Self Sponsorship and Why It Matters
Self sponsorship is a method of advocating for yourself and your achievements. It allows you to surface what you are proud of and the value you have had, with many benefits to your mental well-being, feeling of self-worth and career growth.
This article explains three simple steps you can take straight away to start self-sponsoring.
What is ‘Sponsorship’?
I want to share an excellent image from Better Allies beautifully encapsulating what sponsorship means.
In an ideal world, our superiors and peers will be doing this. However, they may be overburdened and stretched too thin, new to their role or any number of other reasons that lead to it not happening.
What is ‘Self Sponsorship’?
Self sponsorship is about owning our career, owning our situation and making positive changes towards getting ourselves to where we want to be. It’s about surfacing our wins, big and small, and advocating for ourselves. This leads to better recognition of the value we add, more alignment with our managers about where we are focussing our time and in turn leads to better opportunities opening up for us. The best thing is, we can do this regardless of the environment we find ourselves in.
This can be challenging because we have to own our achievements and identify the value we bring, no matter how small it may seem. That can be hard to do in the absence of external praise and recognition.
The good news is there are practical steps you can start taking today that will get you on the path of being seen, feeling valued and proud.
Step 1. Write Down Your Achievements Every Single Day
At the end of the day, I write some quick bullet points in a document I call ‘Work Log 2021’ or whatever the year happens to be. These are super light touch but cover what I delivered, what I learned, what was challenging or anything else that was interesting during my day.
These are very quick, unsanitized notes just for me to look back on.
Example: Work Log
- Caught up with HR re: the performance management of employee X
- Wrote up 360 review and made a plan for employee Y’s next one to one to action it
- Gave employee Z some guidance about how we approach CSS in the codebase
- Attended weekly brief meeting and flagged that making our cookie banner would not be trivial
- Helped get an issue employee A was having through product support, got it fixed in record time thanks to the reduced build time
- Shared my summary of Humble Inquiry in the learning channel
The last entry of the week can be a good time to reflect on what you’ve been up to and where you are spending your time. When you start to look at what you do every week it can become obvious that a lot of your time is spent on activities that don’t serve the business or you and thus don’t give you energy. You can use this data to work with your manager to better focus your time and maximise the value you are adding each day.
Step 2. Make a ‘Wins of the X’ Topic Every Single One to One
No matter the cadence of your one to ones, always make space to update your manager on the wins you’ve had since the last time you spoke. Wins of the week, wins of the fortnight, wins of the month whatever fits your one to one cycle.
This is where rewriting your log comes in. We want to take those items and focus them on the business impact of each item.
Example: Wins of the Week
Wins of the Week
- Increased output of the sales team by unblocking a product support ticket in record time.
- Increased team output by reducing the site build speed.
- Saved us time and money by stopping us from writing our own cookie banner and providing a low-cost 3rd party tool.
Before your one to one, send this to your manager in advance and ask them to read it. They can choose anything they’d like to talk about from it and you can choose the top highlights you want to chat about. You can encourage them to comment on your list in advance as talking points.
This is a great way to acknowledge for yourself and your manager how much you do and what value you bring. I can almost guarantee when you start to capture it you’ll be stunned at how amazing and productive you are and the volume of learning you do without even realising it.
Step 3. Make a ‘Wins of the Quarter / Year’ Summary to Share With Your Manager
At the end of the quarter and the end of the year, book in time with your manager to talk through a high-level summary of your wins of the quarter and year.
Keep this light, 1-page max, because you’ll struggle to hold their attention otherwise. Choose your biggest successes, the things you are most proud of and shout about them.
You might want to break these up into sections like line management, technical work and so on.
Example: Wins of the Year
Technical Work: what do we have now that we didn’t last year?
- Won a critical business project by architecting and project managing a white label solution of the app under budget and ahead of time.
- Increased developer productivity due to decreasing build time of the app by 80%.
- Easier to use self serve business reporting through setting up BigQuery.
Line Management: what’s different now that we didn’t do last year?
- A motivated and delivering team in a pandemic, delivering at our highest velocity so far with minimised toxic behaviour and reset healthier culture.
- Motivated and engaged engineers with personal development plans rolled out for self-directed learning.
- Team capacity bolstered by 3 new engineers hired within a month, able to ship code within their first week due to new onboarding process and buddy system.
You can use this document to reflect on where you started, where you’ve been and where you’re going to go next in your personal growth. What was the biggest challenge, the biggest surprise, the best thing you learned?
I always feel so, so proud when I write up my wins and that’s a really powerful thing for self-esteem. If you don’t value yourself, how is anyone else going to?
Questions to Ask Your Manager
Now that we’ve discussed the process let’s talk about other things you can do to self sponsor. Your manager may not know what sponsorship is so you could show them the better allies poster up there that I linked and say you want to talk about it.
You can ask your manager things like:
- When was the last time you sponsored me upwards to my superiors?
- Could you invite me to [that important meeting with my superiors] so I can learn what it’s like?
- What do you see as my next career move being here? What’s your ideal timeline for this?
- Is there anything you can delegate to me as a stretch assignment?
- What was the most impactful thing I’ve done in the last month?
It’s important to say ‘when was the last time’ rather than ‘do you ever’ because it means they are inclined to give you a concrete example.
Time to Move On
If you try the steps here and you find you are still not being acknowledged or recognised for your great work, it may be time to think about finding a new job. The great news is you’ve been chronicling your wins constantly for the last year so when it comes to brushing up your CV and preparing for competency questions you have got this.
For Bonus Points
It’s good to be seen as much as you can, so if your company has a Slack channel where you can show off your work use it! It feels weird and ‘egotistical’ to a lot of us but it’s such a great way to get exposure. Similarly any chance to showcase your work in company meetings or presentations. I know it’s scary but it’ll go a long way towards getting you seen.
Try to do the same for your colleagues, shout about their wins and you’ll soon find they start doing the same thing for you.
There’s an excellent blog post by Julia Evans you can read about writing a more involved brag document.
We are very unlikely to work in perfect conditions with superhero managers that put us and our needs and our growth and well-being first. Through the power of self sponsorship, we can start to value ourselves more, be more seen and help our managers understand our needs and our value. You have the power to make positive changes for yourself, starting with owning your achievements and giving yourself some well-deserved recognition.