Thursday, July 21, 2011

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How to make the most of a low-visibility work project

Last week I suggested four ways to determine if you’re working on a “lame duck” project, and I offered six communication strategies to ensure that your project gets the attention and resources it deserves.

But what if those communication strategies don’t get you and the project more visibility or resources? What if your project is important but not flashy? Solid but not “sexy?” Work that must be done – and you’re the one assigned to do it?

Well, why not make lemonade from the lemons you were given? While lemons are a delicious ingredient in many cuisines, the idiomatic phrase means to make the best (sweet lemonade) of an undesirable or frustrating (sour lemons) situation.   

The Lemons

You may find yourself on a low-visibility, light-impact project for several very practical and understandable reasons:
1.      Your work supports customers or upgrades to a product already launched. The “buzz” has moved on.
2.      The project is an early stage where outcomes are inconclusive or not ready for public sharing, or else the work is so technical that few people really understand it.
3.      Your work is a critical but small piece of a more visible initiative or product/service, and the focus is always on that big deliverable.
4.      Your manager is under pressure to get the project done, you've been assigned to do it, and so that is reason enough.

The Lemonade

Okay, so your work is necessary and important to someone. Here are some communication strategies to turn each of the four bullets above to your advantage.
1.      Consciously track how your work has helped specific customers (internal or external), and let your manager know, through brief emails or hallway chats, about your satisfied customers. Pass on a customer’s positive comments. Unless there’s a complaint, we all tend to forget about what is working well.  Continue to communicate (not bragging but simply noting) the customer feedback.
2.       If you can’t “go public” with your work, take the initiative to set up a brown bag lunch or “chalkboard talk” with your team and other influential people connected to the project.  Invite your manager and your manager’s manager. Keep your project in their minds, and appropriately showcase how your work is progressing.
3.      Attend forums on the bigger business strategy, and contribute ideas in addition to your particular work. Be generous with your support, and be visibly engaged in the big initiative. Senior managers will notice.
4.      Help your manager solve a problem and you’ll be remembered for your hard work and your loyalty. Then the next time a more visible or interesting piece of work comes along, ask your manager about joining that project. You’ll likely get a positive response.

In my work with corporate clients, I’ve seen how quickly the hyped, “hot” project everyone is talking about can fade just as quickly as it begins. So keep in mind that a low-key but critical piece of work often wins the day, and provides you with accomplishments you can point to with pride.

Make this a lemonade summer
When I was in the third grade, my Mom set up a table on the sidewalk in front of our home on hot afternoon, and I sold glasses of lemonade to the neighbors. It’s a summer tradition across America – one where children earn a bit of spending money and learn early some sales and marketing skills. So this summer, help your own kids set up a one-day lemonade stand, or else quench your thirst by supporting the entrepreneurial spirit of other kids in your neighborhood.  

Please feel welcome to comment below on how you’ve made lemonade from a less than perfect work situation.

Jolinda Osborne

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