CAREER | October 18, 2020

by Stephanie Ritz

Accelerate Your Career Through

Building Relationships

Building relationships with decision-makers inside your company will streamline your path to growth. I’ve got the inside scoop on why relationship building is essential, how to identify key decision-makers and how to start those strategic relationships.

Building Relationships, Let’s Dive In

Within my career and in mentoring many team members over the years, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it was relationships that have accelerated my career and the careers of those I have mentored. Don’t get me wrong, skillset, hard work, and dedication went hand-in-hand with my corporate success, but I would not have been promoted as quickly if it were not for the relationships I forged with key executives. As a leader, I have been an advocate for those I have mentored, and I have promoted their growth in the same way.

Why You Should Take “The Plunge” into Building Relationships

Here is an example that captures the point and is truly art imitating life. In one of my favorite movies, What Happens In Vegas, an ambitious stock trader named Joy McNally is vying for a promotion against a rival employee. Throughout the movie, Joy is portrayed as being stiff and serious in her personal and work life. Towards the end of the movie, Joy lets loose with her fun-loving, laid back husband, and the two of them quickly become the fun, “It Couple” of the weekend. At one point in the evening, Joy’s boss approaches her and says, “Gee McNally, if I’d have known you were this fun, I would have promoted you a long time ago.” Joy never forged a personal connection with her boss before that weekend, which stunted her career growth.

If you still aren’t convinced, here is a personal example. Early in my career, I accepted an entry-level position in banking. I had no relevant experience, and I had no connections within the bank. I had a great relationship with my boss from the start. She taught me so much, and I was quickly thriving. Always being ambitious to rise, I asked her what I would need to do to become a Banking Officer, which seemed like a natural next step. She responded that it would take years of experience before I could gain that title. Needless to say, it did not. I surpassed that title and was promoted to a Vice President position within three years of starting that job. I built a relationship with a key decision-maker, the COO, and with her support, my career skyrocketed. I worked hard for it, but I could have continued to work hard for years without ever having received that promotion.

I have many more examples of career success through relationship building, but hopefully, now you are convinced of WHY it’s essential. So, let’s talk about WHO you should be connecting with.

Who to Take “The Plunge” With Into Building a Relationship 

1. Your Direct Supervisor

Your first connection should always be with your direct supervisor. I realize that personality differences may make this challenging; however, this relationship is important for several reasons:

  • Your supervisor will likely be the person who makes decisions about your pay increases and promotion opportunities. They get to see your work first hand and can advocate for you when opportunities arise.
  • If your supervisor is also aiming for their next level promotion, they will need a successor. They will likely be asked to backfill their role before they can move up…make sure that person is you!
  • Having a bad relationship with your supervisor can suppress your chances for advancement. If you have not built any other relationships within your organization and have no one to vouch for your work, you may be passed over for opportunities. There are solutions around this; however, having a good relationship with your boss may increase your chances for advancement.
  • When you are going through a tough time and need a little extra support or screw up, which is bound to happen to everyone, your supervisor’s grace and understanding are more likely to be given by your supervisor when you have a good relationship. There will come a time in your career when this will be an important factor.

2. A Mentor Inside Your Organization

Depending on the size of your company, your second connection should be with a mentor. This is especially important in large organizations where competition may be more prevalent. The right mentor will give you valuable insight and guidance in your career and be an advocate for your advancement. If you work for a small company, there may not be a large pool to choose from, so you may need to seek mentorship outside of your organization and fast-forward to my #3 suggestion.

In a formal mentor relationship, your mentor will have a vested interest in seeing you succeed. Like in the show America’s Got Talent when the judge hits that “golden buzzer,” they take ownership of the Act. They feel so strongly that the Act can win that the judges refer to the Act as “my golden buzzer for the duration of the show.” They have affiliated themselves with the Act in a public way. Their reputation as a judge with an eye for talent is now on the line with the act’s success. If their Act wins, they can claim that victory alongside them. Formal mentorship takes on the same level of ownership and reward.

3. A Company Leader

My personal, corporate growth was accelerated twice due to relationships with company leaders and not my direct supervisor, which is why this is an important relationship. Your direct supervisor may not advocate for you for a variety of reasons. If you hope to grow and succeed, having someone in a position of power who recognizes your drive and skillset is paramount to fast-tracking your career.

As I previously mentioned, my banking career skyrocketed through my relationship with the COO. She recognized the need to promote talent, not “time put in.” In fairness, I will say that I was also a fierce *self-advocate, which is also important to success. The relationship I built opened the door to conversation on how I wanted to grow within the bank. The relationship was key!

