Did you know women often network professionally to their disadvantage? As we share in our blog, Don't Miss Out On Career-Long Connections, many women avoid it all together, find it too exploitative or subconsciously network with lower level employees and peers. Many women tell us that targeting the c-suite is a whole different level of scary. Follow the AVA process to help you have career long connections to the C-suite.
Why Networking With The C-Suite Is Important
Although it can be intimidating and you might feel self-conscious, having conversations with executives inside your company can also be pivotal for your career, no matter what level, industry or career goal you are in or have.
You aren't in the room, so you need to build a reputation with those that are. Even if you have a sponsor recommending you for opportunities, those higher up need to know who you are and what you bring to the table.
Having connections higher up in the organization gives you the power of information, and the leverage of influence. It can make your job easier and help you do it better.
Understanding the big picture of any organization is the best way for you to advocate or your career and your life.The higher up you go in an organization, the broader and more distant the view of the horizon. Connecting with executives, gives you access to that view. When you know what's coming, you can take the time to Assess and Visualize what's best for you and be proactive in Advancing.
Becoming a person in their mind and their heart gives you advantages and protection. Fair or not, people are biased towards the people they know. When it comes time for tough decisions, bosses subconsciously favor the ones they know and have an easier time getting rid of those they don't.
No matter if you are networking causally or with a purpose, it is good for any and all C-suite executives to know you by face and by name.
Executives Are People Too
The purpose of networking is not to tell and sell; it is to building mutual understanding and relationships. Relationships are about people, not products. First and foremost, try to get to know the executive, not as their title, but as a person.
If you have a casual encounter with an executive (in the elevator maybe), start off with simple networking and friend-making norms. Say hello, introduce yourself (name and job) and ask how their day is going. Focus on asking open-ended questions and listening. Whatever their business exterior, everyone likes to be seen and heard.
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Angelou Maya
Networking With The C-Suite To Advance Your Career
What is it you want to accomplish with your networking? Is it a career goal or do you just want to be able to do your current job better? Determine which executive(s) would be most helpful to you in achieving your goal. Notice in your day-to-day job where the roadblocks are and find out who those people report to all the way up to the top. What are the important initiatives in the company and which executive is responsible for them?
Use the A.V.A. framework to develop a plan to get more formally connected to the executive.
Assess - your goal, communication styles, background research
Assess your communication style in relation to their communication style. If you are more bold and they have an open, extroverted style, walk up to them after a townhall meeting. Or maybe they prefer a short, succinct email. It is up to you to adapt your approach, tone and body language to match the senior executive.
Another tip it to use the words they use. Speak in the words and terms familiar to the company and familiar to that executive.
Visualize - how will you connect for success
Figure out who can help you get an audience or a meeting with the executive you want to connect with. Is there someone higher up that will help sponsor you? Can your boss help you? Assess your boss carefully. If they are open and supportive, ask for their advice and suggestions: they can be your strongest advocate! While some bosses are there to help you altruistically, others will be threatened by your ambition or worse some will pretend to care and will just get in the middle and take the credit. If you do go around your boss, figure out a way to do it without alienating them completely and creating a worse situation for yourself.
Next it’s critical that you have a clear understanding of the company goals and metrics to measure results.And understand the role this executive plays in the company. That way you can be prepared to offer facts or have ad hoc questions ready that demonstrate your forward-looking, positive, solution-oriented perspective.
Advance - plan for a series of meetings
Plan your conversation sequence. Senior executives are busy. So plan a series of short meetings over time. To be successful you can't go straight in and ask for your goal in one conversation. Your first time out you don’t need to swing for the bleachers, but plan to get a solid single or double, establishing yourself as a valuable team member.
Pick one or two topics you want to discuss with them as a starter. Be sure to frame the conversation in terms of impact to the company, whether that’s profit, efficiency, revenue or customer satisfaction. In your first meeting, Seek primarily to understand. Use the STAR tool to plan this out.
At the end of your first meeting, have follow up action items so that you have a reason to connect with them again. Use your second meeting to demonstrate your loyalty. It is more about how you can help them. How can your team help them accomplish the company objectives? End this meeting with follow up action items and get them done.
Your third meeting you are demonstrating your ability. Bring the results back from what you signed up for in your second meeting. Show them that you can deliver on their needs.
In every meeting don't forget to be prepared, professional, respectful and appreciative. Senior executives are busy. Try not to take their lack of time personally. Always follow up. Send a quick email again thanking them, reminding them again of what they offered to do or what you agreed to do. If you can think of anything personal to add in the email it will make you more memorable. For example, "my dad would love the golf photo in your office. He's always wanted to golf that course." Additionally and absolutely follow up on all action items you signed up for.
Set Yourself Up For Career-Long C-Suite Relationships
Throughout your career you might need to connect with multiple levels of the C-suite. Certainly the higher you go, the more you will need to work with all of them. Understanding each senior level of the business and connecting with them personally will help you do your job better and highlight you for opportunities that come up in the organization. .
Here is a chart to give you constructive conversation starters.
It is up to you to be proactive and courageous in building your internal, executive network to help you thrive and advance in your career. Start small and work your way up.