Do you remember that statement from school: “Show your work”? Let’s unpack that for a second now we’re not in 5th grade and navigating the school halls of life. Why do you think the teacher was asking the question? The teacher wanted to see that you understood the thought process and not just the right answer. New math, old math, it doesn’t matter; your teachers wanted to make sure you understood how to solve the fundamental problem so you’d always know how to find the solution.

This whole idea made wonder how old you are when teachers stop asking you to show your work?

In the workplace we are not asked to “show our work,” we’re expected just to complete it. At least that’s the expectation set when you’re in the early years of your career. I can almost hear the supervisor’s instructions:

  1. Here’s what we’d like you to do.
  2. Follow the process, and x result will manifest.
  3. We want lots of x.

Sure, I have simplified this a little, but if you took your work today and simplified it, would it break down into those three simple steps? Probably so.

This becomes a problem, however, the more senior you are in an organization. While your ability to make lots of “x” – better known as executing a plan or goal doesn’t go away – there is an expectation for you to be more strategic.

It’s such a powerful word these days “strategic.” I doubt you ever had anyone tell you: “This is how you can be more strategic in this role.” Yeah, me neither. And yet, being able to drive strategy – be more strategic – is one of the key core competencies for getting promoted into senior leadership positions. Want to move from Manager to Director? You need to be more strategic. Want to move from Director to VP? Having a strategy will be a key component.

So, how do you become more strategic in your role without knowing how? It’s in the word itself and the idea of showing your work. Let me revise my three-step process from above but shift the steps to a VP perspective.

  1. Here’s what we should do.
  2. When we follow this plan (process), then x result will manifest.
  3. Lots of x will mean this good ROI for the company.

Yes, again I’ve oversimplified the problem, but do you see the difference? The person in question goes from being a doer to the strategist. Simple, right?

I can hear the “hang on a minute” you think as you read this. So how do you move from getting instruction (version 1) to developing the strategy (version 2)?

Show your work.

I’m not talking about the results or the process you followed. That leaves you in version 1 of the workflow and firmly in the non-strategic bucket. I’m talking about sharing and showing how you think.

Like your grade school teachers of yesteryear who are asking you to show your work so they can see you understand and can replicate a concept, your leadership team needs to understand how you think. Apply the “what am I thinking about this” to version 1 of the process and you’ll quickly see the path to version 2.

I believe that the more senior you become, the more you are brought in for your ideas rather than what you can do. Articulating how you think is probably more important than what you do.

Do the adult version of “show your work”. Help people understand how your brain works. Because it’s that thing between your ears they hired you for.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *