How many decisions about your career are made without you being in the room? You would expect that for most important career decisions you’d actually be physically present, right? But that’s not always true. Most of the decisions made by your bosses and seniors about the progress of your career are going to be taken without you even being there.
Decisions about whether to give you a promotion, land you with a big career-making project or even just those catch-up sessions between Senior Leadership Teams around staff progress. With this in mind, it is essential that whoever is taking these decisions are getting the best information about you and your performance. And despite you not being there, you can still influence the direction of these conversations in a big way - by using Work Champions.
Your Work Champions are the people in the organisation that can sing your praises, or fight your corner when you are not in the room. Ideally, these are people who are further up the ladder than you in your organisation - the higher the better! It might seem intimidating to walk up to a senior member of staff and ask for their support. So you need to be tactful in how you approach them, and careful in the language you use. Just asking them to be your Work Champion without laying the groundwork is likely to produce a negative response. Here we set out 4 practical tips for recruiting and nurturing your Work Champion:
1. Prove yourself to them by solving their problemsWinning at work is not all about landing the big projects, or bringing in the most money. It’s also about doing all the little things consistently well. No doubt your potential Work Champion has a lot on their plate. This gives you lots of opportunities to help them out in small but significant ways - without asking for anything in return. Are there some quick wins you can find to provide them with value? Perhaps they need help setting up and/or running a group or training session at work? Offer to help them with the little things, and do them well. This not only shows you as a helpful and resourceful member of staff, it builds that all important relationship and trust with them.
2. Take opportunities to put yourself in the spotlight Keeping an ear to the ground at work is always beneficial in terms of getting involved in more high profile work. Those larger projects put you in the spotlight of Senior Management, and give you more opportunities to engage with them in a proactive way. However, this doesn’t mean taking on more and more work until you burn out! Evaluate the work you are involved with right now. Do these tasks and projects take you towards where you want to be with regards to your career development? If not, move these things away from you. Be strategic with your selection of project work, and when you do hear about an upcoming opportunity let your Work Champion know that you are keen to be involved.
3. Ask for their advice on work challenges We all come across challenging situations at work. Just this week I’ve learned that one of our in-country Project Managers, who we have spent the last 18 months training and developing, has been sacked by the government without our knowledge! It is tempting to try and deal with these situations on our own, to show that we can cope with challenges and prove our worth. But the sign of a true leader is someone who seeks advice from others. Reaching out to those at the organisation with more experience is not only helpful for the project but shows you as someone who will gather all the evidence before making an informed decision when dealing with challenges. The way to approach this is to be organised and tactful with how to elicit their input. Beware of being seen as a drain on their time, and be clear what it is you need advice on. Present them with a list of potential solutions for them to help you choose between, rather than just escalating problems up the chain.
4. Build a genuine personal connection Of all the tips in this article, I would argue this is the most important one! While your potential Work Champion may seem unapproachable or intimidating, we are all human beings capable of forming emotional connections on a personal basis. This doesn’t mean revealing all your skeletons in the closet! Start off with a simple ‘hello/good morning, how are you?’ a few times a week and build from there. Find opportunities to bump into them at their favourite coffee machine and strike up a conversation based on non-work subjects - the weather, their weekend activities, a news story etc. Be genuinely interested in them as a person. Listen to them, ask questions, and be authentic with your response. Be wary of coming on too strong if they are a private person - there are plenty of ways to build connections without prying into their personal lives. The aim is to have small positive interactions regularly, not to be best buddies!
Putting these quick practical steps into place won’t take a lot of effort from you, and the benefits to both yourself and your organisation are huge. Next time a decision is being made about your career without you being in the room, your Work Champion will be there fighting your corner for you. And your career progression gives you the opportunity to have even more of a positive impact for your organisation.
Try out these tips and you’ll find out just how impactful a Work Champion can be for your career!
Photo courtesy of Mark Leslie
We Are All Wonder Women is an international movement for female conservation professionals to be inspired, connected, and empowered to create an authentic, fulfilling and happy career.