I admit that I have painted a pretty terrible picture. How would any organization ever grow and succeed if everyone felt this way? Fortunately, the picture is not quite as bleak as I’ve suggested and, in fact, should be seen as an opportunity for the you to excel, by taking the initiative, and being a leader.

You don’t have to become a manager to be a leader. You can be a leader in many different ways. Consider the following examples:

  • On starting a new job, you discover that all the disaster recovery-planning documents are out of date. You immediately volunteer to get them in shape.
  • No formal complaint has been made, but several users have been grumbling about the slow performance of a particular application. You take the initiative to investigate further so that the problem can be identified and corrected, before it becomes a serious issue.
  • Your company is thinking about purchasing some new management software that could make your team more productive. You volunteer to evaluate the software and write up a recommendation.
  • Your boss mentions a new project that is coming down the pipe, and asks for ideas on how to implement it. Rather than leave it to others, you make time to do some thinking, and research, and at the next meeting you offer your advice and suggestions.

A key element of good leadership is not waiting until you are asked. If you identify an area where you can help your organization, or help others in your organization, then take the initiative and do it. All too often, people see opportunities to help out, but don’t do so because they figure someone else will eventually fulfill the need, so why should they.

Volunteer for Hard or Undesirable Tasks

Whenever I start a new job, I take some time to figure out what jobs or tasks are critical to the success of the organization and, make sure I’m prepared for them. At the same time, however, I also identify those tasks that nobody else seems to want to do, and volunteer to do them myself.

I’ve found that this philosophy can provide many benefits. The most obvious is that your manager and co-workers get to see right away that you are a team player and that you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, and working hard. If you perform your work well, then people quickly learn that you can be depended upon.

Volunteering for the less popular jobs is also a good way to learn the inner workings of an organization. The more you know about how an organization works, the more you can contribute to it, and the more beneficial you become to the organization.

A less obvious benefit is that if you master undesirable tasks, along with the critical ones, then you often become the only one who can perform these tasks. This can make you invaluable to your organization, and can pay off in the long run. For example, you will unlikely be the first to leave during a lay off, and it can mean bigger raises each year.

Have a “Get It Done” Attitude

As an IT Professional, you will be faced with many problems that need to be resolved. Never avoid problems and hope they will go away; they won’t. The successful IT Professional regards problems as challenges that need to be resolved now, not later. Likewise, they will never complain about a task assigned to him or her, or try to get out of it. The outstanding IT Professional simply gets the task done as quickly and as effectively as possible.

Don’t Spread Blame

In most organizations, many IT projects don’t get completed successfully, and on time. The causes of this can be many:

  • Management had the wrong expectations for the project
  • Not enough resources were provided
  • The time line was unrealistic
  • The team was not properly trained
  • The project leader was incompetent

Who knows for sure? In many cases, it is probably some combination of actions or inactions that contributed toward the failure. When situations like this arise, many people start blaming others. Not only does blame not contribute to making the project a success, it can also seed long-lasting bad feeling among many different people in the company. The outstanding IT Professional realizes that spreading blame never helps, and does his or her best to make the project a success.

Accept Responsibility

There is no such thing as a perfect person. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference between average IT Professionals and successful IT Professionals is that successful IT Professionals accept that he or she is not always right, and sometimes makes mistakes. When you make a mistake, don’t try to cover it up or blame others. Acknowledge it immediately and do whatever it takes to resolve it.

Help Others Be Successful

One maxim for success, both as an IT Professional, and in life generally, is this: “If you want people to help you get what you want, then you have to help other people get what they want.” I am not talking about bribing people, or even trading favors. The successful IT Professional likes to share his or her knowledge and experience, and one of the best ways to do this is to help others. When help is offered, it should done willingly, with no implication that it is a “favor,” and no expectation of a return.

If you follow the policy of helping others when they need it, you will often find out that you will get many unexpected rewards. You never know who your next manager might be, and it might be the person you helped last week.

Avoid Office Politics

Many people allow themselves to be drawn inexorably in to the mystery and intrigue of office politics. Unfortunately, it is also a great way to make enemies and cause unnecessary division within an organization.

The outstanding IT Professional keeps his or her ears open but, other than that, doesn’t participate in the office politics game. Sharing misinformation, rumors, or even false facts, is a recipe for disaster.

Downplay the Geek Factor

Let’s face it, many IT Professionals are geeks. Some take pride in their geekiness, constantly reminding others of their geek status. Other geeks don’t even admit they are geeks, but unknowingly spread their geekiness wherever they go. And then there are the geeks who know they are geeks, but try to avoid demonstrating the worse examples of geekiness. In other words, they try to fit in with non-geeks.

