September 5, 2017

Does Your Boss Even Know That You Exist?

If your boss barely knows your name, it’s time to change that.

If I asked your manager who the most valuable members of their team are, would they say your name?

When you send an email to your boss, does it feel like you’re throwing a message in a bottle out to sea? Do you feel like your boss sees and understands your contributions to the team?

All too often at work, the people who are working the hardest are the ones who feel like they are consistently overlooked by the people in charge. Why does this happen?

Does your hard work go unnoticed?

This has happened to me. I work really hard, and I used to think that part of being an amazing team player was not ever needing help. I actually avoided talking to my boss about what I was working on, because I wanted to wow them with my final results and ability to work without taking a bunch of their time.

Unfortunately, while this sometimes resulted in a great reveal, far more often it would end up that I’d get an email from my boss asking “Are you still working on ___? I haven’t heard from you…” or even worse, checking on the status of another project — which I hadn’t been working on.

In my attempt to be amazing, I was looping myself OUT of the most important conversations at work — the ones with my boss about where I could make the biggest impact and how to do work that really mattered.

Meanwhile my peers — some of whom were doing less amazing work and putting in less effort — were getting noticed and appreciated. They were happy. They got the opportunities I was working so hard for, while I stayed in the same place, feeling unappreciated and frustrated.

Does this ever happen to you?

Or maybe your problem is perfectionism. Our founder here at Ink+Volt, Kate, has written a lot about her struggles early in her career to get noticed.

She believed everything should be done as perfectly as possible, and when working on a team, she would take it upon herself to get every single detail done exactly right.

This meant often working late into the night, long after her teammates felt that their work was satisfactorily done. She would exhaust herself correcting tiny details within huge coding projects, putting in hour after hour of extra work to get the final results just right.

And when it came time to present the project? Well, her manager would praise someone else on the team for “all their hard work.” Kate would stand there fuming — what had that person done? They hadn’t put in half the hours she had; they hadn’t done anything to assure the results were perfect.

Her work was perfect, but nobody saw it.

The fundamental problem: you’re not thinking like a boss

In both of these stories, the failure happened before any work actually got started. And the fault did not lie with either of our bosses.

It is a flaw in the way that both Kate and I were thinking about our careers and where we fit within a team.

We were both operating from a place where we were waiting for our boss to notice our amazing work. We assumed that, kind of like in school, it was our manager’s job to seek out each individual and assess everyone’s contributions fairly.

But work doesn’t work that way.

Your manager isn’t your teacher. They are running a team; they are running a business. As a result, their success is determined by how well that team performs. And how do they judge that? Results.

Not just results, actually. Visible results.

After all, how else can they do their job? If they are managing 10 people, they can’t follow you each around all day every day. They have to put their trust in you that you are doing the right work, as effectively as possible.

But they don’t trust blindly. They look at what the team produces, and assess how effectively it meets the goals. The people whose results they see making the biggest impact will get their attention. It is that simple.

So the real question then becomes: how visible are YOUR results?

How to make an impact and get your boss to see you

Never forget that your manager is a person with a job and a boss, too. If you want to know how to get your manager to notice and appreciate you, spend some time thinking about what it is like to be in their shoes.

  • They can’t proactively watch everyone on their team all the time. It just isn’t possible; not only are they outnumbered, but they have their own work to do. Think for a second about how you would find out what is going on with your team, if you were them. They have to facilitate the flow of relevant information up to them from their team, as efficiently as possible. Part of that is reaching out to their team members for updates, but that door goes both ways…
  • They have a boss to report to. Your boss wants to look successful to their boss. Think about how their success is measured: in the results of their team. They have to be able to communicate in a streamlined, efficient, impactful way with their boss about what their team is accomplishing. Do you know what their boss considers most important? How large a role do you play in the projects that get shared upwards?
  • They have their own goals and responsibilities. What does your boss think is most important for your team to accomplish? What is a problem they constantly run into that you can help solve? Remember, your boss is a person. We all appreciate other people who help us get what we want. Are you making an impact that means something to your boss? Or are you just getting work done?

