August 20, 2018
Article of the Week
Why Trust Matters At Work
In an age of economic uncertainty and change, corporate leaders are seeking ways to be more agile and innovative. Yet in doing so, they frequently overlook one time-honored component of success—employee trust. That can be a costly mistake in terms of time, money and reputation, experts warn.
“When you don’t have trust, you can’t respond as quickly as you need to with the fast pace of change that we’re seeing in today’s market,” says Amanda Setili, a strategy consultant. Moreover, if employees don’t trust their leaders, they won’t operate efficiently. Staff members will be reluctant to make decisions, seeking approval for every little thing. They won’t be willing to go the extra mile if they’re unsure whether others will back them up. They’ll fear sharing bad news, so problems will grow instead of being promptly addressed. They’ll be less likely to offer ideas for new products or processes if they believe leaders won’t support them or will take credit for their ideas.
What Is Trust?
“Trust is when I feel I can count on you to do what you led me to expect you to do,” says Setili, president of Setili & Associates, an Atlanta-based strategy consulting company.
“If we don’t believe that the other person is going to do what they led us to expect them to do, then we’re not going to put ourselves at risk,” she says. “And if we don’t put ourselves at risk, then we’re not going to be successful. And the company … is going to slowly erode and die.”
On the other hand, trustworthy leaders can bring great benefits to an organization, including greater employee engagement, innovation and productivity, says Andrea P. Howe, founder of The Get Real Project in Washington, D.C., and co-author of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook(Wiley, 2011).
“You are much more likely to get innovation because with trust comes freedom,” Howe says. “You can get massive productivity gains. Simply put, things move faster, more easily.”
Trust also enables people to have greater influence on others—which is important not just for leaders but for workers at all levels. “It’s the ability to be heard, to make a difference,” Howe says.
Numerous studies from the Great Place To Work Institute and elsewhere have found that companies with high-trust cultures have greater financial success than those that don’t.
In fact, “a lack of trust is the biggest expense in organizations,” says David Horsager, chief executive officer of Trust Edge Leadership Institute in St. Paul, Minn. Every problem that leaders think they have—whether it’s a leadership issue, a sales issue, an engagement issue or some other issue—boils down to trust, he contends.
Of 1,202 U.S. working-age adults surveyed last fall, 23 percent said they would offer more ideas and solutions, and 21 percent reported they would be willing to work longer hours, if they trusted their leaders, according to the institute’s 2018 Trust Outlook. One-third indicated that they would stay longer with an employer if its leaders kept their promises, and 28 percent said they would extend their tenure if transparency was practiced at all levels.
What Kills Trust
Unfortunately, trust frequently suffers when corporate executives get caught up in playing the short-term game, focused solely on revenues or pleasing the CEO rather than long-term values and commitments, experts say.
When that happens, “people aren’t candid or honest in ways that are helpful to the leader,” says Gary S. Jones, SHRM-SCP, who recently retired as chief human resources officer for Grizzard Communications Group in Atlanta and now works as a consultant. They fear throwing out ideas that might not be popular, or they try to figure out how their suggestions will fit in with the leader’s real agenda. Such fear “leads to office politics rather than honest conversations about how employees can help the leader be a better leader and help the business move forward,” he notes.
Some common mistakes that destroy trust include:
• Avoiding conflict. When you discourage disagreement, open discussions can’t occur. Decisions don’t get made, or they are based on incomplete information. “The more you can almost relish conflict, encourage dialogue and debate, you’re going to build trust,” Setili says. Create a psychologically safe place for people to bring up the downsides of a plan. You may stir up conflict, but it’s far healthier in the end, she says.
• Breaking promises. When you tell your employees that you’re going to do something but don’t follow through, trust is lost. Why should employees believe you the next time?
• Focusing on compliance. “The world is changing so fast, the boss can’t anticipate everything. We’ve really got to give our employees more leeway,” Setili says. Instead of implementing layers of rigid rules, share the end goal and trust workers to use their common sense.
• Failing to communicate. You might be reluctant to share bad news, but it’s always better to tell the truth than to be silent. Employees appreciate honesty, she says.
• Assuming trust. A trusting relationship doesn’t happen on its own. “You have to explicitly think about trust, work on trust, build trust and check to be sure that trust is there,” Setili says.
