As someone new to the workforce, to a company or even as an employee in middle management, it can sometimes be difficult to build rapport with senior managers.
How do you engage with someone so “different” than you? What can you connect on? Where do you start?
Many of the benefits of successfully developing and growing relationships – it could turn into a mentor or sponsor relationship, it could lead to a spot on coveted projects or more responsibilities, and it will inevitably lead to a more robust and experienced and connected network.
Ok, that’s all great, but where do I start?
I’m glad you asked. I recently witnessed the perfect example of a more junior person making serious inroads with senior management, and I realized that by using his actions and strategy as a blueprint, many people could also develop those kinds of relationships.
Here’s how he was able to build rapport with senior managers:
He was willing to do anything. I mean, this included anything from getting coffee to project managing a video shoot to helping with marketing strategy. He had a can-do attitude and made it known he was there to learn.
But he was clear he wanted a seat at the strategy table. He was firm with his desires, and before he came on board full time (he was previously an intern) he identified a role within the company that he wanted to carve out for himself (and he made sure it was a need the company had- very important), and he asked management for it. He solicited feedback from them as to how the role would look and work, so that it was a true give and take, and he ultimately received buy in from senior management.
He took on extra projects. I saw him take on projects outside of the scope of the role he carved out because, I figure, at his age and experience in the workplace, all experience was good experience. If you’ve got more experience and thus a more defined role, I realize that might look different for you, but you can still do this. Perhaps your company has a go-green initiative and they’re looking for captains of various teams. Or perhaps they’re looking for an employee to coordinate the new company Lunch and Learns. You can volunteer for those, as it’s a defined role with oftentimes a defined time commitment per month.
He got to know people. I saw him connect with various people in the office, whether he directly worked with them or not. This is an important lesson in building rapport across the company and being seen as a leader or connector, no matter your ‘rank’ in the organization. Make it a point to connect with various teams, find out what their pain points are and see if you can help in any way. Maybe you can objectively bring those pain points to senior management with a potential solution, thus strengthening your bond with those key influencers. If you’re out in the weeds getting to know other colleagues and helping connect the dots for busy senior executives, then you’re building up rapport and trust with them along the way.
But connected on a meaningful level. When you’re connecting, don’t try and force it. Asking about something you know little or nothing about can oftentimes fall flat. If you have that feeling that your mind is racing for something to say, then that’s a pretty good indication that there may be nothing to say at that moment, and forcing something out may have the opposite of your intended effect. Instead, fall back on topics you can both relate to-maybe you both like travel or train for marathons, for example. It doesn’t always have to be work related. Or maybe the senior executive just spoke at a company wide meeting and you liked something he or she had to say.
Not only did I recently witness these tactics with a more junior employee, but I also employed these when I was first getting started, so when done right, they work. What other ideas do you have for development a relationship with senior management? Leave your comments in the notes below.