Whenever I am asked to offer career advice I don’t hesitate with my answer. Build relationships.
If you work for yourself, the most important relationships you have are with your customers or clients. If you work for someone else, you need to get good at managing up, as your boss will play a disproportionately important role in your success, development opportunities and progression. It’s not rocket science.
Let’s unpick this notion of relationships by looking at our embattled Prime Minister. Mrs May has a reputation for getting on with the job; not worrying about getting on with people but letting her work do the talking; taking a direct, some would say brutal, approach to how to communicate decisions to colleagues; and not taking any prisoners or suffering fools gladly. Some have even famously called her a “bloody difficult woman”. That idea of being able to rise above office politics and just focus on doing a good job and not getting involved in building relationships and networks is naivety in the extreme.
All decisions are taken by people. These people will, hopefully, base those decisions on evidence and the available information, making rational choices. But we all know from our professional and personal lives that our decisions – whether about what to have for dinner or what to include in a major report – are influenced by the people around us. We take into account the impact our decisions will have on them; we consult them and ask for their view and advice; we listen to that advice and trust it – to a greater or lesser extent depending on the strength of our relationship; we are swayed by people who we like, enjoy spending time with, find funny and believe in.
Those who make decisions just based on logic and facts come unstuck when the decision impacts on people and those people were not considered in the decision-making process. I surely do not need to rehearse again the calamitous decisions made last week by the Prime Minister in relation to her response to Grenfell Tower. Building relationships helps you make better decisions; having a range of people’s opinions to draw on; a wider range of ideas to factor in to your thinking; a more rounded view of the world. Aside from that, it is much more fun, more enjoyable, to work closely with folk.
It is vital for anyone looking to influence a customer to buy your product or service – or to influence a colleague to your ideas or argument – to get to understand them. Knowing your audience is the most critical aspect of successful communication – only by doing this can you design the right message and the right way of delivering it.
Getting promoted at work is as much about how people feel about you – how they value their interactions with you and how they perceive your interactions with others – as it is about how well you achieve your KPIs. Anyone who scoffs at that notion has clearly not sat in a promotion or ratings discussion in most organisations. Managing your boss – helping them succeed and understanding fully their agenda – is a pre-requisite for your own success. This emphasis on relationships is the most obvious, critical thing in career success and yet our Prime Minister shows us again and again how she has failed to grasp it.
This weeks’ BBC docu-drama, Theresa vs Boris, about the 2016 Conservative Leadership contest shows us relationships at the top of politics in all their back-stabbing glory. It highlighted something in the approach Mrs May takes to her career which is now causing her no end of problems; if you don’t make friends on the way up, they will be not be there to help you on the way down.
Communications, like everything else in business and politics I would argue is a people discipline – and nothing can be achieved without relationships. The criticism of Mrs May as someone who doesn’t tour the tea room is not a comment about her reluctance to be “one of the boys” it is about her lack of understanding that without relationships you will ultimately fail, no matter how well you do your job. In whatever work you do, you should always think about how you are going about your business. Are you actively building relationships inside and outside your organisation? Are you putting yourself in your boss’ shoes and understanding her or his agenda?
Is your approach built on just getting on with the job? If it is, you may want to rethink that before it’s too late. Don’t do a Theresa or you may be in big trouble.