What Builds Trust
For leaders who want to develop their ability to inspire trust, Horsager’s research at Trust Edge Leadership Institute has identified eight key qualities to focus on:
• Clarity. “People trust the clear, and they distrust the ambiguous,” Horsager says. Give employees a clear vision of where you want to go and what role they will play.
• Compassion. Leaders who care for more than just themselves inspire trust.
• Character. This means choosing to do what’s right rather than what’s easy.
• Competency. Stay fresh, relevant and capable.
• Commitment. Stick with your employees in the face of adversity, and they’ll do the same for you.
• Connection. Cultivate strong relationships with workers. Ask questions. Find common ground.
• Contribution. In other words, produce results.
• Consistency. What we do all the time shapes what others expect of us. “If you’re late all the time, I will trust you to be late,” Horsager says. “It’s the sameness in a person that builds a reputation. It’s the sameness in a company that builds a brand.”
To build a culture of trust, lead by example, Howe says. “You’ve got to be the trust that you want to see in the organization.” Also point out when others exemplify the kind of behavior you do and don’t want to see. Share stories of your own failures and lessons learned.
Finally, keep talking about building trust. At Grizzard, employees at all levels were involved in discussing questions on culture, Jones says, including “What does it mean to be able to voice an opinion or idea, even if you’re the only person in the room who thinks it might have value?”
Cultivating that environment is worth the investment, even if it’s not always easy. Taking shortcuts may work for a while. “But you’re never going to get the exceptional results that you can get by having trust,” Howe says.
August 13, 2018
Article of the Week
How to Announce Big Changes Without Creating New Problems
The old adage that no one likes change is a cliche for a reason, but there are ways to prevent the inevitable fallout from a big announcement. A few weeks ago, I announced that we were splitting my 15-person team into two teams and everyone’s desks were going to be switched around. I anticipated this change was going to be distracting from our work and potentially frustrating for some employees, so I took the following precautions to prevent larger issues with our company.
1. Get buy-in from top performers first.
Getting some of your staff on board before making a big change can prevent lots of problems down the road. The day before our weekly team meeting, I pulled in my two senior employees, showed them the plan and told them what I was going to announce the next day. I told them why I thought it was necessary and that I needed their help to sell it to the rest of the team.
They had questions and concerns, and I did my best to help them feel heard. More than anything, I wanted them to see how this could potentially help them do their jobs better, and that it was a change made with them, not to them. At the end of our discussion, I mentioned that they were welcome to provide me feedback as the change was implemented.
It’s important that you have a few people who are already on board with the changes who can help the rest of your team adjust accordingly. It will also help to establish trust with your senior employees if they aren’t caught off guard.
2. Get to the “why” quickly.
I didn’t start by launching into the change, but instead I reminded them that we had a problem we’ve been trying to solve and a purpose we’ve been creating as a team for some time. I talked through the other changes we’ve implemented to date and walked through how those changes have already helped us as a team.
I then transitioned to tell them what I was hoping would be accomplished with the change and that we could all be open to new ideas as we make this change together. I talked about how we are shifting our culture to be more focused on innovation, and we’re all having to adapt.
As you map out the change you’re announcing, make sure that your people understand why it’s happening, and be honest. Like Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do but why you do it.”
3. Acknowledge that change is tough.
When I rolled out the plan to the whole team, I mentioned that I totally understood why this would be annoying and frustrating to them. I told them that a few years ago, I was in their shoes when a management team had a brilliant idea to make everyone do something they didn’t want to do that really upset me. I reminded them that my door is always open if they wanted to discuss the shift.
By just saying that you understand that change is tough, you avoid people getting defensive or thinking that you're saying they have to get on board or get out. It also helps show that you’ve thought about them and the fallout from the change.
4. Check in.
A few days after the big switch, I followed up on Slack and in my weekly 1:1s with my direct reports to see how they were doing with the change. It was interesting to see that many of them had forgotten about it, but a few appreciated the forum to vent about it a bit.
I have also pointed to this change as they have acknowledged the positive outcomes of it, which has required constant focus from myself and our leadership team. I didn’t want the team to forget why this all happened in the first place. By doing so, you avoid your employees thinking that changes like this are only important the day they're announced.
Change is inevitable, and one of the most frustrating aspects of startup culture is that big changes happen fast and often. But with a little thoughtful preparation, your team will avoid the common pitfalls of haphazard announcements that leave employees upset and uninspired.
