Last week I shared how you can make a habit of taking regular, strategic action to build and sustain accelerated momentum in your career growth, and I did a live FB broadcast in which I shared how often to evaluate your desired and actual career growth if you want to stay in control of your career.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also share this key habit that my most successful change agent clients attribute to their ability to catapult their careers and influence.
The book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi was released in 2005, just when I was developing my chops in networking. Honestly, I haven’t read the book. My boss at the time did, and he reinforced the primary message of the book, which is inherent in its title.
While I didn’t necessarily follow the advice of never eating alone, since I worked through many lunches and, as an ambivert who doesn’t like to talk when I eat, nor do I enjoy watching or hearing other people eat, it would sap my energy. I did start inviting more people to sit down for meals (or drinks), and it was transformative.
The clients who have been able to realize the greatest transformations in their organizations attribute their success to the time that they invested getting to know people in the organization and the efforts that they made to learn from others’ perspectives.
A Harvard Business Review IdeaCast with Julia Kirby from 2010 stated that women are over mentored and under sponsored. Sheryl Sandberg’s top-seller, Lean In, promoted mentorship and sponsorship, but let’s focus on sponsorship because it is a relationship with so much more potential to elevate you and your influence.
Much like finding a mentor, you have to let the relationship lead. Inspiring someone to sponsor you may be an objective, and it doesn’t hurt to have a wish list of people in your organization or a target organization that you’d like to have as a sponsor. However, the outcome you want is more achievable when you approach it relationally vs. transactionally > nurture the relationship to evolve to that level.
Thinking transactionally vs. relationally is a mistake many people make when it comes to networking. People on the job may limit their internal networking to their department, thinking these are the only people who are relevant to job performance. Job seekers sometimes only want to talk with you if you have a job to offer, and it fits XYZ criteria. Recruiters and employers sometimes only want to talk with you if you fit an open job requirement. Deciding that a job isn’t a match doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship, however. It can be the start of something completely new and unexpected.
The key word here, however, is growth! Expansion. Think openness. I’m not just talking about engaging one person as a sponsor who can influence your career, but to engage people across the organization as supporters and advocates by being their champion.
I get that we all have constraints on time. I also see being judicious with your time is a wise practice. We can’t possibly meet with everyone we’d like to, or who would like to meet with us.
Let me propose a structure that is amenable for the busy and/or introverted professional that still enables you to expand your network and influence, learn what can be leveraged, and discover magical synergy with unexpected people.
The first step is always to make a list. Start with those you know are impacted by your role and vice versa. Eventually, you may need to use a company directory, organizational chart, or LinkedIn. Consider other divisions, and, of course, higher ups. Work in a small company? Just think a bit outside the box. Consider meeting with vendors and customers/clients. You just may need to get the okay and authorization from the points of contact, and have met with them first.
Prioritize the list
- First meet with centers of influence. These may be leaders, but they also may not be visible leaders, as in executives. Sometimes they are appointed to lead special projects or to liaise on critical or failing initiatives. These are people whose opinions matter to others. They most likely achieved this station by doing exactly what is outlined here. You’ll greatly accelerate your own path to this station by learning first what they know. By meeting with these individuals, you can also better develop a list of questions to ask the next audience about why things are the way they are, even if a center of influence clued you in. Get right to the source. Put yourself on their radar and check in with them on what they are working on. Ask them what they need to move things forward faster, and then do some leg work to source possible resources or solutions.
- Meet with the higher-ups to better understand their vision. Yes, ideally, leadership would be doing a great job of relaying the vision to each and every employee. You and I both know there are too many companies in which there is a huge gap here. When you take control of your own career, you own your understanding of the company’s vision, too. Now, when you ask why things are done the way that they are done, you are doing so with the critical context of their desired outcomes.
- Intentionally diversify your list to meet with people at all levels and across departments, including those whose efforts may not get their fair share of accolades or visibility. Of course, your intelligence will have that much more integrity if you are also mindful of ethnic, age, and gender diversity as well.
If you are working full-time, allocate two hours each week for 1-on-1 networking. One meeting will be an hour, so break bread, even if, like me, you prefer eating alone.
The next hour of time you can break up into four 15-minute follow up conversations, similar to a scrum meeting, where you check in on challenges, problems or initiatives you learned about in a prior conversation to see what progress was made or how a resource you offered worked out.
You can also break it up into three 20-minute tele-coffees. These are discovery meetings. You’re getting to know someone and their perspective on a less superficial level. You may determine through these discoveries that more time is necessary and schedule a follow-up meal.
Make sure at least one of these meetings each week is with someone with whom you wouldn’t normally interface.
If you are unemployed, allocate five hours per week for 1-on-1 networking. Three of those hours will be 1-hour meetings. Then you can use one hour for 15-minute follow-ups and another for 20-minute tele-coffees. If you are just starting, then use the first week for just tele-coffees or setting up meetings/tele-coffees for the next week.
Keep in mind that it will take an additional 30-60 minutes each week to send invitations and that you’ll need to send about 10x more invitations than you can accept to make sure that your networking card is full. Over time, you will get better at sending invitations that get accepted, and your momentum will compound, so it won’t take quite as much time to fill your networking card.
What do I mean by networking card? Well, you can take it figuratively, like a dance card. At one time there was such a thing as a physical dance card, but now it’s really just meant to imply that there is so much time for dancing, so many songs played, and so many chances to have a different dance partner. You can also make it literal, and this is recommended. Allocate time on your calendar every week for this activity.
How exactly does this practice lead to growth? Put simply:
Perspective > Root Cause Identification > Solution Development
Relationships > Trust > Influence > Buy-in
Consider everything you wish other people (leaders, people in other departments, or customers) understood about the challenges of your job that would enable smarter, better solutions to emerge.
Now, think of the corporate ladder as a physical ladder. The higher up you go, the more you can see the bigger picture. The pieces may look smaller, but you can see better how they all interconnect or fail to interconnect.
The higher up you go in an organization, the more you see the bigger picture, understand the overall vision of what the organization is intended to achieve and make decisions that leverage and orchestrate the smaller pieces to work toward the vision.
By meeting with and learning from people at all levels, you can better assess what gaps need filling, what needs to be done first before an initiative can move forward successfully, and what are leaderships’ blind spots that stand to sabotage the realization of the organization’s ultimate vision. You don’t necessarily have to come up with an end-to-end solution. This is more about learning and sharing insight.
In regards to relationships, there’s a saying I quote often: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Even though in the traditional office place, emotions were considered taboo to express, they still existed. Some emotions, such as fear and anger, were actually leveraged. Good thing we are evolving, because history and science have proven that is not the way to garner the best performance from your workforce. Now we can make clear, fact-based cases for acknowledging in the workplace that people are human, have emotions, and that if more positive emotions are leveraged, more positive performances will present.
People like to be heard, as I shared in a previous video. Many companies recognize and attempt to fill communication gaps, but still fall short on listening. Rather, not so much listening, but listening AND taking action. If you choose to be a champion for the workforce and solutions that help them, you will earn respect, admiration and loyalty.
Words of warning: Be mindful of how you present your own challenges and how you share what you learn about others’ challenges. Someone may tell you something in confidence that they don’t want to be revealed. You will only build trust that leads to future buy-in if you only share what you have permission to share.
Next week I will share how you can use internal intelligence to create your own ideal role in the organization with minimized risk for you and those who confided in you.
If you want a partner who can contribute strategy, guidance, tools, and accountability in your sponsorship initiatives, let’s talk.
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.