Knowledge work is often associated with Social Capital, that is, a collection of trusted meaningful relationships. One way to build social capital is to publicly value a person for the difference they have made with their talent, knowledge and character. It’s more than simple gratitude; it’s letting others know about the value of a person. There is much evidence that we respond strongly and easily to the ‘social proof’ from a trusted source about the quality of another person and their offering.
I recently overheard this intriguing phrase about networking: “I collect good people”. Putting your thoughts into tangible words makes visible the quality of the relationships in your collection of ‘good people’.
The What and How
Digital networking tools like LinkedIn make it easy for you to publish a recommendation. The common hurdle is knowing What to write and How to write it. Here is an approach to deftly leap that hurdle.
Step 1: Decide on a focus or theme
If you have the opportunity, ask the person you are writing about to indicate to you what focus they would most value in a recommendation. For example, they may be a great Project Manager and that’s what you thought you would focus on; however, they would most value a Recommendation about their Leadership capability.
Step 2: Write answers to the following questions.
A. What was the situation in which I experienced/engaged with PERSON-X?
B. What did PERSON-X do to make a real difference?
C. What was the result of what PERSON-X did? (What did I gain? What was the difference that was made?)
D. What do I really like about PERSON-X? (could be about style/approach, character, value, etc.)
E. What would be my reason to recommend PERSON-X to others?
Step 3: Turn the answers into a short paragraph of prose.
a. Keep it short and smart
I choose to define a Recommendation as a very short piece of text (maximum 4-5 sentences; 80-100 words) that can be inserted into other documents. It is not a Reference Letter. It is succinct, targeted and typically only covers a small aspect of a person. A quality recommendation has depth rather than breadth.
b. Avoid writing the prose for your answers in the order of the questions.
For good advice about the order of what you say (i.e. the value of WHY before WHAT) listen to Simon Sinek talk about Golden Circles in his presentation at TEDx.
c. Make the sentences powerful and meaningful. Include adverbs and adjectives.
Here’s some samples.
WEAK = He gave good advice about what to do.
STRONG = He gave practical advice we could easily implement.
WEAK = She facilitated a workshop about X.
STRONG = She masterfully facilitated an enlightening workshop that shifted our thinking about X.
WEAK = He mentored me and now I see things differently.
STRONG = He mentored me sharing his expert knowledge and asking me challenging questions so I looked at things with a new perspective.
WEAK = She worked with our staff in many situations.
STRONG = She sensitively worked with different groups of staff adapting her communication style to best fit the situation.
WEAK = He always did good work.
STRONG = His work product was consistently of a high quality and his work style was professional.
d. Have a Thesaurus on hand; it helps to avoid reusing the same descriptive words.
Step 4: Share the recommendation (either publish online or send to person in a message)
Recommendations don’t have to be published in LinkedIn.
You might send the recommendation directly to the person with your permission for them to use the exact words (or a subset) in a cover letter, resume or selection criteria table, or in other promotional material.
You might send the recommendation in a message to a specific individual as part of making an introduction between two of your contacts.
Doing it for real
Here’s a real example, following Steps 2 and 3 above.
The Questions & Answers
A. What was the situation in which I engaged with Emma?
Taking portrait photos for business use
B. What did Emma do to make a real difference?
Listened to what we wanted and integrated that in her suggestions
Gave practical advice to prepare for the photos about location, timing of day, colours of clothes
Made us feel at ease during the shoot
Experimented with different poses
C. What was the result of what Emma did?
High quality photos that we are proud to show
Ready-to-use images that have a relaxed professional vibe
D. What do I really like about Emma? (could be about style/approach, character, value, etc.)
Her relaxed nature in taking the shots
Her interesting ideas for different looks/poses
E. What would be my reason to recommend Emma to others?
She provided an enjoyable experience to get great product
Great value for price
“Emma Smart artfully gave us an enjoyable experience as she took portrait photos for our business use. We are very proud to use the classy photos with a relaxed professional vibe. Such great photos are the result of a partnership with Emma in choosing location, time of day and poses plus her relaxed nature which put us at ease during the photo shoot. It was an excellent investment to utilise Emma’s talent to get beautiful images.”
~ Helen Palmer, Director, RHX Group
Note: There are phrases in the prose that weren’t in the answers to the questions above. That’s a good thing! When writing the prose, I got additional inspiration about what to say and how to say it.
Don’t wait to be asked. Do it because you can.
Schedule 1 hour in the coming week to identify someone worthy and write them a recommendation.
Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people and knowledge.