Tootin’ Your Own Horn

Do you toot your own horn? Maybe you should.

We’re taught early in life to not brag or boast about ourselves. And in general, that is excellent advice. Tootin’ our own horn – telling folks about our accomplishments – is bragging, no doubt about it. It turns others off and makes us look self-serving. Sometimes though, it is entirely appropriate.  In the work environment, it is not only appropriate but necessary.  As the old saying goes, “If you don’t tell them, who will?”

Why toot your own horn in the work environment?

In today’s knowledge and service environment, much work goes unobserved. We work independently, and chances are the only time our boss hears anything about us is when we mess up.

Let’s start by defining today’s workplace. It’s different from the industrial environment where work was clearly measured by output and time. In today’s knowledge and service environment, much work goes unobserved. We work independently, and chances are the only time our boss hears anything about us is when we mess up. And we will mess up – that’s how we learn. But it becomes only one half of the equation. Who is going to balance the equation with all of the great stuff accomplished?

That’s where tootin’ your own horn comes in.

Let’s be very clear. This is not about bragging. Bragging is self-serving without a greater purpose. I’m talking about qualitative data, the kind that contributes to an overall awareness of what is being worked on, how the work is progressing, and the results that have been achieved. It isn’t about finding superlatives to describe how great you did. Instead, it is about being factual and adding to the knowledge and awareness of those in decision-making roles, e.g., your boss or other decision-makers.

There are three important steps in tootin’ your own horn. They can be boiled down to 1.) tell ‘em what you’re going to do, 2.) do it, 3.) tell ‘em what you did. And do it all factually and clearly linked to a business result.

Tell ‘em

Those of us in professional positions make decisions every day about what we will work on. Sure, there are goals and objectives, but we spend time (probably a lot of time) on setting the stage for goal accomplishment. That could be reinventing a streamlined process, building a relationship across business unit lines, talking to employees about what they need to succeed. This is important work, but no one may know what really went into achieving that goal unless you tell them. I don’t mean a formal presentation. It can be as simple as this:

“My department and the [X] department are having a small conflict over [X] process. I don’t want you to do anything, I just wanted to let you know that I am working with the department manager to resolve. I’ll keep you posted.”

This does three things. First, it brings the topic into awareness, so that your boss can provide any additional information you might need to resolve the issue.  Second, it demonstrates that you are a problem-solver and that you value business relationships. Additionally, it forces you to clearly understand and articulate the work to be done, as well as the expected result.

Do it

Execute on your plan, whatever it might be.

Tell ‘em what you did

Circle back and let your boss know that you have resolved the situation you spoke with her about.  Your result may be a better working relationship, a collaboration that resulted in a better process, or an improvement you made to your team’s process that they requested, and how it will improve productivity. The point here is that any of these things are almost routine and rarely rise to visibility. That said, they are also a large part of the work you do.

If you don’t highlight your work, it will probably go unnoticed.

That’s probably not something you should leave to chance. Being factual and clear that your update is simply FYI will go a long way toward creating the aura of your professional work ethic.

Thanks to my business partner for this lesson.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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