Status within an organization is essentially how ‘important’ you appear to be within the group. Your status is increased most frequently through title changes. For example, going from a Service Representative I to a Service Representative II or from a Junior Associate to an Associate to a Senior Associate. Usually these changes are accompanied by a change in compensation and sometimes they include a change in responsibility or expectations. I’ll use title and status somewhat interchangeably here. You can’t have a title change without at least some change in status but you can have a status change without a difference in title. Status is the part that matters but it is often shown formally through the title change.
How does it show they value me, or don’t?
An increase in status very often is a recognition of a mastery of skill. While the expectations of the work being performed may not change the organization is making a more formal and visible decision to allow you more independence as a result of your mastery. It may also include some form of mentoring or teaching other, more junior level, people than yourself. For example, as a Service Representative I you may need to bring any customer complaints about the widgets being sold to leadership, because they require coaching. A Service Representative II may be expected to handle those complaints independently, because they are expected to have mastered this skill. A Service Representative III may be included as part of the leadership group that provides the coaching on these complaints, because they are expected to have not only mastered the skill but be able to teach it. All makes sense right, but now think about it from the company’s perspective. The organization is assigning limited value to the Service Rep I, as they are completing the work (obviously still valuable in and of itself) but each piece needs to be reviewed and signed off on (limits the value they can add). There is greater value assigned to the next level because they can work independently and don’t require additional time from leadership. The Service Rep III is providing the most value because it is not only independent but can provide lift for the leadership group to work on other priorities.
A title change, or other forms of status change are the first form of showing value that is visible to the others within the group. Typically, no one knows what another person is earning as far as wages so when your status is increased within the group it tells everyone that the organization sees something in you.
A title change might be the first time the value shown to you is visible, it is also the fist stage where you start to see glimmers of the levels to come. For example, if you gain status (even if in your existing role and without a title change) you are likely to come up in conversation in higher levels for the efforts you’ve put forth and the goals you’ve achieved. This is might get you invited to meetings, events, and gatherings for “exposure.” While being seen with other high performing people in an organization is showing their value in you as is, it also opens the door to development (by learning from all those big brains) and in time, influence (by getting to share your big brain with them). It all starts with someone seeing an increase in your value and offering you more status.
This may have sounded elite so let’s give it an example using our Jr. Associate, Associate, and Sr. Associate from the definition. Let’s say that every Friday all of the Sr. Associates get together for coffee and to identify and problem solve any widget making problems in the past week. You, a Jr. Associate, identified an issue earlier in the week and reported it to your manager. Your manager is impressed by your ability to identify the issue and understand the root cause. She asks you to join the coffee time with the Sr’s to explain what you found. Meanwhile, another team member, Steve, was recently promoted to Sr Associate and this Friday will be his first coffee time too. In this example Steve has the most simplistic change in status, he was promoted therefore he will be invited to any meeting or social gathering that that level is invited to. You, however, simply had a status change with your manager. She saw potential in you and gave you an opportunity for exposure. That opportunity, if used correctly, could increase your status with the team and build rapport while also allowing you to learn from how the Sr’s work in that meeting. Because Steve will continue on in the meetings, he will have the opportunity to continue to do all of that and potentially get to the point that he’s influencing the group.
Status, particularly if denoted by a title, can be a double edged sword. It is certainly something that you want to be aware of and cognizant of where it falls in the hierarchy. Some people will completely discount their status within a team, department, or organization because they don’t see the value the company is placing in them at that stage and the potential of what it could grow into. Others, put too much emphasis here. Keep in mind we’re still at the pretty basic level of the pyramid, one up from the bottom, and there is room for growth beyond this level.
If this is the level I’m in, what now?
Hopefully many of you read this far and either confirmed or realized that your status within the organization is a component of the value you’re seeing from your organization. If this is you, keep building on those objective indications of the value the company is showing you. Be grateful for the status you have within the team and look for opportunities to develop and influence.
Potentially you read this far and thought yep I can see how this works for Johnny and Betty but I just don’t seem to have any status, or very limited. If this sounds more like you, take heart, while it might not be easy, there is a simple solution. You need to investigate what that next status change would look like and then lean into that, hard.
Investigating what that next status change is may look different based on size and industry of an organization. For example, if you’re in a large organization you may have access to job descriptions or development guides that can list out in black and white what those expectations, qualities, or competencies are to master your current role and look to the next step. If you don’t have access to this material (or perhaps it doesn’t exist) start looking for instances of the Johnny’s and Betty’s of the world having a higher status. Are there different expectations for those with more experience in the role? What are they? Is there someone that officially or unofficially checks all of the work like the Service Reps we talked about? What is that person looking for when they do it? Is there someone who everyone listens to in the meetings? Or looks to for guidance? What are they saying? What do they use as guiding principles in their comments?
Then, you can simply talk to your leader about it. Once you’ve picked up a few tips either from documentation the company provides or from paying attention while doing the work, you can start to ask your boss about it. ‘I’ve noticed that Betty seems to be responsible for X. Is that something I could learn more about and help with?’ ‘I saw in the job descriptions for the Sr’s they’re expected to Y. How can I learn more about that?’ ‘Are there any gaps you see in my work that I could focus on that would help me move toward Z?’ Questions like these show your leader that you’re looking for the next step, you’ve already started doing some of the work, and allows them the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions (For example if Betty isn’t responsible for X and it drives your manager a nuts that she’s doing it, you’ll see that too.) . Once you have the conversation, write down every thing they say. If you’re not able to discuss this with anyone simply make your own list based on what you have seen and determined.
Leaning in to the information that you’re given looks like actually doing the things. (Like I said, simple but maybe not easy) First things first, if you did discuss with your manager and they say that you have gaps for your current role, fills those first. Remember back to the beginning, you need to show that you have mastered the role first. Once that is done, take the original list you created from your discussion and split it in two.
The first list is prioritized based on importance. If the first thing leadership looks for in signing off on your work is the correct contract language and it’s an automatic fail if it’s wrong, you learn as much as you can and work as hard as you can to get that right.
The second is prioritized based on ease of completing. If leadership is also looking for grammatically correct information and has 0 tolerance for spelling errors, you turn on spell check and start proof reading. This is low hanging fruit and something that can be improved today. Then, because you can’t do everything, pick something from each list and do it hard. Make great strides in those two things and move the needle forward.
Finally, follow up with your leader. Let them know that you’ve been working on X,Y, and Z. Tell them what you’re focused on and how/what you’re doing in those areas. Because you chose something of great importance and something that is easy you’ll be able to showcase a quick win as well as your plans for improvement/growth long term. Discussing it with them will help you continue to prioritize the right items and communicate the work you’re doing this will increase your status with them and increase the value they place on you.
Things I’m reminding myself of
Work with your leaders and not against them. Even if you don’t like, or maybe it goes so far as to not respect, those in the levels above you, you can learn a lot from them. You can learn how to get to the next level, how the ideals of the leader department or organization mirror yours (or don’t), and so much more. All of this is valuable information that you want to have as soon as you’re able so don’t avoid the conversations.
Be objective and realistic in your recognition of and pursuit of status. There are two unbecoming ends of the spectrum. There are those who seem to think a title is the top of the hierarchy and those who never realize the status they hold within their group or organization. I hope to never be the one who gets a new title and is suddenly too big for my britches because of it. I also don’t want to down play where I am and lack confidence in the status I hold. This is a tough balance to strike that I fail at consistently however, keeping an objective eye out for the evidence of my status (similar to what I listed as examples above) is the only way to maintain that balance.