'We as human beings are narcissistic and lazy', the provocative words of Professor Robana of the London Business School, recently interviewed for Radio 4's programme, 'Six Degrees of Connection'. The point she was making is the importance of 'weak ties'. Most of us get our next job through personal relationships, but not our close ones. Mark Granovetter's classic study, 'The Strength of Weak ties'revealed that it is actually far more likely to be through people we don't know well or don't see often. It makes sense: the people you know well, have the same contacts, resources and data than you do, so their value and potential is rapidly depleted - hence you need to move outside your immediate circle to find new opportunities.
Are you surrounded by the Mini-Me?
Robana's accusation of narcissism and laziness figures when you look closely at your own professional and personal networks. The likelihood is that you will be surrounded by hundreds of mini versions of yourself; people who are just like you and who are conveniently near enough to bump into regularly without any special effort. Does this matter? Well, yes, clearly better connections give you wider, deeper and more professional career opportunities, but they also contribute to your performance, fulfilment and wellbeing within your current organisation through enriched colleague relationships.
Building better relationships then, is as much about the ‘who’ as the ‘how’, and for good measure we’re also taking you through the ‘what’!
- Who? Humans are naturally social beings; we are wired that way to ensure our survival. Studies show that simply having good friends at work can enhance engagement and fulfilment. And then there’s the business side - your boss, your peers, your direct reports and your clients. It goes without saying that building strong relationships is critical to your professional success. But you also need to consider your wider stakeholders, inside and outside your current role. These are the people who might support your day to day business activities and professional development, now and in the future, as well as the people YOU might support. Check out our Audit Advantage article to explore further, and map your stakeholder ‘orbit’.
- What? It’s not enough to leave relationship building to chance, you should be thinking more strategically about what you need. This means figuring out your current and future objectives, professionally and personally, short and long term. You might find it useful to work through Your Career by Design to do some career planning. And it’s not just about what you want; reflect also on the expectations of your current stakeholders to fulfil your performance targets and your potential future stakeholders and what they might need from you. And think diversity; look to connect with people who aren’t like you, whether then are within or beyond your current circles, as the antidote to Robana’s ‘narcissistic’ allegation!
- How? Whatever you do in life, you need good, basic people skills. But in audit, with our diverse hierarchies of stakeholders, the emphasis on communication, our need to influence and effect change, these skills are the crucial foundation of our competencies. The ability to build and develop relationships is critical and here’s how:
- Keep developing your Emotional Intelligence. EI or EQ is your capacity to understand yourself and manage interpersonal relationships astutely and empathetically. Your EI is, if not more, vital to professional success and personal wellbeing as your IQ. The bullet points that follow are essential aspects of EI, key to good relationships but you can learn more about EI in Managing People and by working through our programme, The Resilient Auditor.
- Make mutual trust, openness and honesty, your signature modus operandi. Court these characteristics as your core values by finding your genuine and authentic professional self and then by being constantly and consistently true to them. This is not about pretension but about being comfortable in your own skin. For more help, check out our Audit Advantage article on Personal Brand.
- Meaningful communication over time. Online networking (on its own) is not enough to build strong relationships, you need to see and be seen, building rapport and mutual trust through face to face interactions. Yes, you need a broad reach, but you also need a narrow focus, and you can get this by keeping people in your ‘orbit’. Mike Muhney (author of ‘Who’s in your Orbit?: Beyond Facebook - Creating Relationships that Matter’) talks about the importance of keeping in touch and helping people not to forget you. And this applies, not just to your wider associates, but also to the people within your current organisation who you might not see every day (the antidote to Robana’s’ laziness’!) Make your interactions personal to the individual to foster trust, create a bond and make yourself memorable (beware the dreaded generic LinkedIn invite message I'd like to add you to my professional network…)
And the last word? Make the effort. Make it happen. Make time. Good relationships can, and do build and develop by chance – but happenstance will only take you so far. Think quantity as well as quality, as you take an active role in building meaningful, enduring and satisfying, personal and professional relationships.
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.