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How to Build Strategic Relationships That Lead to Career Advancement

Watch as Karen Kirchner, founding partner of Her New Standard, shares her top tips for building strategic relationships to advance your career.

Are you frustrated by your lack of career advancement? Do you want help fast-tracking that next promotion? If so, then keep reading to learn our top tips for building strategic relationships that lead to promotions and new opportunities.

This is one of the topics that we cover in our women’s leadership bootcamps and our participants have received great opportunities as a result of following these tips so we can’t wait to share them with you!

Before we dive in – why is it so important to be strategic about building relationships in the workplace? To put it simply, no matter how great your work is, unless people know about it, there’s not going to be anybody in those conversations where new opportunities and promotions are discussed to advocate on your behalf.

To illustrate this point, when HNS Founding Partner Karen Kirchner was about 5 years into her human resources career, she was very focused on keeping her head down, staying on top of things and getting the work done. While being punctual and producing results are undeniably positive qualities in an employee, she wasn’t very good about letting people know who she was or what she was accomplishing. For example, once a colleague came to her office and invited her to go to lunch with several team members but she turned down the invitation, saying that she couldn’t possibly go with all of the work she had to do. Well, fast forward about a year and that colleague got promoted and she didn’t. Moral of the story? Relationships matter.

Trying to rub elbows with senior management may feel intimidating or overwhelming, but don’t worry – these five tips will leave you feeling confident and well on your way to building strategic relationships that can fast-track your career.

1. Identify key decision-makers in your organization.

Before you can begin building strategic relationships, you must identify the people in your organization that will be able to advocate for you when promotions and opportunities are discussed. Make a list of 5-10 executives in your organization who you think could strategically benefit your career.

2. Create a strategy to get in front of the executives you identified.

Now it’s time to put together a strategy to get in front of those key executives. Attracting, developing and retaining talent is really important for every organization and for many senior leaders, meeting with key talent is a part of their jobs that provides helpful insight into what’s going on at lower levels of the organization. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you’ve identified directly to try and set up a meeting with them. You may be surprised by the results! This could also be as easy as trying to get on their calendar by having a friend connect you. If that doesn’t work, ask your boss, your boss’s boss or someone else in the organization to speak on your behalf about why they should meet with you.

You can also look for opportunities to introduce yourself at company events or volunteer for key initiatives that this executive is involved in.

3. Prepare these 3 critical points for your meeting and practice, practice, practice!

Once you have that meeting on the calendar, it’s really important to prepare for the meeting so you can make a lasting impression. There are three critical points that you should cover during your meeting:

  1. Share an accomplishment that showcases a strength of yours. This might sound something like “During the recent Netsuite integration, I brought together many different departments to deliver this workstream on time and I used my collaboration and problem-solving skills to accomplish that.”
  2. Share a career goal. This might sound like, “I’ve been in client services for 3 years now and I love the work that we do there. I feel that my next move is to be in a leadership role within client services where my collaboration and problem-solving skills will be even more critical.”
  3. Ask for advice. This might sound like, “What advice would you have based on your own career journey?” When we ask people for advice, they become invested in our success. It’s also important to make the conversation a two-way dialogue and asking a question is an easy way to accomplish that.

Once you’ve figured out the 3 key points you want to cover – practice, practice, practice! It helps to practice in front of a mirror where you can see if your nonverbal communication is in line with what you’re saying. Rehearse your talking points out loud as many times as you have to until you own it.

Then, when it’s time for your conversation, make sure that you remember all of your strengths and all that you add to the organization so you can walk into that meeting fully owning the value that you bring.

4. Follow up after your meeting.

This isn’t a one-and-done kind of interaction. After your meeting, send an email highlighting what the executive shared that was really valuable and what you’ve done post-meeting to follow up on their advice. You also might want to share an article or a podcast that you think they would like or that relates to your conversation.

Then, continually look for opportunities on at least a monthly basis to reach out and follow up. The more interactions that you have with this executive, the more that you’ll begin to build trust and the more likely it is that they will remember you and have great things to say during those critical meetings.

5) Don’t stop with just one executive!

We challenge our participants to meet with 5-10 executives in their organizations so that in those key meetings, they have a much better chance that someone is advocating on their behalf.

Don’t let that inner critic tell you that this won’t work or that it’s not worth it! With a little strategy and effort, you can build powerful relationships that keep you top of mind when new opportunities arise and perfectly poised for advancement.

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