“The right work”… What does that mean?
If you are thinking, “What do you mean, I have a job, and they give me projects.” There may be some investigating to do in your “yeses.” Now, I am not suggesting that you just start declining work. But I do suggest you spend some time to better understand how projects are distributed among and across your team.
I find when I share the “Power of No” chart (Chapter 7: Targeting Your Relevance to Enrich Your Brand from Accelerating Your Impact) during my consulting and keynote work, many women take on new projects regularly without inquiring more about the expected results, direct impact, allocated budget or other key criteria. If you are a person who delivers great results, I am sure you too are asked to take on many projects inside and outside of work.
In your 20s, you often cannot be picky about the work you are assigned because you are working to build a track record of results, which often drives future career opportunities. As you move along into your 30s and beyond, aligning with the right work can be essential to your career trajectory.
Take a look at this eye-opening research addressing “the work” and “project assignments” included in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article called “Women in the Workplace: A Research Roundup:”
- Men get more of the critical assignments that lead to advancement than women do, according to a recent Catalyst study of 1,660 business school graduates, which examined the nature of projects given to high potential employees.
- On average the men’s projects had budgets twice as big and had three times as many staffers as the women’s.
- Only 22 percent of the women, but 30 percent of the men, were given budgets of more than $10 million, and just 46 percent of the women, versus 56 percent of the 136 men, received P&L responsibility.
- Even more telling, while more than a third of the men reported that their assignments garnered them a great deal of attention from the C-suite, only about a quarter of the women could say the same.
So How Important is the Right Work?
I have to admit I might have been naive in assuming that many managers were dividing the work and opportunity fairly based on skill set, potential, and future opportunities. Now looking back
maybe they did, maybe they did not.
I am not pointing fingers. I will even suggest that I am responsible because I do not recall a time during my first 15 years where I questioned the work assigned to me. I also did not assume that others received more plum projects. After seeing these data points, however, I am much more inquisitive and aware of how and what work is distributed.
I am not suggesting that you go into work with blazing requests or assumptions because not all work environments are the same. I am suggesting you add this to your bag of professional awareness and knowledge and use it wisely. A good time to discuss project allocation is during your annual review, when accepting new positions and when asked, “What do you want to do next?”
When assigned new work, be sure you ask some of these questions:
- What are the expected results of this project?
- What is the timeline?
- Who is already involved in this project?
- What are the inter-dependencies of this work within the organization?
- What is the budget?
- What known obstacles exist?
- Why is this project important to the company?
- What if this does not get done within the expected timeline
There are many more questions you can ask based on your knowledge of the company, previous projects, and dependencies. But this will at least get you thinking about what to investigate before you jump in and say, “Sure, I’ll work on that project, too.”
Understanding the work assigned to you, how it fits into the company’s goals and how it can position you, your skills and relevance for where you want to accelerate your impact next are important. Project assignment can be a critical piece of your professional brand and future path.
If you find a project that makes sense in your career advancement, don’t wait until you feel 110% ready to be successful. Remember that you should also take a leap before you feel completely ready. In the article Accelerate Your Success, the author tells the story of a race car driver who took a leap:
Heinemeier Hansson was able to quickly leap ahead in auto racing. While all the other drivers would stay in their competitive class until they felt they mastered it, Hansson would just “level up” as soon as the rules allowed. While this meant he was always in a beginner mindset, and didn’t outright win many races, he completely changed the slope of his achievement curve.
So what is the right work for you? Only you can answer that. Take into consideration your value, your impact, and your influence when determining what the right work is for you and then start on the journey to success.
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JJ DiGeronimo — the president of Tech Savvy Women — is a speaker, author, and thought leader for women in tech and girls and STEM. Through her work, JJ empowers professional women and consults with senior executives on strategies to retain and attract women in technology to increase thought and leadership diversity within organizations.
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