*To learn more about self-advocacy, check out this article Rise In Your Career Faster by Learning to Self-Advocate.

How to Take “The Plunge” in Building Relationships

Start a conversation!

I know this can sound intimidating for all the introverts out there, but I’ve got some easy openers for you!

Conversation Starters:

  1. At the end of the week, ask, “Any plans for the weekend?”
  2. On a Monday, “How was your weekend?” Or follow up on what she shared on Friday with a direct question on her aforementioned plans for the weekend.
    • Example: How did the birthday party go? Did you enjoy the movie? How did your son do in the game?
  3. Look for clues around the office of something you have in common to talk about. Here are some examples:
    • Pictures of kids
    • Sports paraphernalia
    • A vacation picture as their screen saver
    • A ringtone of a song you enjoy
    • A Wonder Woman Bunko sitting on their desk
    • College Degree from a school you may have an affiliation with

Finding common ground is an easy way to build a connection!

Your boss may be more accessible to start a conversation with rather than a potential mentor or executive. I’ve got some tips on how to reach them as a “cold call” and how to prepare for the conversation.

Connecting With a Potential Mentor:

Send an email to introduce yourself and ask to connect with them. Include the following:

  • Let them know who you are and what your position is in the company.
  • Throw in a compliment! Let them know that you know who they are and why you want to connect with them.
  • Ask them to coffee or lunch and give them an action item to follow up with you.

Here’s a sample email:

Hi Robin,

My name is Jamie, and I’m an account analyst in Kelly’s department. I recently learned that you’ve been with the company for 6 years and that you started as an analyst as well. That’s an amazing amount of growth in such a short time! I can’t wait to grow and support the company in such an impactful way, which is why I’m reaching out. I would love to take you out for coffee or lunch to learn more about your journey through the company and perhaps receive some guidance on setting myself up for success.

If you are available to meet with me, I would be thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you. I would be happy to set up a location and time if you can share with me what works best for your schedule.

It would be amazing to connect with you, and I look forward to hearing back from you.

It may be cliche, but compliments really will get you everywhere…when delivered genuinely.

Connecting with a Senior Leader

For some of you, this may be the most difficult connection to start. I’ve got some effortless ways to ease into these introductions. I know it can be intimidating but keep your WHY in mind! These connections can help you quickly rise if nurtured in the right way!

Go In Head-First!

The first thing in the morning, before the day becomes consumed with emails and projects, go right up to your target leader, and introduce yourself. Your conversation can be posed something like this:

Ms. Jensen, hi, my name is Nicky. I work in the accounting department with Jerry Smith. I have been with ABC company for 2 years, and it’s been terrific. I know that you have been with ABC for 5 years, and I would love the opportunity to sit with you at lunch or grab a coffee to learn about your impressive progression through your career.

If they agree to coffee or lunch, even if it’s just in a casual way, like, “Sure, I’d be happy to do that sometime.” Thank them and let them know you’ll send them a follow-up email to schedule a time that works best for them. Then do it right away!  If you get an immediate “Yes!”, have your availability ready to schedule it on the spot. Be bold, and don’t be afraid to get the commitment!

Or take a slow lap around the pool.

Looking for something more casual…how about a bump in?

The water cooler, Keurig, or even at an office party is the perfect casual bump-in spot. A place where you happen to bump into them in a non-aggressive yet pre-planned way.

Just start with a hello and a handshake to introduce yourself. That’s all you need to do. The next time you see them, you can say hello by name as if you’re old friends because you’ve already met, or a “hello” with a reminder of how you met. For example: “Hi Mrs. Jensen, I’m Sara, we met at the holiday party a couple of months ago.” Use the same conversation starters above and stay engaged in conversation as often as possible. When you are comfortable enough to take the next step, use the same email outline provided above for connecting with a mentor, and ask your target leader to coffee or lunch.

YOU GOT THIS! You talk to people every day, and remember, these are just people. They have the same hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties as everyone else. Just be yourself, focus on your WHY, and make those connections! Remember that connections need to be nurtured, so don’t jump out of the pool after one coffee chat. Follow up to keep the connection strong.

One last note on building relationships is that timing matters! In my one-on-one coaching sessions, I teach Steph’s STAR Method to Rise, in which the “R” stands for Relationships. In Relationships section, we dive deeper into relationship building, working with challenging colleagues and clients, and other aspects of supporting and leveraging relationships. The “T” in STAR stands for Timing. This may seem like more of a footnote topic, but I assure you, timing is everything! If you try to make a connection when the timing isn’t quite right, you may lose that opportunity, and it may leave you feeling defeated. For more support on timing, check out this great read: Timing: A Career Game Changer.

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