Reputation patterns: Becoming an expert in your firm

At work, I’m seeing more and more people shape their reputation and take control of their careers. Some are learning how to do it via formal training. Many more, though, are simply making the most of our new social collaboration platform. Over time, I’m starting to see patterns emerge. The most common one is people becoming recognized as experts based on public evidence of their knowledge (as opposed to, say, based on their corporate title).

All of these experts, it turns out, do 3 seemingly simple things.

1. Work out loud

The first thing they do is use the firm's collaboration platform to make their work visible.

It’s part of “working out loud”. Whenever they create a document or have a question or help a colleague, they do so publicly:

“Simply by using a collaboration platform to store your material, you make you and your work visible in real-time. And, better still, your work (projects, documents, discussions) is now searchable and discoverable. People will find you any time they’re looking for content related to what you’re doing.”

In addition to publishing their finished work, the experts also narrate their work,  contributing a running commentary of the research, meetings, and thinking that goes into what they do.

Andrew McAfee, author of “Enterprise 2.0”, wrote about how and why you should narrate your work:

“Talk both about work in progress (the projects you're in the middle of, how they're coming, what you're learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you've executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you're good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and 'brand.'"

By simply working out loud, experts establish a portfolio of artifacts and commentary that others can easily see. In doing so, they differentiate themselves from their colleagues.

2. Own the space 

The experts then go beyond telling their own story and start to tell the stories of others at the firm who do what they do. This often involves literally owning a space - setting up a website on the collaboration platform where they can curate content related to their work.

At most firms, there typically isn’t a place to go to find out about all the work and people related to a particular topic. So, for each topic, there’s an opportunity for an expert to fill that need.

“Who’s working on the Volcker rule?” 

“What’s the firm doing with mobile apps?” 

“What eco-friendly projects do we have?”

“Who’s using social media?”

In addition to their own work, the experts write stories about other relevant projects and people in the firm. In doing so, they recognize and give credit to people, helping to develop relationships and build a network. Sometimes, this network becomes increasingly connected and committed, working more like a community and actively driving change in their area.

Owning the space transforms the expert from an individual contributor to a linchpin. Someone who’s connecting people and projects across their firm. Someone who’s at the center of something bigger than their own work.

3. Bring the outside in

Lastly, the experts go outside their firm for expertise. In the space they’ve created, they start contributing stories about what’s happening in their field. They write about books and articles that are relevant to their new network. About what other firms are doing. About upcoming conferences and what people are talking about at those conferences.

This element of the pattern helps focus the experts’ learning and networking. Now more than ever, they’re purposefully looking for ideas in their field so they can make new contributions and connections.

They're not just seeming to be an expert. They’re truly becoming one.

Then...

The 3 elements of this pattern seem relatively easy, and they are. The difficult part is to keep doing them. To keep publishing, contributing, recognizing, and connecting. To overcome the lizard brain (as Seth Godin would say) and to keep shipping.

The new tools and practices make this pattern is available to anyone. (I’ve relied on the “become an expert” pattern myself, slowly developing skills and an audience that enabled me to start a new career at the same firm.) The more you contribute, the more people are likely to discover you when they search. The more people who discover you and your content, the more you’ll be thought of whenever your topic comes up.

Work out loud. Own the space. Bring the outside in. Be the expert.

When you do, you’ll develop relationships, discover opportunities, and open up possibilities you may have never even imagined.