When somebody does something awesome at waste recycling business TerraCycle, it triggers a sound that’s literally heard around the world. Each of the company’s 20 global offices is outfitted with a large gong and mallet, and protocol requires the person behind the achievement to take a big swing. She must also send out a virtual “gong hit” to the corporate email list, which prompts colleagues in other offices to strike their own gongs in celebration. “It creates an immediate spread of positivity,” says Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of the Trenton, N.J.-based firm.
Bragging might feel sketchy, but there’s increasing evidence to support banging your own gong in a professional context. Peggy Klaus, an executive coach and the author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, says that in the resource-constrained environment in which most companies operate, it’s important to make your own value known. “Your boss doesn’t have the bandwidth to advocate for you,” says Klaus. “When it’s time for a promotion, he or she needs to know what you’ve done.”
It’s not just about self-actualization: employers can benefit greatly by institutionalizing a boastful culture, too. When everyone is forthcoming with their achievements, it lessens the likelihood managers will disproportionately favour only natural show-offs. And Klaus adds that when employees feel comfortable bragging about their own accomplishments, they are also more inclined to talk up colleagues or the company as a whole—especially in front of outsiders (read: clients).
But there’s a fine line between helpful self-promotion and being a blowhard. And the opposite angle, “humblebragging”—using false modesty to raise your profile—only makes people roll their eyes, according to Harvard Business School research. So, what’s the secret to constructive crowing?
Klaus advocates a pithy approach. “Don’t make it a laundry list,” she says. “Find the ‘brag bites’ that mention your success.” That means keeping the spotlight near, but not directly on, you. For example, you might note to a new acquaintance that you just marked your fifteenth year in marketing, having progressed into a role that lets you work with some of the smartest people in the business.
Of course, some people are reluctant boasters. Only 35% of respondents to a May 2016 LinkedIn survey felt comfortable talking about their achievements. Research suggests that women, in particular, tend to understate the value of their work. To prompt her almost all-female team to share accomplishments, Amy Laski, the president and founder of Toronto PR agency Felicity, created several brag-friendly platforms, including a private Facebook page and a biweekly internal newsletter, and actively solicits her staff to fill them with good news. Laski says this sets the tone that good work should be celebrated. She’s also found it to have a snowball effect: when one person shares something great that they’ve done, others are quick to do the same.
Technology also helps. Achievers, which makes employee recognition and rewards software, is looking into automatically adding notable feats—like passing an online course—to employee profiles. This could help coax shyer folks into the spotlight, says Egan Cheung, Achievers’ vice-president of product management.
At TerraCycle, where the gong rings up to eight times a week, people have become totally comfortable with self-promotion—at times, too comfortable. “One office used to send out really meaningless gong hits—like, for having a company party—and we had to coach them,” says Szaky. “It has to be about ‘wow,’ otherwise people just tune it out.”