August 6, 2018
Article of the Week
You’ve Been Professionally Ghosted, Now What?
Hi again. Just circling back. Did you see my last email? I wanted to quickly follow up. Let me know when you have a chance.
Most of us are all too familiar with ghosting in our personal lives, whether it’s the stereotypical Tinder connect who evaporates, or a friend who never follows through with weekend plans. But then there’s ghosting at work, a trend that’s not exactly new but is uniquely annoying every time it happens.
You know the drill. You need something from a colleague, and even though you know they’re on their computer all day, every day, somehow you’re supposed to believe that they just haven’t read your email from three days ago.
Here are a few of the most common ghosting situations, along with our best tips to finally get a response back–or at least try to.
WHEN YOU’RE INTERVIEWING FOR A JOB
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
Zero response to your thank-you note or second follow-up.
How to address it:
If you’ve only sent a single thank-you note after your interview, you could give it one last shot with a follow-up note that expresses (again) how interested you are. They might still be interviewing and just haven’t gotten back.
If you’ve already done that, it’s time to take a cue from standard dating advice: move on. They’re just not that into you, and that’s okay. There’s another company out there that will fall in love with you (and email you back).
WHEN SOMEONE OWES YOU SOMETHING FOR A PROJECT
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
One (or two or three . . . ) emails asking for something and still no response.
How to address it:
If you’re in the same office, go see them and ask. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable hiding behind computer screens, but it’s a lot harder to look someone in the eye when you owe them something and not feel motivated to give it to them. If that’s not going to work in your situation, another good move (especially after a second or third email) is to cc a supervisor on the chain on another check-in. This is only a trick to be used in an incredibly flaky context–but trust us, people get back fast.
WHEN YOU ASK THE TEAM FOR HELP–AND NO ONE VOLUNTEERS
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
You email a few coworkers asking if anyone can help you with a presentation, but absolutely no one responds.
How to address it:
You could send a follow-up email reminding everyone that you’re still waiting for a volunteer, and you might hear back–but most likely someone will write back out of guilt, only to give an excuse on why they can’t help you.
Skip the in-between step and go straight to the source. We like to email people individually (they’re more likely to get back to that than to the mass email) or, better yet, to stop by their desk and say, “Hey, I know I sent an email the other day but didn’t hear back from you.” Either way, the best way to handle it is to acknowledge why they don’t want to do it, e.g., “I know that it’s not exactly a fun thing and I’m sure you’ve got a ton of stuff on your plate, but I’m really getting desperate. Could you help me? I’ll owe you one.” Everybody loves an office IOU.
WHEN YOU ASK FOR A NETWORKING INTRODUCTION
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
You ask if your coworker/boss/friend can introduce you to someone in their network, they maybe even say, “Sure, I’ll look up their contact for you” and then you never hear anything back.
How to address it:
This varies person to person, but you’ve got two possibilities here: One is that the person you asked is a capital F Flake, the other is that they don’t want to do it. So which one are they?
If she’s a Flake, follow up again and one more time after that. Underscore how important it is to you and how much you’d appreciate it. Sprinkle a lot of “pleases” and “you’re my hero” statements in there. Hope for the best.
If you suspect she doesn’t want to do it, ask yourself honestly why. Is it awkward for her? In many cases, that’s the most common answer–just because you want the contact information doesn’t mean she’s comfortable sharing it. If that’s the case, follow up one time and then drop it. Find another way to get introduced or try reaching out to the contact cold on LinkedIn. That might work just as well.
WHEN SOMEONE HAS MISSED A DEADLINE
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
The work they owe you isn’t here.
How to address it:
Head on. Email and say something like this:
Checking in on the status of [The Late Project] since I was hoping to have that by [Insert the Missed Deadline]. Could you give me an update on where you’re at and when I can expect to have it by?
If they still don’t respond, try our favorite last-ditch effort solution: cc your/their boss on another follow-up.
WHEN YOU DO SOMEONE A FAVOR AND ASK FOR A FAVOR BACK
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
Let’s just use a Career Contessa example, shall we? You interview a woman from a big name brand, and you share that interview on all your social channels. You email her PR team asking them to share it with their network as well, and . . . nothing.
