It sounds simple, but it’s true: relationships matter. Don’t make the common mistake of assuming that your hard work is all it will take to get ahead at work. Some of the most successful women we know have cited mentors, sponsors and networking as critical to their success. But how do you actually build rapport with someone several pay grades higher than yours?
This may seem especially daunting if you’re trying to build a relationship with someone much more experienced and powerful at your company. While it may not be easy, there are certain things you can do to maximize the chance you develop a meaningful rapport with someone in senior management at work.
If your day-to-day work doesn’t create opportunities for you to meet your management team, seek out extracurricular events. For example, many companies have employee resource groups where you can meet senior people at your company. Companies quite frequently host open-houses or other events where you can ask questions. Don’t discount something as simple as the summer picnic or company holiday party! You may be surprised to learn that sometimes the most seemingly intimidating senior executives are very interested to hear from junior members of the company or team.
It can seem intimidating, but when you do meet someone you’d like to get on your side, be sure to tell them something beyond just your name and what you do. Tell the you’re very interested in the direction of a certain project you’re working on because it relates to changes happening in the industry. Or tell them how much an initiative at the company really matters to you and how you’d love to do more. It can even be an idea you have for the company in terms of how to improve customer service or a product or service offering. These kinds of things will impress upon senior managers that you really care about the company and the direction it’s taking and that you are able to think outside the box.
It’s not practical to think you can turn someone into a mentor or ally the first time you speak. However, consider this a long term relationship-building exercise. If you have a first conversation, tell them you’d like to reach out to them again with an update related to something you discussed. Be sure to say thank you whenever appropriate, and it’s fine to send an email after a few weeks with an update if it doesn’t require getting together again or getting a coffee seems like a reach. On the other hand, don’t be shy!
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the only person that matters is the CEO. There are many people in positions of influence at a company and sometimes it’s better to build a more authentic relationship with someone less senior than having a goal of becoming close with someone just because they are in a certain role. Not only may the person with the less fancy title have more time and take more interest in you, they may actually be more practically able to guide you in your career or advocate for you. Many times, the most senior members of an executive team are very distracted by their day-to-day responsibilities and mainly deal with their trusted inner circle of employees. The inner circle is a very important group of people to get to know — or even the inner circle’s inner circle, depending on where you are in your career.
Building a relationship isn’t a one-off, transactional process so be sure to keep in touch. Everyone gets busy but nobody minds someone who keeps them up to date on their progress or life even if it’s a former colleague. With so many people changing jobs, it’s important and completely possible to keep in touch with former co-workers. An occasional email or phone call will do, and these days, social media makes it easy to stay in touch in a less high-touch way. Just be conscious not to use social media as a crutch for keeping in touch in a real way. Remember that relationships take sometimes years of investment and cultivating — and your career can also span decades so don’t just rely on being a LinkedIn connection with someone you think really matters or that you have built rapport with!