“I have been solely task-oriented,” my client admitted. “I thought the project proposal I presented would be approved based on all the data and information I provided. On merit alone. I hadn’t really thought about the people who would be needed for the approval.”
Ah, “the people”. Yes, yes. In business and in life, it always comes down to the people, doesn’t it, folks? But, hey, dear readers, if we all consistently applied the strategies and skills which help us better connect to those invaluable people, I’d be out of a job. So here comes another column on how to dial up your people-centricity.
1 Think about your Communication as a Campaign
Some of us might still think about the word communication as one which starts with a small “c”. This is the take-it-for-granted approach, which views communication as just another part of our lives. One that any of us who open our mouths succeed in doing when we make sound come out. But those of you who are regular readers know that the kind of communication I write about is most definitely a word which begins with a capital letter “C”. This is the kind of mindful approach which understands that strategy and preparation should be applied long before you unhinge your gob.
Think about “Communication” more like the word “Campaign”. For example, reflect upon all the people whose support you might need to achieve a goal. In my client’s case, it was to get her project approved. These people are your target constituents and you need to devise a campaign strategy to get them on board. In real campaign-land, we would hold focus groups or conduct polls to learn more about our voter groups. In business, it calls for you to brush up your internal networking skills.
2 Ask for advice early on
I’ve written before about the importance of building your network outside your company. But now, let’s focus on why you should systematically build, nurture and strengthen your network within your organisation too.
As you already know, my client had not been holding regular conversations to establish rapport with her supervisor. She did not know what made him tick. It was a surprise to her, but it should not be to you, that she discovered in real-time during her presentation that her boss’s goals were miles away from her own. Her proposal did not stand alone on its merit. The personality and interests of the decision-maker needed to be taken into consideration. But they weren’t. And the boss did not give the green light.
There’s no guarantee her proposal would have been approved if she had made the effort to know her boss beforehand but consider this: If she had, she could’ve sought “conceptual advice” or “general guidance on direction”. Become comfortable enough with key decision makers, so you can ask for input early on. You can get pre-buy-in. They can become evangelists or champions of your proposal or you can re-align, tweak or add elements that they suggest to help you get it over the line.
3 Build relationships in increments
Of course, it’s not only because you may need their approval someday that you should start now to get to know your leaders. A variety of positive outcomes can result like increasing your own visibility, discovering cross-functional and promotional opportunities, even obtaining positive mentoring.
Building relationships take time. Don’t expect a one-and-done meeting. Try shorter and more frequent meetings like bi-monthly or monthly to start with. Keep consistent. As for how to get started, don’t overthink this one. You don’t need a special hook to initiate a conversation, just ask. Identify the direct reports or senior leaders in your department or division and request a 15-minute conversation because you would like to “know a bit more about your professional journey and experience”.
Cultivate your curiosity to become more interested in them as real people. Ask to learn from them about their own career experiences in one meeting. Next, ask about their goals for their teams, department, region or whatever they have impact on. At another meeting, ask them to refer you to other leaders. Seek to build your relationship in an incremental, meaningful way.
4 Track times and take notes
After each meeting, write down some notes. Using Excel or a tracker document of your choice, jot down any interesting stories or information that stood out to you during the conversation. Names of their favourite teams, pets, even children are all useful. It’s not because you’re aiming to manipulate this person into agreeing to your every whim, it’s because you’re not going to depend on your faulty memory when you’re meeting several people over several months or even years. Plus, you never know what seemingly off-hand remark will one-day become a mighty relationship building cornerstone.
Purposely and purpose-fully progressing ourselves, our careers and our lives requires an evolution of thought. We must first believe we can progress. Embrace change and disrupt your current thinking and approach.
I was pleased about how well my client took this advice. She pledged to begin reaching out to her supervisor immediately. I will keep you all posted, because I’m certain the next time she presents a proposal, it will already have great support from her boss. You can do the same.