Monday, May 04, 2009

Building Workplace Alliances

They say that "no man is an island", and that statement is just as valid in the corporate world as it is in the rest of the world. In fact, no matter how talented you are as an employee, a professional or an executive, you cannot be successful unless you learn to build the relationships, alliances and the coalitions that will help you to achieve the results you need. 

Understanding the Machinery - to build and manage effective coalitions, you first need to understand how your organization works. Who makes the decisions? Who delivers the data? Who influences the decision makers? How does information flow? If you have been with the organization for a while, chances are that you have a good sense this structure. If you are the new guy on the block, make learning the machinery of your organization your number one priority.

First, Do No Harm - the first step in getting someone to join your cause is to ensure that this person does not consider you a pain. If you think that someone's support, approval or even mere consent is critical to what you are trying to achieve, make sure that you are not standing in their way, and that you are not causing them a headache. As a simple example, if you think you need support from some of the guys at accounting for a project you are working on, don't be the guy who they think of as a pain in the neck for failing to submit his expense reports on time. It's as basic as that. Similarly, if you are known as the guy who vocally criticises any proposal that is brought up by someone else, folks will be practically chomping at the bit to kill your own initiatives.

Reciprocity is the Key to Success - expanding on the previous point, people will be much more inclined to help you if you have already shown a willingness to help them. For example, I have recently turned down an offer of additional resources from my CEO to help support one of my projects, in favor of those resources being directed to a key project run by our VP of Operations. Last week, when I pitched a new project to my CFO in a staff meeting, the VP of Operations spoke up in support of this plan, without my having to request this.

Building Support in Advance - here is the cardinal rule of alliance building: 

Do not surprise your allies and supporters. 

If you want someone's assistance in a key task or you need their support for a major initiative, prepare them in advance. Don't spring this request on them in a crowded room... you might not like the answer you receive and the dynamic that develops might turn against you. This is why God invented the pre-meeting... arrange pre-meetings with key potential supporters and rivals in a 1:1 setting prior to pitching your initiative to the full group. Get their opinions, hear their objections, listen to their criticism. Worst case, you will know what to expect. Best case you will have assured yourself of support even before your idea has been formally introduced. The main meeting should be nothing more than a rubber stamp. The real work should be done in advance and behind the scenes.

Start Early - people find it much harder to object to programs which they have had a hand in developing. For this reason, involve as many people as you can in the early decision making process (preferably in a 1:1 setting, again). Make a conscious effort to accept as many of their suggestions as you can, while still ensuring that your underlying goal remains intact.

Acknowledge Success and Give Credit - nothing creates more good will than giving credit where credit is due, and sharing praise where praise is deserved. Last week, our engineering team delivered an impressive and successful demo - a major milestone for our company. My CEO was not present at this demo, so during our executive staff meeting later that week I made it a point to congratulate the VP of Engineering on his team's impressive success, in front of our CEO. I was not being hypocritical and I was not kissing up. I was speaking my honest opinion, and I was doing it in a setting that placed the credit exactly where it was due, and gave a fellow executive an important win in front of his boss. Presto, good will created.

If you are able to design and build the right coalitions for each of your initiatives and major projects, you will find that your wins are much easier to come by and that your victories happen more frequently. That can only be a good thing for your career.

Here are a few more career related posts from around the PF community:

Frugal Zeitgeist - my good blogger friend - has continued and extended the discussion I started regarding a sense of entitlement in the work place. Did I already mention that Frugal Zeitgeist is a blog I read daily?

Dana of Investoralist also picked up on the same topic, and shares some opinions about Gen Y in the work place and in life.

Finance your life was working this weekend in hopes of a promotion later this year.

Money Smart Life offers some good advice on preparing for a pink slip.

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frugal zeitgeist said...

Daily? You flatter me, my friend!

Shadox said...

Nothing wrong with lying, is there?


Actually, I read your blog ALMOST every day...

frugal zeitgeist said...

Ha, that's more like it. ;-)