You can’t be distinctive without being selective.
Selective organizations and their leaders look to the strength of the “business case” before investing precious resources in new opportunities. Whether it concerns people, priorities, or projects, the business case includes a dispassionate and balanced assessment of the relative benefits, costs, and presumed impact of the potential choices. Essentially, the business case is the rational justification for saying “yes” or “no” to a given opportunity.
If you are seeking a position with a new organization, or if you just want to elevate your brand and increase your access to choice assignments in your current company, one of the most important questions you can ask yourself is: What’s the business case for me?
If you are unable to answer the question with a compelling and evidence-based response, you may be at risk in your potential to remain on track in the career progression you seek.
If you can already hear yourself rationalizing this question away with statements like “I would be a great catch for that company” or “Of course I’m relevant! The organization will always need people like me to do what I do …” then you need to know exactly how you sound.
And this is what you sound like: famous last words spoken the day before you get passed over for an opportunity.
This isn’t about putting lipstick on a pig or dressing up the mundane for the sake of sounding flashier – it’s about delivering on who you really are.
I love how Anese Cavanaugh describes it in her book, Contagious Culture: making a business case for yourself is about bringing “The Essential You” out to both cultivate and project your values, vision, and authentic self.
So, rather than the typical approach of taking a wide inventory of all the things you can possibly offer a company, consider a different path to standing out and distinguishing yourself.
Start by focusing on the few things that truly enable you to perform at your best and add measurable value to the team and organization. This approach matters because you cannot be distinctive without being selective.
Your distinctive contribution is the business case for you in action. It is what helps you stand out, stay relevant, and get ahead of the change curve through consistent, value-driven performance.
To avoid contribution-creep and determine a solid business case that compels hiring managers and leaders to say “yes” to you, start by defining three interrelated components: value-added capabilities, vital purpose, and relevant results.
Start by looking at the work you do, and then dig deeper to name these elements. For some structure, finish these critical statements to jump start the process:
- The strength that I rely upon most during challenging times is …
- The unique skill/talent I am most proud of is …
- The subtle impact I make on people and projects is …
Distinguishing these components will illustrate your impact by concentrating your efforts around what matters most. It is one of the most reliable ways to quickly begin elevating your personal brand.
Without honing in on these three crucial elements, the pace of work and the immense demands that you face produce a firefighting mentality that prompts you to try to get everything done. Over time, this approach undermines you as you expend extra effort with less impact.
In this scattered state, the very moment when you need your contributions to be at their best, they get diluted as you lose focus on your greatest value-add and instead try to do a little bit of everything.
Rather than constructing your resume as an inventory of everything you’ve ever done and can possibly do, focus on two or three key themes that show related skills and impact in the areas you thrive in.
Or, rather than saying “yes” to every request in an effort to show versatility, hone in on your distinctive contribution and be selective with the projects and priorities you accept.
Moves like these can give you leverage because they make your impact clearer, and the recognition you receive for doing great work in your area of desired expertise produces more and better opportunities to shine. While there’s never a guarantee, you have a better shot of getting what you want when you can make the business case for you.