Declare your value with contribution statements
One of the most significant mistakes I see women (and some men!) making is working really, really hard and hoping someone will notice their contributions, pluck them out of obscurity, and give them the raise, promotion, or high-visibility project they’ve been hoping for. Sure, it happens. But far more often, it doesn’t.
A corollary to this mistake is confusing effort or tenure with contribution.
It’s not enough to say you’ve earned a promotion because you’ve been in your role for awhile; it’s important that, during your time there, you’ve been contributing to the organization’s goals and demonstrating increasing capability that shows you’re ready to work at the next level.
And it’s absolutely possible to work really, really hard on the wrong things; an easy way to uncover that is to review your organization’s goals for the year, and figure out how many of the things you’re working hard on can be traced back to those goals. The lower that number is, the bigger indication that you might be working hard on things that aren’t valued.
The single most important thing you can do for your career success is to define your accomplishments in concrete terms that clearly illustrate the contributions you have made and why they are valuable, and then claim them out loud.
A lot of resumé writing advice focuses on the action verbs you should use to illustrate how you led, drove, launched, accelerated, orchestrated, or executed some project or another… but that’s only half of the equation.
It can be helpful to think of it this way: If the action you took was the “WHAT” you’ve got to follow up with the “SO WHAT”.
What were the outcomes that came from that work?
Why did the outcomes matter to the company?
How did that work contribute to the key metrics that the organization uses to gauge its success?
The “SO WHAT” makes it significantly easier for you to make the case for why you’ve earned that key project role, or that raise, or that promotion, and it makes updating your resumé, LinkedIn, and other professional portfolios that much easier.
For some roles and in some industries, these metrics come easily; others are harder. Over the past several years, we in the HR and L&D industries have worked to raise the importance of tying our work to key business metrics and revenue drivers in order to earn a “seat at the table,” but I still sometimes struggled to find ways to connect my training program outcomes to the organization’s bottom line.
Here’s an exercise I found really helpful for clearly defining my accomplishments and showcasing the value I bring to an organization:
Write Your Action -> Contribution List
Grab a blank sheet of paper and, stream-of-consciousness style, write out every single thing you have done in your career so far. Go back as far as you need to - don’t question how far back the job was, how short a time you were there, or even whether you particularly liked that role or not. Don’t worry about writing it in a particular order; it’s totally ok to jump around. Keep writing until you have at least 60 accomplishments.
Stretch out your wrists! That was a lot of writing! Then take a moment to appreciate everything you’ve accomplished so far.
Grab another blank piece of paper and fold it into quarters, so you have four sections. Label the sections:
BROUGHT IN MONEY
SPED UP / SAVED TIME
Transfer your list of accomplishments to this new paper, placing each accomplishment in the square that best captures the result of what you accomplished.
Brought in more money to the company through increased sales? Nice job!
Saved the company money by negotiating a discount with a vendor, or moving an event to a cheaper venue? Way to go!
Sped up a process or saved the company time by streamlining tasks, reducing the number of meetings, outsourcing tasks that no one has the skill set for internally, and otherwise improving efficiencies? Hello, rock-star, you just reduced lost opportunity for the organization! That means the people your company is paying to do their jobs can spend time actually doing their jobs, as a result of what you did!
Opportunity cost is something every company cares about when deciding when and how often to pull people out of their day-to-day jobs into things like face-to-face meetings, trainings, even company events. That has real value attached to it: calculate their average salaries and the time saved through these efficiencies and you’ve got a number you can use here.
Improved quality by increasing customer satisfaction? Fantastic! Even better: Drawing a direct line from the increased customer satisfaction scores to increased customer retention and/or repeat business.
Take it one step further by researching the cost difference between retaining a current customer and recruiting a new one. Now you can really show the impact!
This also has applications for your company’s most important asset: your people. It costs far more to recruit and train a new person than it does to hire and retain the right talent the first time. You directly contribute to that whether you’re working in HR, training up new hires, or working within the management chain. Take a bow, and then write that contribution down!
Write out your contribution statements in sentence form:
“Took X action, resulting in Y (number) [over Z time period]".
Developed and implemented a customer nurture campaign that reduced abandoned carts by 52%, representing additional sales of $34,000 in three months.
As part of a three-person team, revamped client invoicing system resulting in 75% fewer billing errors and saving the company more than $300,000 in customer-support related costs. Customer satisfaction scores increased from 3.6 to 4.8/5 in the first eight weeks after the new system was deployed.
Led the team responsible for auditing the company’s internal IT practices; our recommendations led to annual cost savings totaling more than $55,000.
As District Manager for the Northwest region, reduced average employee turnover at all 15 stores from 76% to 22% YOY and increased average per-store monthly sales from $120,000 to $365,000 in six months.
Once you’ve written out your contribution statements, store them somewhere easily accessible. I strongly recommend storing them in a Google doc, on Dropbox, or somewhere you’ll be able to pull them up even if you leave your current company (make sure the account is under a personal email address that you’ll always have access to!).
But Sharon, what if I don’t have / can’t get these numbers?
Believe me, I can relate. For years after I started working in the learning & development field, I was still mystified by how people could draw a line between their work and actual, tangible numbers. Even after I implemented some post-class evaluations and had some numerical scores, it still took me awhile to figure out how to make those mean something.
If doing this exercise has led you to discover that you don’t have, or can’t get the numbers you need, that’s a good thing. You will never again start a new project or pour your heart and soul into your current work without thinking about how to measure it!
First, I want you to keep these accomplishments on your list even if you can’t attach numbers to them. There is still value in soft accomplishment statements, especially as you begin to add hard (numbers-based) accomplishment statements over time.
Next, look back on the accomplishments from past companies. Is there any way you could get the numbers you’re curious about? Public data from that time period, notes you still have filed somewhere, or back-of-the-napkin calculations you can feel confident about?
Finally, take some time to think about your current work. What steps do you need to take to get numbers for the work you’re doing right now? Who do you need to connect with to get that information? And what do you need to do to prepare to measure work you know is coming up for you in the next three-to-six months? Get started on this as soon as you can.
Claim your accomplishments out loud.
Your new contribution statements have work do! Where you should be using them:
On your LinkedIn profile, and in any other professional portfolio where appropriate.
In your mid-year and end-of-year self-assessments.
In conversations with your boss when making your case for your next project, or the next step in your career.
On your resumé and/or in a cover letter (Be sure tailor this: pull out the best ones that speak to the role you’re applying for).
Make this a habit.
Set aside time at least once every six months to reflect on your accomplishments and write them out in this way.
Use what you discover as clues to set goals for the next six months. Ask yourself, what would make this accomplishment even more impressive? How can I stretch myself here? What would the positive impact to the organization be if I did?
No data on the work you did? What can you do to get measurements here that would allow you to show the impact of how you spent your time? Or maybe you need to talk with your boss, because it’s not clear to you how your work is contributing to the company’s published goals. Go schedule that meeting now!
Knowing what you’ve accomplished will go a long way in increasing your self-confidence and helping you value yourself, and being able to clearly explain your contributions in these terms will ensure that others see the value you bring as well. No longer will you sit around waiting for someone to notice how incredible you are; instead, you’ve just made sure they can’t miss it!
If you liked this, you’ll love my free career development guide, Take Charge of Your Career: Five Actions You Can Complete in 20 Minutes or Less! Subscribe to my periodic email updates to get your free copy today!
About the author
Sharon Stolt is a transformational career strategist and career coach based in Boulder, Colorado. She is on a mission to help unapologetically ambitious professional women take charge of their career future. Learn more at sharonstolt.com/about.