Teach Employees to Promote Themselves Through Story

By Katharine Hansen

What are the advantages of guiding workers to collect stories directed at organizational career management? Expressing accomplishments in story form is a huge advantage because a compelling, engaging story is memorable to the manager making a promotion decision, while people who aren't telling stories may be forgotten. The decision-maker gets to know and trust employees through their stories, which may also help establish an emotional connection that inspires investment in their success. (And, by the way, the same storytelling principles that work for other employees also work for your own career progression.)

Encourage employees to keep a record of everything they do that enhances the organization's bottom line, shines a positive light on the organization or department, creatively and innovatively solves organizational problems, and shows loyalty and commitment to the employer. Because change is such a constant in organizations, especially in a turbulent economic climate, recording accomplishments that demonstrate how well workers have led, communicated, or adapted to change within the organization is especially valuable.

The minute your client begins a new job, he or she should start tracking accomplishments. You can suggest that the client choose a tracking technique that feels most comfortable, such as keeping a story log in a little notebook, on index cards, in a computer database, on a small tape recorder, or on a handheld device. It's important to collect this data as accomplishments occur and compose them in story form because most people have a hard time dredging up stories of their past accomplishments and achievements. At key times, such as when a promotion opportunity arises, they are frequently not even convinced they had any accomplishments worth sharing. But everyone has, and anyone who wants to advance on the career ladder should be prepared to articulate achievements beyond the day-to-day tasks he or she performed on the job.

Accomplishments are the points that really help sell us to employers, much more so than everyday job duties, whether we are selling qualifications to an employer for the first time or seeking to move up. Employers want to know their workers are problem-solvers, movers and shakers, contributors to the organization, and initiators who perform beyond the job description. While promotions are not always based on past performance, workers can certainly make a much better case for a promotion by telling detailed stories about past successes. Those who get results get ahead.

For employees who have not tracked their accomplishment stories to date, use the following prompts to help them brainstorm all the terrific things they did. Encourage them to develop accomplishment stories that set them apart from others who might be competing for advancement. 

  • What special things have you done to set yourself apart? How have you done the job better than anyone else did or could have done?
  • What have you done to make the job your own?
  • How have you taken initiative? How have you gone above and beyond what was asked of you in your job description?
  • What are you most proud of in your job?
  • What problems have you solved?
  • How can you weave into your story tangible evidence of your accomplishments: material from your annual performance reviews, glowing quotes from colleagues, complimentary memos or letters from customers, publications you've produced, products you've developed, software applications you've written? 
  • Consider the "PEP Formula," Profitability, Efficiency, and Productivity, as another way to tell your story. How did you contribute to profitability such as through sales increase percentages? How did you contribute to efficiency such as through cost-reduction percentages? How did you contribute to productivity such as through successfully motivating your team?

You can find additional prompts in the Accomplishments Worksheet on the QuintCareers Web site: http://www.quintcareers.com/accomplishments_worksheet.html

Practice Self-Promotion Through Storytelling

We are taught when we are young that modesty is a virtue, but if no one knows how great we are, we simply won't get ahead. Encourage employees to become a known quantity and to sell themselves with stories of their successes. Counsel them to let the decision-makers know that they seek advancement. They can send the boss regular e-mails or memos with stories of accomplishments and results. They can tell these stories verbally in informal and social situations. It's especially important that employees who don't see the boss often toot their own horn with stories, particularly if they telecommute or work in a different location from the supervisor. Here's an example story that a worker could tell the boss to increase the chances of advancement: 

I have helped shift the focus of our HR department from a transactional one to more of a developmental and proactive approach. Early on, performance issues kept coming up that should have been dealt with much sooner. It was clear to me that we needed to be more proactive and developmental in our HR services to employ best practices and build supervisors' supervisory skills by designing systems, processes, and tools to simplify and clarify supervisors' HR responsibilities. I began to meet monthly with department heads and department administrators, a practice that has been extremely helpful in addressing emerging issues. The result is an increased commitment to quality supervision across the organization, more efficiency, and increased effectiveness on the part of supervisors, and problems being dealt with more proactively.

In a recent blog entry on the Talentism blog, (http://www.talentism.com/business_talent/2009/10/john-lennons-the-future-of-hr-and-talent-camp.html ), Jeff Hunter wrote that for organizations, finding and unleashing workers' talents "will be the key to sustainable innovation." Encouraging employees to collect and express their talents as accomplishment stories is an effective way to ensure they are not "hiding their light under a bushel" and are poised to contribute their attributes to the organization's sustained success.


Kathy Hansen Katharine (Kathy) Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits its newsletter QuintZine, and blogs about applied storytelling at A Storied Career. Kathy, who earned her Ph.D. from Union Institute & University, has authored eight books, including Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, from which this article is adapted. She can be reached at kathy@quintcareers.com.

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