When to say “I’ll do it!” and when to let an opportunity pass you by.
In the corporate world, and in other work environments, there are key moments at which you should raise your hand and volunteer for a new project or responsibility. These moments are critical to get right, because once you “own” a project that is going nowhere, it can be difficult or impossible to beg off at a later point. Knowing which moments are the right ones to volunteer is essentially a process of considering the end game: what are you hoping to get from the experience, and what value will it bring?
If you were always someone who raised your hand in school, eager to step up to the plate, you may volunteer too often and get stuck managing or completing projects that have minimal value to you and the organization. If you prefer instead to keep your head down and “get your work done,” you may miss some critical points to increase your leadership, reach and range. Striking a balance between appearing desperate to get noticed for doing a great job and disinterested in new work, here are three key factors to determine whether you should raise your hand when the boss is asking for volunteers.
- Is it high profile?
- Is it high need?
- Are you highly motivated to do it?
In general, if you have at least two out of the three hits above, you should probably be ready to go for it.
HIGH NEED / HIGH PROFILE
All things being equal, high need/high profile projects are, of course, the best projects to be on. You can increase your political capital within the organization by solving something mission-critical, and you can increase your visibility and level of responsibility for years to come.
If you are highly motivated to complete a high need/high profile project, you have the best of all worlds. On the other hand, if you do not initially feel motivated, brainstorm for possible motivators to get you going, including the obvious points I mention above. Generally, if you are in the right field and concerned about your career, you can generate the motivation to complete projects that meet the other two criteria by focusing on the initial and long-term results they will will bring to you and your company, whether or not the day-to-day tasks are always inspiring.
(Note: If you cannot muster up motivation despite the benefits, you may wish to keep your hand down and re-evaluate your commitment to your chosen role.)
HIGH PROFILE / LOW NEED
High profile projects can bring many benefits, but if they are not important to the organization, consider your motivation before volunteering. You may appear inauthentic, harming your credibility, and in the long run you may not have the commitment to do a good job (while on stage in front of the important individuals and teams within your organization). Examples of high profile/low need projects are the pet projects of senior management, which may allow you to rub elbows with the “right folks” but do not significantly advance (or redeem) the main profit drivers of your organization.
HIGH NEED / LOW PROFILE
Similar to high profile/low need projects, you may only wish to volunteer for high need/low profile projects when you are and can remain highly committed to them until completed. In addition, you should weigh the number of these types of projects that it makes sense to take on at one time.
If you do have strong (or sufficient) motivation to manage or participate in these projects, they could be a boon for your career, teaching you new substantive skills and helping you develop further leadership and self-reliance. You also will demonstrate your commitment to advance the goals of the company, even when being “in the trenches” does not yield an immediate gold star. That commitment can bridge the gap to yet another project that is more significant, if the earlier ones go well for you, and also give you a sense of accomplishment and meaning in your career.
LOW NEED / LOW PROFILE
In the case of a low need/low profile project, you likely should not volunteer regardless of how motivated you are to become engaged in something, unless your goals are no longer aligned with your company and current career path. These projects offer little in terms of advancing your career within a company, and in fact will present an opportunity cost, taking you away from more significant work. If you are tasked with one of these projects without volunteering for it, you may wish to accept it graciously and do your best to complete it (or, if appropriate, discuss your views on why it is not needed). If you are tasked with many of these projects and at the same time wondering why you cannot get traction in your career, you may wish to revisit your career goals and standing within the organization.
Copyright 2016 Anne Marie Segal. All rights reserved.