If you are vying for a promotion, a raise, or even just a key opportunity, the majority of the discussions that determine your fate will take place when you are not in the room. Meaning: you need to make sure your work (and your personal brand) can speak for itself in your absence.
While you can probably guess (correctly) that building a solid relationship with your manager is the best way to begin advocating for yourself, increasing your visibility at work extends far beyond the reach of your immediate supervisor. When top-down decisions are made, you can assume your manager’s peers (and their higher ups) are bringing their best candidates to the table as well.
Networking With Higher Ups
Important to note: you don’t need everyone in the room to vouch for you. In fact, not everyone may have your best interests in mind or be willing to share their time (unfortunate, but true).
However, branching out and aligning with the majority of the stakeholders at your org is a success habit you can’t afford to skip. If you’re wondering how to get promoted or “level up” in your role, thinking through and acting on these four strategies for networking with higher ups will greatly increase your odds.
Ask: what do your stakeholders want?
Every manager wants to push their best team members up the ladder – it makes them look good to show progress under their charge – which means everyone will be vying for someone on their team when there’s a vacancy to fill.
Though you might not be under someone’s immediate leadership, you can work to build enough favor with her that your name feels just as solid of an endorsement as her direct team members.
To do so, you’ll first want to do a bit of research to understand your stakeholders’ values: what do they want – both personally and for the business?
As leaders in the org, the latter could be as simple as hitting department goals, removing obstacles for the team, and/or team health. Personally, you can assume they care about advancing their own careers, balancing priorities, or perhaps something more niche like org-wide sustainability and broader office diversity, which you’ll be able to identify as you foster a closer relationship with them or begin networking with people on their immediate team.
By mapping out what your stakeholders care about, you can more easily target opportunities to offer your strengths as a resource.
Offer: how can you help your higher ups?
Once you create a map of your key stakeholders, where you stand with them, and what their goals are, begin brainstorming ways you could help.
This step is the most important, and yet it’s the one that often feels most difficult. By nature of being stakeholders, it’s easy to assume that their rank in the org implies you wouldn’t have anything new to offer them… but that’s not the truth.
At every stage of your career, you have the power to offer something unique—to everyone. You might not have more experience, but you have your personal strengths, passions, and insights that you can use to problem solve for the people around you. Consistently positioning yourself as a resource is a vital success habit for self-advocacy and personal branding, and it shouldn’t stop short when networking with higher ups.
Let’s walk through it…
One of Deena’s key stakeholders is the Head of Sales, meaning she more than likely values exceeding quarterly goals. By networking with team members under her vertical, Deena discovers that numbers have dropped since the office went remote, which the Head of Sales suspects is due to the decrease of in-person client engagement.
While Deena doesn’t work directly with sales, her career goal is to pivot into a more client-facing role, and her personal brand involves being a skilled teacher with a passion for content creation.
She does some research and finds that on average video-first engagements return more qualified leads than cold calls. After creating a few sample videos based on feedback from her sales team network, Deena offers the Head of Sales her time and expertise to train reps on creating video introductions for new clients.
Whether or not the Head of Sales decides to take Deena up on her offer, she’s now at least familiar with Deena’s work and her personal brand and can respect her willingness to reach out.
Be mindful of your career goals when determining your offer, and always connect your actions to your personal brand. Aligning with stakeholders can be a highly effective career advancement strategy, but only if you do so with an understanding of how your initiative reflects on your unique potential.
Engage: what’s your game plan?
Plans make moves, so if you have a goal, an offer, and target stakeholders in mind, consider thoughtfully what opportunities you might have to make yourself known to them.
- Opt-in to cross functional meetings and share your ideas.
- Speak up with best practices at the company all-hands.
- Book executive office hours (if your org offers them).
- Package up your pitch in an email.
Depending on the nature of your offer, some situations might feel more appropriate than others. For instance, Deena wouldn’t necessarily pitch a whole new sales training initiative on a public Slack channel. However, sharing the data she compiled in an email could be an effective segue to grabbing time on the Head of Sales’ calendar.
It’s not imperative to snag one on one exposure with your stakeholder, either (at least not at first). The idea is to raise your visibility with the people who could open doors for you down the line, which can begin in more public situations as you work to build and embody your personal brand.
However, you should certainly strive to make direct contact at some point, as this will diminish the possibility of any perception gaps in how your stakeholders view your work, and allow for more meaningful, personal offers to take place.
Don’t be shy about this. A quick, impactful moment is all you need, and if you’ve done your research, they will be grateful for your time.
Bottom line: aligning with your stakeholders requires a thoughtful strategy and a commitment to action, but the root of it all is simple…
The more you help others, the more willing they will be to return the favor. (This is true for all professional relationship building, not just networking with higher ups.) Find out who is in the room when there are promotions or re-orgs at stake, and show them how your personal brand could be an asset to them.
Knowing who holds the power to open doors for you and gaining their respect through generosity will set you up for more opportunities with top-down support.