One of the most important professional lessons I have learned was not about science, management, or leadership. It was about how success in my job was tied to money.
I was working as a program management and public relations consultant, and had accomplished all the tasks defined in my job responsibilities. So when it came time for an evaluation with my supervisor, I simply regurgitated a list of what I had achieved. I expected kudos and advancement opportunities. Yet I didn’t get a raise or a promotion; my shorter-tenured colleague did. What did he do right and I do wrong?
My mistake was this: Although I had explained the comprehensive job I had done, I had not provided any hard data about my productivity. I had qualified my success. The other guy came prepared with facts that quantified his success. He monetized his achievements by clearly demonstrating how his productivity had brought in new funds and cut costs. The boss, seeing that my colleague’s presence was a money-making endeavor, viewed him as more valuable.
At that time, it didn’t occur to me that I needed to equate my work with boosting the bottom line of the organization. Looking back at my career, it astonishes me that I didn’t make sure my boss knew how my productivity was connected to increasing profits, cutting costs, and attracting new customers. I don’t want you to make that mistake in your career. And I especially want to prevent you from erring when you are seeking your next job or promotion.
Know this: For all your good work and productivity, the bottom line is the bottom line. In a for-profit organization, that’s what the boss is always focused on. And the manager, whose own job security is tied to monetary success, will choose the staff member whose outputs are tied to the monetary gain of the organization.
The concept of binding success to the improved financial health of your organization is not meant to disparage the merits or dirty the enterprise of doing science. But it’s important to remember that even if you are a scientist working in academia, a government lab, or a think tank, your work is still ruled by money.
But although money makes the world go round, other nonmonetary factors are valued by bosses, and these can also provide power in career advancement. Part of your job is to identify those “currencies” and then communicate your successes in the appropriate terms. A perfect example is in academia, where you are measured by the number of published papers, presentations, mentored grad students and postdocs, committee assignments, and funded grant proposals. Other metrics of success include your number of patents and awards. When it is time for promotion and tenure, all of these contribute to your advancement.
Here are four important tips for putting a financial spin on your scientific endeavors:
- Identify the currency in your industry, organization, and field. Know the specific criteria that are used to judge your success and to evaluate you for advancement opportunities.
- Quantify results. Seek to collect and then provide hard data about your productivity as it relates to money. For instance, tabulate the number of grants you obtain, or the total amount of funds you bring in. Provide numbers that show how your innovations translate to more income for the company. Even if you don’t write a grant proposal or design and manufacture a product, there are still ways to quantify your success in terms of money. For example, your productivity may reduce costs, attract new customers, or encourage existing customers to spend more.
- Discuss your outputs in terms of money, even if they seemingly don’t directly generate income. When I worked in public relations, I kept track of every article I was able to secure in a major media outlet. But rather than show my boss a binder of clips to demonstrate my success, I should have translated this productivity into monetary terms—for example, the cost of the ad space in one of these publications. Doing so would have spoken volumes about my value to the team when I was up for a promotion.
- Look for opportunities to take on tasks that are directly connected with the organization making money. Seek out projects that allow you to work with a client, contribute to a product launch, or help organize a conference. In academia, it’s all about grants. One of the most important career tips I offer postdocs is to make sure you are applying for grants, even those that award small amounts of money. Early on, postdocs must demonstrate they have the ability to raise capital; later, professors are evaluated by the amount of grant funding they earn. If you have grants, you have currency and power.
The bottom line is to make sure that you continually clarify how your output impacts an organization’s financial success. Your boss, whether a principal investigator, a dean, or a government leader, is looking to protect and enhance the financial well-being of the enterprise. When you demonstrate that you regularly do so too, you will find that you are able to access advancement opportunities.
And that is money in the bank.
Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds, which was named byPhysics Todayas one of the top five books of 2015. She can be reached through her website, www.alainalevine.com, or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine.