In today’s global, interconnected world, the ability to forge strong relationships is key. And when the chips are down, as in today’s faltering economy, having a strong network of personal advocates may mean the difference between winning the hand and folding.
“It struck me that the best predictor of who was going to land quickly was not just how expansive their network was — though that is certainly relevant — but how strong people’s champions were,” said Howard Seidel, a partner at Essex Partners, a provider of career transition services for senior executives, and author of The Power of Champions. “The folks that came in here who had champions just fared better: They got to the market quicker; they got strong roles.”
Seidel defined champions as those individuals in an employee’s professional and personal networks who can — and do — proactively promote that employee’s work product, ethic or character.
“Often, champions are people who have been either a direct supervisor of you or somebody in the supervisory chain,” Seidel said. “It’s somebody who feels, ‘I know the contribution that this person gave to the company.’”
But champions aren’t limited to workplace connections, he added.
“There’s another class of champions that comes about simply because somebody connects with someone that they just like and really want to help in this process,” he said. “We suggest to people that you want to network outside of your professional context. There are people in your community who, because of their knowledge of you on a personal basis, are willing to champion you professionally.”
However, building these kinds of relationships isn’t always high on workers’ priority lists, especially in today’s tough economic climate, as both front-line employees and executives alike may find themselves scrambling just to get things done.
“I see people who are very strong professionals, but they may not have worked very hard to build strong relationships inside [their] firms,” Seidel said. “It’s easy to do a great job but then to be overly humble about it or not get noticed in a way.”
In other cases, a supervisor may think an employee is so good at his or her job that it’s obvious to everyone or that he or she won’t need help in the future.
However, it’s in an organization’s best interest for employees to both develop a network of personal champions and become champions themselves. Not only will they do their best work, but they’ll likely bring in other top talent when the time is right.
To create a workplace environment that fosters this type of relationship building, Seidel said learning executives should work to build a strong company alumni network. They also can consider implementing formal mentorship programs, he said, but they shouldn’t count on these programs to produce lasting, fruitful partnerships.
“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You connect with who you connect with,” Seidel said.
Above all, learning professionals should stress that building relationships, both personal and professional, is a basic component of good leadership.