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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 11/05/2006

Spent this morning training on a confidence-building course and I found myself going into material I havenít used for ages but which seemed very relevant to what people were talking about. Most of the participants were women and most spoke about how they felt they were capable of more than they were currently achieving. They didnít think that it was their ability that was holding them back at work but their own self-belief. I used to run lots of courses for women and it is a familiar strain. What many women often hanker after at work is someone who will notice how well they are doing their job and then take them aside to say "you are just so good at what you are doing we really want to promote you". The fortunate few find a mentor figure of this type. The majority donít and have to rely on themselves and their own aspirations, confidence and nouse to get on.

Building self-belief is an important part of this process but so too is understanding some of the unwritten rules of the game. Research done years ago by a man called Harvey Coleman is very revealing on what these rules are. He looked at internal promotion across a range of organisations. He wanted to find out who gets on and why. Coleman said that three factors were important: performance, image and exposure. He also said that on average promotion was 10% about performance, 30% about image (looking the part for the job you aspire to) and 60% about exposure (you and your work being known within the organisation).

When I tell people about this research, they often believe it is accurate but feel irritated by it, saying that it shouldnít be like that. However, there is a rationale. Often when people apply for promotion it is for a job which is qualitatively different from the job they hold now and which requires different skills. Being a good head teacher requires very different skills from being a classroom teacher. Running a television department is different from being a director and so on. This means that your suitability for the post often canít be judged on current performance in the job: it is often better judged on skills like being able to communicate well at meetings and influence other people. Getting on well with people in senior positions, and being able to fit in, is also judged important. Whatís more Colemanís research isnít implying that performance in the existing job isnít important or necessary Ė just that being good at your current job is expected and you donít always get promoted simply on that basis. You need to show you can do these other things as well.

What women (and some men who havenít somehow worked out these unwritten rules) often do if they want to get promoted is channel more and more effort into their existing job Ė getting better and better at it but not always showing the qualities needed for a management job.

IF you speak to senior managers in organisations they will corroborate Colemanís findings. For example, I remember working with a group of directors from a local authority and they all identified that it was things like being involved in organising local elections which had helped their careers enormously. This wasnít even an integral part of their job but it had allowed them to network, meet other people and gather intelligence. This is how they found out more about what was going on in the Council and managed to get themselves known.

Iím not defending these unwritten rules and I think they can discriminate indirectly against women, minority groups and some men who just donít fit with the male elites who currently run the organisation. But if people want to get on in organisations it is often best if they don't keep putting more and more effort into what they are doing now. They need to look and see what are the other things they could do to show they could be influential and responsible managers. What might such things be? Speak up more at meetings - a favourite theme of mine which I'll return to another time.

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