As far as I could work out he was far more effective at the job than I was, but he seemed to struggle to get put on the ‘exciting’ projects and this seemed to be wearing him down. Having worked with him, I couldn’t ever really understand why this was the case, so I tentatively broached the topic with him over coffee one day. I can still remember the words he said to me:
“I can do the job well, but there’s a perception gap and this means I don’t get the types of assignment I want. I need to get better at reputation management.”
I was really puzzled at what he meant by this and the importance of his words only really sunk in months later. The reality was that he was a capable business analyst, who would just get the job done. But think about the ‘heroes’ that are visible and who get rewarded in most organizations. Do organizations celebrate people who quietly navigate their way through the complexity, maneuver through seemingly impossible conflict and get projects delivered right, first time, every time? Or do they celebrate those who noisily and visibly navigate the ‘difficult’ project that is over-time and over-budget (ironically sometimes because expectations weren’t properly managed in the first place), those who heroically get the project over the line (exhausting a project team as they do so)?
Sadly, in many organizations it seems to be the latter—it’s the hero who pulls back the ‘difficult’ project who is celebrated. The quiet, almost stealth-like yet effective practitioner is easily overlooked. You can imagine a manager passing them over for a promotion, saying “Ah, but they’ve had easy projects... they’ve not seen the kind of conflict that our project hero has seen”. Yet when was the last time you saw an easy project? They are all, in my experience at least, difficult—just in different ways. My colleague had picked up on this perception gap, and was working on solving it.
Reputation is Everything
In most organizations I’ve seen, reputation is everything. Sure, there’s a formal organizational chart. And there are professional development plans, and reporting lines and all of those things are important. Yet there are also people who have influence who aren’t in positions of authority. As business analysts, we often ‘lead from the middle’—shepherd people from different areas together, to define and work towards a common goal. Without formal authority, we rely instead on our reputation and our interpersonal skills. We build relationships, we listen and we work up, down and across the ‘formal’ organizational chart.
Yet, most BAs I know (myself included) are somewhat reluctant to shout about our project successes. We’re happy for others to take the credit—after all, change is always a team endeavor. In doing so, we risk becoming quiet stealth-like practitioners who are inadvertently overlooked. This is the point my colleague so articulately made over coffee all those years ago.
Communication Is Crucial
Reputation management is important at multiple levels. It is important for us as individual practitioners, for teams, and even for our discipline (industry bodies such as IIBA have a huge part to play here). There are steps that we can take as individuals to be aware of, and manage, our own reputation. Here are a few ideas:
- Have a BA communication plan: Figure out who to communicate to, and when, on a project. Communicate not just what is working well, but also the bad stuff. Show how having a BA has led to positive outcomes.
- Build relationships: Working as a BA, we meet people all of the time. It’s useful to stay in touch with them—with little other motive than a genuine curiosity in what they do. They’ll likely be curious about business analysis too, and this is an excellent opportunity to ensure that they (and their team) know what business analysis is.
- Don’t suffer in silence: There’s an old expression “a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine”, and this applies just as much to business analysis as it does to others. Of course, we should pull together and help out in times of need. But where there’s a significant and ongoing lack of planning we should shout. We often have a unique perspective, and we can help keep things on the rails. A short, well-timed, pause can often save months of pain.
- Springboard off each other: Building a reputation as an excellent (individual) BA is great. Even better is enhancing the overall reputation of a team. Working together to enhance the perception of business analysis generally is even more impactful.
- Always be learning: Things change, a lot. We should all expect to be continually learning and developing so that we can serve our stakeholders as effectively as possible.
- Celebrate successes: Business analysis is a crucial discipline and we add so much to change initiatives. We shouldn’t be afraid of shouting about things that have gone well, collecting case studies and showing where our efforts made a real difference.
Of course, there are many other possibilities too. The main thing is to avoid being the stealthy, silent and ‘quiet’ practitioner, to avoid being the ‘hero’, but to consciously choose to be one that delivers effectively whilst communicating appropriately. Reputation management can play a key part of that.