During my corporate life managing staffs both small and large, I’ve made it a point to have the “form and substance” discussion with most of my direct reports. First, my apologies to all of you who have heard this one before, probably more than once.

People who want to succeed in the corporate world must invest at least some of their time and attention on both form and substance. This means, you have to be good at what you do as well as deliver the goods (e.g. have substance). Clearly, achieving good results is necessary for success. However, many times it’s not sufficient. You must also expend at least some of your total effort on understanding how you’re being perceived by others and engaging in well meaning self-promotion (e.g. form). Now, this is about the time some people start to gag. Even so, in order to be successful, you must be willing to understand and deal with perceptions and, at the same time, try to build or shape those perceptions in the right way. Generally then, the advice is do good work but also figure out ways to promote yourself and your good work. Depending on your situation, form may include how you dress, how you present your ideas and what you say about yourself and your work. I’m not advocating going about bragging and boasting…few people like the bragging and/or name dropping type. However, I am speaking about the graceful and subtle way some people weave their knowledge and accomplishments into the matter at hand, who volunteer for assignments knowing the experience will round out their skills in a developmental way, and who graciously agree to help others knowing good deeds usually have a way of returning to them. Further, there are definite ways to deal with “form” which are real, honest, relatively easy to absorb and not off-putting. But of course, that’s specific advice you’ll have to pay for 🙂