7 ways to connect powerfully and build your influence at work
As published in The Straits Times, Singapore
In today’s competitive corporate environment, you need to take your career in your own hands if you want to fast-track your career to the peak of success. It is a myth that you can delegate the responsibility of planning your career to the HR department. Here are 7 strategies to help you connect powerfully and build a successful career in your company.
1. Schedule lunch
Make it a point to schedule lunch at least once a week with people who can help you in your company. These will consist of potential mentors and people from other departments. Build an ally within the company each month. Diversify your network. This allows you to tap into opportunities available within the company, and build up resources to get things done more effectively.
I placed lunch on the top of the list, because it is one of the most valuable ways to build relationships in the company. Everyone needs to have lunch, and most people (including senior executives) are grateful for lunch companions, and will usually accept your invitation.
2. Take the initiative
Volunteer in committees and projects which allow you to showcase your skills and interest. Most companies have recreational clubs, charity and other project committees which are a great platform for you to connect with colleagues from various departments. Performing in your company’s jam band, being the master of ceremony at functions, or being a champion of the corporate social responsibility project boosts your visibility in the company and strengthens your personal brand as a person with initiative.
Take one step further and organize “meet the people” session with the highest ranking person you can get to tour your department. In the background, support the top guy by furnishing him with some personal achievement or contribution each person in your team has made, so that he can specifically thank them. This helps him to connect with each person positively and powerfully, and builds the momentum for natural feedback from the ground to flow to him. Your level of influence in the company is proportional to the number of connections, and hence goodwill you help create.
3. Know your boss and his boss well
Learn about your boss’s priorities, strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. In this way, you can be an effective ally to him in helping him look good and achieving results. Don’t stop there. Take the effort to know your boss’s boss as well. This helps you to best position yourself, and is the key to your promotability.
4. Align yourself with the “inner circle”
Understand the dynamics of your company’s “inner circle”, made up of people who hold the reigns of true power in the company. Some call it the “boy’s club”, and membership is by invitation only. Typically, this is built up around the CEO and his key executives. What are typical profiles of the members of the “inner circle”? You can reference the career paths of individuals who make it into the “inner circle”. For example, in some companies, the CEO traditionally has a finance or engineering background, whereas in other companies, it’s the people in sales and marketing who call the shots. This will give you an idea of the various corporate roles best for you to take on to ascend to the reigns of power in your company.
We are not asking you to be a schmoozer, whereby your priority is on being “seen” with people of power. Focus on building real connections. Identify a key member of the “inner circle” which you have most access to, or whom you best want to model your career after. Schedule lunch. A simple way to connect is by expressing interest in what they do.
5. Seek positions in profit centres
To ascend the corporate ladder, you should be working in a profit-centre, as opposed to a cost-centre. Profit-centres bring in the money or have direct relationship with profit and loss of your company. These positions include the sales person, the marketing director, the general manager, the product manager. Cost-centres are support departments which keep the operations of the company going. Typical cost centre departments are administration, human resources, marketing communications and finance.
If you are currently in a cost-centre, seek out opportunities to move to a profit-centre. Your experience as a financial analyst can lend a valuable perspective to a product manager position. Engineer your move for a transfer by building relationships with key people in profit-centres.
6. Attract a mentor
Is there someone in the organization you respect and look up to? Successful mentoring relationships are 2-way relationships whereby both mentor and mentee gain value and satisfaction. Understand that mentors gain satisfaction from the appreciation and acknowledgement from a motivated mentee. They can also benefit from an exchange of ideas and intellectual stimulation you provide from your perspective. For example, many Generation Y’s have greater expertise than their more experienced colleagues in the areas of the internet and social media applications. As a mentee, you can get valuable career guidance and coaching.
Don’t ask someone to be your mentor from get-go. Develop some personal chemistry with him first. Invite your mentor-to-be for lunch, or approach him for a chat at a company function, or volunteer to work on one of his company-wide projects.
7. Share your expertise
If there is an opportunity to share your expertise, make full use of it. There are many conferences which offer great platforms for you to represent your company as a speaker. Internally, you can also conduct in-company training, or contribute to management conferences or even orientation training programs. When you speak, train or present well, you are establishing your reputation as a company-wide expert for your job function.
You will be seen as playing an integral role in your company, not only by your colleagues but also others in your industry.
Start by putting any one of the 7 winning strategies in motion today. You will be on your way to fast-tracking your career. See you at the top.