How to address it:
Even if you wish it worked differently, you do something for someone just to do it. Unless you had an agreement that they would return the favor in a specific way at a specific time, the most you can do is email once more asking if they could help you with XYZ project. Tell them it would mean a lot to you without pointing fingers (“I did this for you already”). If they don’t get back, remember that the next time they ask you for a favor.
WHEN SOMEONE IS DOING BAD WORK
Sign you’ve been ghosted:
You give an employee or coworker feedback about some poor performance and suddenly, they’re phoning it in on their work. Barely.
How to address it:
Again, head on is best. (Seeing a pattern here?) Many a passive-aggressive battle is waged in the break room, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep it classy. Ask them if you can chat for five minutes and point out that you’ve noticed things feel a bit strained. Use a specific example or two if you have them. Then ask for whatever it is that you need.
By the way, if you’re their boss and they’re now doing badly and ignoring your requests and feedback, this is all documentation you can use if/when you let them go. Because let’s be real, a professional ghoster who also does a bad job? Not exactly long-term employee material.
July 30, 2018
Article of the Week
Seven Tips For Stronger Negotiating Skills In Business
Negotiating a good business deal is not about winning or playing hardball, but about creating opportunities to influence and to achieve outcomes that both sides are happy with.
While it's crucial to have a strategy and to know your negotiation range and ‘walk away’ point, more often than not success will hinge on your ability to 'read' the other party, gain insight into what they are thinking and what their body language is telling you about their own strategy.
Set your boundaries
Being clear on your own priorities and ‘non-negotiable’ points means you are clear about what you will deliver or provide to your client and what you expect from them.
“Getting great boundaries in place doesn’t mean shutting people out with imaginary brick walls, or being harsh and rigid,” says mindset coach Emma Langton. “It means providing clear guidelines so that the person you are negotiating with feels safe and secure. This will also help you to be absolutely clear on what you will and will not negotiate on, which adds confidence to the process.”
Listen and learn
Negotiations are not necessarily about what is being said but often about what is not being said, so it pays to be a good listener and tune in to the other person's wants and needs.
“We can't second guess what motivates our customer, colleague or client, but if we ask the right questions and listen to their responses we can think about what their goals are, while still meeting ours,” says Helen Campbell, founder of coaching and communications agency Jazz Cat.
Timing is key
So much emphasis is placed on what to say and how to say it, people often overlook the importance of when to say it, which can make all the difference at the negotiating table. Business coach and mentor Agnes Cserhati, founder of AC PowerCoaching, says: “I would recommend opening the conversation, not by sharing your thoughts, but by asking a question. This puts you in control of the situation and gives you time to respond appropriately.”
Learn the body lingo
The most powerful tool for any entrepreneur sitting at the negotiating table is the ability to read and interpret body language: the subtle gestures, movements and expressions that can speak volumes about what the other person is thinking, and more importantly, whether things are going well or on the verge of breaking down.
When your counterpart leans in, towards the conversation, it often implies agreement or at the very least, engagement. Leaning back, away from the conversation, can be a sign that things are potentially going off track. However, if the discussions have been particularly intense, they could be leaning back momentarily to let off some steam, says business coach Shola Kaye.
“Watch their face carefully for more signs, especially micro expressions, such as lifting one side of the mouth,” she says. “It can look as though the person is smiling, but in reality, it is a sign of contempt, while a tightening of the lips can imply anger.”
A skilful negotiator might have good control of their body, but micro expressions don't lie. For entrepreneurs who negotiate frequently it's worth learning how to interpret these tiny facial movements, which are consistent between cultures and genders.
Being in control of your own body language is equally important, says Cserhati. “Keep your feet firmly planted, pay attention to your hands - they need to project poise and confidence - and maintain an open posture,” she says.
Mimicking the body language of the other party can be a powerful way of creating a connection with them and is a worthwhile skill to learn, one that Sanjay Aggarwal, co-founder of Spice Kitchen, has mastered.
“Mirroring another their body language, vocal tone, and behavior helps to build rapport,” he says. “It’s good to try and create the right flow of a meeting by imitating the person in terms of their excitement, vocal pace etc., and it makes the connection stronger, which in turn will bring trust and help with the negotiation.”
Silence is golden.
