Making the invisible visible

How do you help others to understand what they do not ‘see’

Appreciating others’ professional contributions can be difficult if people neither understand nor care about what we do. It’s only in the absence that people notice our impact and even then become focused on the negative rather than appreciating what it takes to keep things operating without mishap. The editor’s work is only visible when the grammar and spelling are poor. The emcee’s work is only visible when the function runs overtime and sessions are derailed by hecklers. IT support is often only noticed when the system breaks down.

The Beaconsfield mining disaster offers another example. Most of the media attention was on three named men. With some exceptions, the rescuers were largely unidentified. The interest was on how long it would take to reach the trapped men, with little effort made to understand what it took to prepare and plan the rescue, including the training and safety dimensions. As the media bidding war heated up, one TV station switched their attention from the ‘heroes’ to the ‘real heroes’ – the rescuers – and the wider implications of having various emergency services staff diverted for an extended period.

How do you make behind-the-scenes processes interesting, or at least appreciated?

Here are some ideas for those in service or corporate roles, like finance, HR and IT:

  • Educate people to understand that being a service does not mean being a slave.
  • Encourage partnership relationships by developing a Service Charter that sets out agreed responsibilities on both sides.
  • ‘Be the change you want to see’. (Ghandi) Provide other service areas with the acknowledgement you would like to receive.
  • When projects go well, ask for feedback. Provide a short comment sheet that covers key areas of performance.
  • Write up a case study detailing your contribution. Share it in newsletters, forums, web sites.
  • Identify champions who will willingly promote an understanding of what you do.
  • Take people on behind-the-scenes tours.
  • Invite external industry people to speak to staff on matters that throw light on what you do.
  • Find ways to make it easy for people to fulfil your procedural requirements.
  • Use plenty of diagrams to show how ‘this goes with that’ to make things work.
  • Provide tips sheets that make life easier and focus on the benefits of the ‘bells and whistles’. For example: Five steps you can take to make writing business proposals easier. Four tips on making life with your helpdesk more enjoyable. Three risks you can avoid when purchasing software.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.