You are a top performer and have been for your whole career. Your manager knows it and is a great mentor and coach. But what if your manager leaves the company? How well are you known throughout the rest of the organization?
You may be doing very well with your own work group, perhaps even across your business unit. But what about beyond your day-to-day routines and meetings. How many relationships do you have across the enterprise in other units? In other geographies? In different functions?
If the scouting report on you is “she is a top performer, she always gets things done,” that’s good! But it’s not good enough. What is it about you that is valuable to others?
Rob Cross, the Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College, has spent years studying networks inside of companies. He points out that top performers remain top performers through the network they create inside the company.
It’s not what you know; it’s who knows what you know.
The strength of your social capital is a key asset to your leadership. Sociologist Robert Putnam refers to two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding capital happens with more homogenous groups, such as people from the same company or the same work group. You may be very “bonded” with your team. But in companies with thousands of people, you may not know the person who sits four desks away from you! Bridging capital refers to the ability to know dissimilar people, which could be someone in a different business unit or different industry. It can also mean connecting across differences, such as culture, race, or age. Perhaps the person four desks away from you is two generations younger, and you’ve never taken the time to get to know them.
Start creating more bridging capital so that your reputation as a top performer not only expands, but more people are aware of your knowledge, ideas, and leadership assets. Here are a few easy and intentional actions to take.
Get to know people across geographies that you may only speak to via phone. Before your next conference call, check the list attending the call. Are there people you have never met face-to-face or had a one-to-one call with? Print out their LinkedIn page so you can see their face when they are talking on the phone. Quickly read it to see what their background is. Make a point to have a connection at the beginning of the call.
Studies have shown that teams that get to know each other before focusing on problem solving create better solutions and arrive at them faster than teams that do not focus on the people before the problem.
Schedule a coffee with someone outside of your work group when you travel to another office. Most people schedule their travel around a specific meeting and agenda, arriving just in time for the meeting and leaving right after. Make a little extra time to be intentional about meeting with someone you would like to know.
Add 30 new connections a year over lunch. Instead of grabbing your lunch and eating at your desk, make a point to ask 3 people per month for a lunch date. Be sure to ask others you can create a bridge with. Perhaps inviting the person four desks away, who is two generations younger, can create a great exchange of ideas. You can also do this virtually by asking someone to bring their own lunch and meet you via phone.
Volunteer to participate in, or lead, a cross-functional initiative with a new group of people. Creating an opportunity for others to see you in action is a great way to expand your reputation and social capital.
When you are creating new relationships or starting as a new member of a cross-company initiative, be sure to show up with an open mind, positive body language, and enthusiasm, ready to embrace new perspectives and learn what others have to offer. With a little effort and intentionality, more people will know who you are and what value you bring. That’s a scouting report you want to have.