Once you’ve stated your price or your terms you should leave some space for silence. “Never be tempted to waffle or explain as away of filling that silence, however uncomfortable it might seem for you,” says Emma Langton. “It allows your client thinking and processing time. Not feeling the need to justify or explain also demonstrates the confidence you have in yourself and your work.”
While driving costs down as low as possible can feel like a win, playing hardball too often can damage your reputation with suppliers.
“If a supplier can’t cover their own costs the result can be poorer quality of service, which ends up costing you more than the discount you achieved,” says Dave Schulhof, co-owner of marketing agency Red Hot Penny. “Negotiate fairly and ensure you get the product and service you need. Remember good business involves treating everyone well.”
July 23, 2018
Article of the Week
How To Recharge On Vacation When You Can't Stop Stressing Out
Vacations are supposed to be the time to unplug, relax, and recharge. Ideally, when you return to work, you want to feel refreshed, rested, and more productive.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out that way. You might have every intention of going on a work-free beach getaway, and despite your best pre-vacation prep, a stressful bombshell drops on your last week in the office. Maybe you lost an important client unexpectedly, or you’re told that the company might be restructuring and there are possible layoffs in the works. How do you enjoy your well-deserved time off without going into a tailspin and coming back even more stressed than when you left? Fast Company spoke to Alice Boyes, former clinical psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit: Simple Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Way and Enjoy Your Life.
DON’T HAVE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
There’s this misconception that when we go on vacation, we should be able to “have everything squared away,” Boyes tells Fast Company. This idea, along with the trends of unplugging and digital detox, create the expectations that can be impossible to meet. Sure, you can let your colleagues and clients know that you plan to be off the grid, but they might still find your mobile number and call you for non-emergency reasons. If you’re in charge of a department at your company, it’s natural to worry about losing a major client–and you shouldn’t berate yourself for feeling that way.
Boyes also rejects the idea that a vacation is only restorative if it’s work-free, pointing out that this idea is incompatible with the realities of modern life. If the thought of not dealing with a pressing issue until after your vacation makes you anxious, for example, there’s nothing wrong with dedicating some time during your vacation to tackle it. And if you hate the thought of coming back to a mountain of work, perhaps you can schedule an hour or two every day to make progress on that work. “The more accepting you are of your reality,” Boyes said, the easier it is to make a case-by-case decision that’s right for you.
BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU
With so many Americans reporting disengagement at work, it might be strange to think that there are people out there who love their jobs and enjoy their vacations more if they did some work on vacation–rather than completely disconnect. As Thomas-Chamorro Premuzic previously wrote for Fast Company, “The expectation that you’re only doing it right when you ditch work completely . . . can cause anxiety, stress, and feelings of guilt when you get to do that.” Before you take your vacation, have a frank conversation with yourself about what would make you happier overall, rather than what everyone else tells you will make you happy.
Work aside, Boyes also stressed the importance of planning your vacation so that it’s filled with activities and outings you enjoy, rather than things you feel you should do. “Some people do things that they think they should enjoy, but don’t actually enjoy.” For example, perhaps your idea of relaxation is enjoying long dinners, and you have absolutely no interest in going to museums and monuments. Don’t make yourself go to them. Otherwise it becomes a tick box on a checklist, and you’re adding an unnecessary source of stress.
LEARN TO OBSERVE RUMINATION AND FEELINGS
You can’t always help when bad feelings appear, and in those situations, the best thing to do is to apply good old mindfulness techniques. Instead of trying to push them away, observe them and see where those thoughts take you. If you start thinking about worst-case scenarios (or your thoughts are just taking you to places you really don’t want to go), Boyes suggests asking yourself, “This situation is what it is, I’ve got a choice to be happy or I’ve got a choice to be miserable.” Say you’re upset about something your coworker said last week. You can either choose to focus your energy on thinking about that, or redirect your focus to something else, like the taste of your morning coffee.
If that doesn’t work, Boyes suggests trying a cognitive technique that she calls “worst, best, realistic.” It requires you to ask yourself, What’s the worst that could happen, what’s the best that could happen, and what’s the most realistic scenario? Boyes gave an example of pitching a story to an editor and not hearing back. The worst-case scenario is that they hate it, Boyes said, the best is that they love it, have no feedback, but for whatever reason, they haven’t written back, and the most realistic scenario is that “everybody’s slammed and they’re putting it off because everybody’s busy,” Boyes tells Fast Company.