All of these points are about the same thing: your manager is only human. They are doing their best, just like you. It is your job to make it possible for them to appreciate the amazing work you do — by working on the things that make an impact for them, and communicating effectively about how you’re doing that.

It is all about reframing how you think about your relationship with them. Instead of thinking about how they see you, or what you wish they would do, you need to take control of the relationship. Start thinking about what YOU can do to become someone they consider indispensable and amazing.

Steps to take to become a superstar in your manager’s eyes

Talk with your boss about priorities at least once a week

We love the idea of sending a status email every week to let your boss know what you’ve been working on, what you plan to work on next, and any questions/problems you’ve encountered during the week.

This is a great way to make contact with a boss who is otherwise hard to get a hold of, although it is a great way to build trust with any boss, even if you see them a lot.

This process builds trust because it shows you are transparent about your work. It demonstrates that you want to work towards their goals for the team, and that you’re committed to making real progress every week.

It’s a smart way to regularly share your successes with your boss in a way that doesn’t appear “braggy” too. You are creating a written record of all the amazing things you do, which also comes in handy when it’s time for your annual review — you’ll know exactly what you’ve contributed throughout the year.

Plus, it’s an opportunity to check in and make sure you’re still working on the things that matter most. Always be open to adjusting your course and asking for input.

Relay information in the format that works best for your boss

Some bosses make themselves available; others don’t.

While it may be frustrating to have a manager who doesn’t seem interested in getting to know you or who you can never seem to get a meeting with, it is your job to figure out how to get on their radar anyways.

In fact, it’s even more important if you boss is hard to get a hold of, since they are more likely to miss anything but the most major accomplishments and failures.

So how does your boss like to communicate? Do they email? Phone? Do people tend to just grab them as they are walking through the office?

However things get done, you need to start doing them that way. If you know your boss doesn’t check their email, but you’re sending status in a weekly email — then you might as well not spend the time writing your status out at all.

Meet them on their level. It might not be ideal for you, but it will get you better results.

Keep communication open and ongoing

You don’t need to tell your boss every time you make a phone call, but keeping a conversation going about your work is a great way to stay on your boss’ radar and give them really concrete examples of the great work you’re doing.

For example, if you get done with a big meeting, send them a summary of the key takeaways from the meeting and what next steps you’ll be taking. They’ll appreciate being kept in the loop, plus this is a subtle way to share a win if you ran a productive meeting!

It’s also a great way to course-correct and get advice along the way. For example, if you had problems getting another team to agree to an idea in your meeting, you can ask them for advice on ways to rework the idea or how to pitch it more successfully.

This ongoing conversation will keep you from wasting time on things that:

  • have a quick solution you don’t already know
  • your boss doesn’t actually think is that important

The more your manager hears from you, the better they can understand the value you contribute and help you shine even brighter.

Treat your manager like a person

Your relationship with your manager should be professional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be friendly. Don’t forget that just because this person is your boss doesn’t mean they aren’t also human.

When you meet with them, ask them how they are doing. Make eye contact. Smile. Take notes and demonstrate that you are listening by nodding and asking questions.

Don’t shy away from opportunities to talk to them about themselves or what they are working on; we all like to have other people be interested in us. This doesn’t have to be more than 60 seconds of conversation and remember to keep it professional (it is not your job to quiz them about their personal life), but it can make a huge difference.

Let trust and success build over time

Trust is built over the course of many interactions. You won’t have one big win that sets you up for the rest of your career; instead, you should focus on having every tiny interaction with your manager go well.

How can you make sure that every time they interact with you, they walk away feeling like you are someone they are happy to have on their team? How can you help them know you as an indispensable part of the organization?

It is by consistently delivering results that you become known as a superstar. You do this in small doses every day, and it will add up like compound interest over time. Consistency is the true key to success.

When you consistently add value to the people around you, they cannot help but notice. This goes for your manager too.

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