The most effective executives leverage relationships across the whole organization to get things done and make sound decisions. A large portion of their effectiveness can be attributed to strong relationships and a well-balanced knowledge base on the business and its interworkings.
Unfortunately, early in your career you don’t have the luxury of this kind of perspective and access to information that most executives do. But there is a way to get there — start to gossip.
Workplace gossip has a justifiably poor reputation — there’s nothing worse than spreading rumors and coworkers ripping on a colleague behind his or her back. There is, however, a good kind of gossip that can play a critical role in your workplace success, and you need to make a consistent effort to engage in it.
The type of gossip I’m talking about comes in the form of informal conversations that pop up in the break room, over a happy hour drink, or at the end of a work day and can help you learn who really pulls the strings, expand your sphere of influence beyond your department, and help you become the most dialed-in employee at the company.
Here’s how to gossip right:
1. Schedule it. Start by blocking off two 15-minute windows daily to chat with team members. Swing by their desk, say hi, and ask about their weekend or upcoming trip. A little small talk goes a long way. Even now at the executive level, I still block off time to make sure I am dialed in to what is going with the team professionally and personally and to identify and assist with any potential obstacles they may face.
2. Always Say Yes. If someone asks you to go for a coffee, lunch, or a happy hour, try to do it (provided it doesn’t impede on your actual work). The amount of work information exchanged in a more relaxed environment is astounding, and additionally you’ll build deeper relationships.
3. Establish a Broad Network. Don’t just socialize in your department; a well-balanced, cross-company network will provide you with a comprehensive perspective of the business as a whole. Having visibility into a broad cross-section of the organization will strengthen your work and decision-making, because you’ll be able to see beyond your department’s silo.
4. Just Ask. Not sure how something in another department works? Try asking a colleague about herself and her work. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and what they’re doing. Take a genuine interest in what they’re doing. You will learn something new, gain additional perspective, and become that much more valuable to the organization.
5. Get a Mentor. Seek out a mentor from a different department. Not only will you benefit from their experience, but additionally through small talk you will develop a powerful ally (to advocate for promotions and cross departmental efforts) and gain insights into the business from a completely different perspective than what you have today.
6. Collect Feedback. Take a genuine interest in what drives success and failure within the organization. Meet with team members across the organization and collect their feedback regarding what made different initiatives successful and/or unsuccessful. Generally, people are willing to share their candid opinions on items that you are not directly related to. Utilizing this kind of surveying technique can provide invaluable insights on what makes initiatives successful and impediments that they may face.
7. Get in the Know. Ask to be included on the distribution list for regular reports — even those outside your department or direct area of responsibility. Justify your inclusion on the list by explaining that you want to figure out ways to work across departments to benefit the company.
8. After 5:00pm. Typically, leaders in the organization will work later than 5:00 pm. This is a great time to access and establish a relationship with members of the leadership team. In those later hours, it is generally quieter and those still remaining are faced with less demands for their time and attention. In my experience, leaders are more likely to let their guard during the quieter after hours because there is a sense of camaraderie with others who put in the extra hours. At the very least, you will earn a few points on being perceived as more committed for being in the office after hours.
Developing a strong network and social ties will help you become the “go-to” resource for your company — and aid you in wielding influence far greater than your title typically carries.
Business, after all, is still all about people. And your ability to tap into this informal information network can be that difference maker in taking your career to the next level.