SAVOR THE SMALL THINGS
If none of these methods work, Boyes suggests focusing your attention on the small things, whether it’s sitting outside and paying attention to the sounds of birds, cars, and “whatever else pops into your awareness,” or focusing on the smell and taste of your meal. This practice trains your mind to redirect your thoughts back to the present, Boyes explains.
At the end of the day, a restorative vacation is one where you understand and accept your realities, and make decisions according to those circumstances. “It might be different from one vacation to the next,” she says. “Sometimes you do need some uninterrupted time.” Other times, the stress of modern life might make unplugging more stressful than it’s worth. And that’s completely 0kay.
July 16, 2018
Article of the Week
Tax Deductibility Of Business Meals And Entertainment
The Tax cuts and Jobs Act held many changes to tax planning and required documentation for business owners in 2018. One of those changes is meals and entertainment deductibility. Prior to 2018, meals and entertainment have been mostly considered 50 percent deductible for tax purposes as long as the taxpayer could show that the meal and/or entertainment had a business purpose or relation. There were even circumstances where the taxpayer could deduct 100 percent under specific exceptions. Tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2018 or later will be held to stricter guidelines for meals and entertainment deductibility. Entertainment is now considered completely nondeductible. For employer provided operating facilities, meals are still considered 50 percent deductible, however, at this time it is unclear whether business meals, lunch or dinner with a customer, etc. will be 50 percent or 0 percent deductible.
The following examples are still considered 100 percent deductible expenses:
- Expenses treated as employee compensation
- Reimbursed expenses while away for business travel
- Expenses for recreational, social or similar activities primarily for the benefit of employees (such as an employee Christmas party or picnic)
- Expenses for goods, services and facilities made available by the taxpayer to the public
- Expenses for goods or services which are sold by the taxpayer in a bona fide transaction
There is still uncertainty about the deductibility of business meals as 50 percent or 0 percent deductible as noted above. The portion of the old law, "directly related to or associated with" standard has been removed in determining deducibility under the new law. Further guidance on business meals as well as what is considered "entertainment", which is not deductible for tax purposes, is anticipated to be released at a later time. Until then, it is important for taxpayers to be tracking 100 percent deductible meal expenses as listed above, other business meals, and entertainment expenses separately to reduce further work at year-end after further guidance is available on the deductibility of these expenses.
For more information on this topic as well as other tax reform topics contact us in one of our many locations.
July 9, 2018
Article of the Week
Mentoring Matters: How More Women Can Get The Right People In Their Corner
It's well established that the economic empowerment of women isn't just good for women, it's good for everyone. Likewise, there is a growing body of evidence (including the latest report by McKinsey & Co) showing that when more women sit at the decision-making tables, better decisions are made.
Yet despite record numbers of women graduating college and entering the workforce, data still points to a 'leaky pipeline' - a large chasm between the number of women starting out on the professional track and how many advancing to senior positions. One of the many ways we can help to 'leak-proof' this pipeline is through mentoring. That is, getting more people already in positions of influence actively supporting, sponsoring and guiding the careers of women as they progress through their careers, particularly at pivotal decision points.
While some debate the merit of mentorship within its traditional parameters, when it’s expanded to include sponsorship and advocacy, it’s proven to be a critical element of success by providing protégés with the opportunity to broaden their perspective, build social capital, navigate organizational politics more strategically, and muster up the confidence to ‘lean in’ and speak up when it matters most. In male dominated professions, where women often face even greater challenges building networks and embracing feminine leadership strengths, mentoring has proven even more paramount.
A 2017 study by professional services firm Egon Zehnder found that only 54% of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors or informal sponsors in their career. While advocacy and sponsorship rates decline as age increases, the women with the highest level of support are those already sitting in the C-suite.
This research suggests that if women don’t reach a critical threshold in their career early enough, they either stop reaching out for support or their organizations stop extending it. All of which presents a double opportunity both for women and the organizations in which they work. For women, to be more deliberate in seeking mentors and establishing relationships with influencers. For organizations, to be more proactive in developing mentoring programs that foster a culture where mentoring is institutionalized, as the value of mentoring often goes well beyond the boosting of individual careers. It provides a means for elevating knowledge transfer across divisions, retaining institutional and practical know-how while keeping mentors in touch with the ‘front-lines’ of the business that they might otherwise be distanced from.