Geekiness doesn’t really affect how one performs the technical side of one’s job, but it can have negative consequences for the “people side” of the job. Unfortunately, geeks have been stereotyped with mostly negative characteristics, such as not being people-persons, not being able to talk in a language non-geeks can understand, and for boasting about their technical knowledge.

This perception of geeks may or may not be well-founded, but it exists regardless. Whether we accept this fact or not, most people like people who are like themselves. If you are the only geek in an organization of non-geeks, it can be a rough ride.

Use Correct E-Mail Etiquette

In our high-speed, high-tech world, we are becoming more and more reliant on e-mail to communicate with others. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but there are special considerations to using e-mail communication that don’t necessarily apply to verbal, or more-formal written communications. For example:

  • It is almost impossible to stop an email after you hit send, though most of us have probably wished we could at one time or another. For example, you are a little upset with your manager, or a co-worker, and you dash off a less than polite e-mail. After clicking the send button, you realize that perhaps you did not take the proper amount of time to carefully consider what you wrote, and its implications. Unfortunately, getting the e-mail back may not be possible. One collogue I work with has step up a rule in Outlook that keeps all outgoing e-mails in his outbox for five minutes before it is actually sent, just in case he has a change of heart after pressing send. If you have a tendency to firing off hasty e-mails, perhaps you should consider adding such a rule to your mail client.
  • Once an e-mail has been sent, you lose control of its content. It can be forwarded to anyone, and sent anywhere. You probably don’t want your honest assessment of a junior team member shared with others in your organization. Be careful of what you send, and to who.
  • If you are not careful, when selecting the “Send To” address for an e-mail, you might end up sending the wrong e-mail to the wrong person. I know one person who was looking for a new job, and sent a cover letter and resume to his current boss by mistake.
  • Many people get in the habit of using e-mail for non-business purposes, such as sending jokes or photos to co-workers. This has gotten many people into unexpected trouble.

The successful IT Professional is aware of the advantages of disadvantages of using e-mail to communicate. An Internet search on “e-mail etiquette” will provide many suggestions for improving your e-mail communications.

Participate in Meetings

Whether we like it or not, we all get many invitations to meetings. In some cases, it will be as a participant, other times as a presenter, and other times as the meeting chairperson. Whichever role you play, take it seriously. As a participant, the successful IT Professional listens carefully, asks questions, and provides careful feedback. As a presenter, the successful IT Professional doesn’t wing the presentation, instead preparing for it and, if appropriate, practicing it before hand. As the meeting chairperson, the successful IT Professional only calls meetings that are beneficial for all attendees, starts the meeting on time, ends the meeting on time, uses an agenda to guide the course of the meeting, and takes notes to document any important decisions made in the meeting.

Make Presentations

Many IT professionals are called upon to make presentations. They may be for company meetings, for training sessions, user groups meetings, or even speaking at industry conferences. Before making a presentation, the outstanding IT Professional determines who the audience is, determines what the audience would like to learn from the presentation, outlines and develops the presentation, and practices the presentation before giving it to the audience.

Take Advantage of Learning Opportunities

Many organizations offer a wealth of training opportunities to their employees, covering both technical and soft skills training. This training may be conducted on-site by company trainers, or by contract trainers; it may involve attending a training center, it might be Internet-based, or it might include attending a conference. Successful IT Professionals take advantage of all the training opportunities that are available. There is no such thing as an over-trained person.

Be Internationally/Culturally Sensitive

The IT community is made up of many different people who come from many different countries and cultures. While there may be a few IT Professionals who “don’t fully embrace diversity,” most do. IT Professionals, no matter where they work, come from many different places, each bringing their unique knowledge and experience to the profession. This often requires cultural sensitivity and “bending over backward” to fully understand someone with a different upbringing than your own. While cultural differences may occasionally be the causes for differences of opinions, they are more often a great way to learn more about each other and the world.

You Can’t Be All Things to All People

There is no such thing as a perfect person, so there is no such thing as a perfect IT Professional. No matter who you are, or what you are, there will always be someone who doesn’t like you. This is a fact of life. All we can do is to do the best we can with what we have been given.

Although we are not perfect, we can still go a long way to getting along well with others by managing our own brand within our organization. If you haven’t already done so, take some time to figure out how your co-workers perceive you. You may discover that you get along well with everyone, or you may discover that you display some characteristics that some people perceive as less than ideal.

If you are not perceived the way you would like, then consider trying one or more of the suggestion in this article to help change how other’s perceive you. It might take time, but making the effort to manage your own brand, and taking the necessary time to allow changes to take effect, can be very rewarding to your career. It can make all the difference between being an average IT Professional, and an outstanding and successful IT Professional.