Below are six ways women can help land the right people in their corner and, in doing so, help to elevate and empower other women as they rise.
1. Clarify your ideal mentor
Get clear about what you want in a mentor or sponsor. Is it an expert who can help with a specific challenge such as how to polish your presentation style or build your brand in your new workplace, or are you looking for someone with an inside track to be a more general sounding board and advocate for you over the long haul?
2. Be brave and ask
A study by Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that while nearly 80% of women in senior roles had served as formal mentors, only 63 % of women had ever had one. This is despite the fact that a majority of women view mentoring as valuable. So what’s missing? It would seem a sheer willingness to ask… or perhaps more accurately, the courage to risk a rejection or impose on someone’s time. Research shows that men tend to seek and offer mentorship far more readily, while women typically need to be found and encouraged (Laff, 2009).
So if you’re a woman, just know that the odds of someone agreeing to mentor you are in your favor if you go about it the right way. 71% of women in the DDI study reported they always accept invitations to be formal mentors at work, and the vast majority said they would mentor more if they were asked. The bottom line: if you would value the advice of someone you admire, have the courage to ask for it. You don’t need to be overly formal about it, just ask if they could give you some time to provide guidance. Let the relationship evolve from there.
3. Set expectations early
Anyone whose advice you’d value is likely someone who has a lot of demands on their time. So value it highly! You might ask them if they would be willing to give you 30 minutes every few months, or if you could take them out for a coffee once a month or so. Let them know what you’d love to gain from talking to them and ask them to suggest what might work best. Given that learning is the key underlying purpose of mentorship, clearly articulating what you’d like to learn from them will help make it a better investment of time both ways.
4. Look beyond the obvious
Women tend to mentor other women more frequently than men (73% women mentor women according to DDI) but the paucity of women up the ladder ahead of you may mean that you need to look beyond your ladder to find a mentor. As Debbie Kissire, executive director at Ernst & Young shared with me at women's leadership event (video below), there’s a strong case for building relationships with male mentors, particularly if you’re in a male dominated industry. The vast majority of men value the opportunity to support women so be careful not to assume otherwise.
Mentoring also doesn’t have to be strictly business. You can find mentors outside the workplace within your local community or from associations you’re involved with. You could try finding someone from your university alumni. Likewise, don’t be limited by age. Digital immigrants can gain a wealth of knowledge from millennials who’ve grown up in the digital era. My kids have taught me more about how to use hashtags and build my brand on Instagram than anyone my age ever could!
5. Make it a two-way value exchange
The value exchange in a mentor relationship can be heavily weighted in toward the mentee, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reciprocate by supporting their work and building their leadership brand. For instance, tweet out their posts, nominate them for an award, share their updates on LinkedIn or start a discussion that positions them as the expert or refer business their way. Of course you can also show your gratitude by giving them a book you think they’d enjoy or by sharing information or resources they may find helpful.
6. Mentor other women (even if you doubt what you offer)
Contrary to the assumed culture of rivalry and “catfighting” between women, studies show that it’s not competition that keeps more women from supporting other women through mentoring, it’s that they don’t feel they know enough to act as a mentor. Yet the fact that women tend to doubt themselves more and back themselves less than men (creating a globally recognized ‘gender confidence gap’) is the very reason more women need to lift as they climb - encouraging other women to raise their sights and act with the confidence they wish they had.
Even if you don’t think you’ve ‘made it’ (yet) or think you lack the expertise that might benefit a potential mentee, you’re still a long way ahead of women who are just starting out or are making a career transition. Don’t undervalue the insights, work/family juggling skills and hard-won wisdom you’ve acquired to get to where you are today. A recent analysis by Harvard Business Review found that once people reach the C-suite, the soft skills of leadership matter far more than technical skill (Groysberg, 2011). Accordingly, while you may no longer be the ‘go-to’ technical whiz, your ability to gain collaboration, influence upward and navigate the mire of workplace politics can be gold to someone who needs it.
Passing along a useful resource, referring a potential client, putting someone’s name forward for a role that will elevate their visibility or even connecting them to someone else who could be a great mentor – w omen who go out of their way to support other women set off a ripple effect that leaves everyone better off. After all, a rising tide lifts all boats.