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The Art of Influence: How to Manage Up and Across for Career Success

Early in my career, I was told over and over to "network," "manage up," and "go meet with so-and-so." At the time, I had no idea how to meet with "so-and-so" when I had no immediate business reasons for doing so. That was to the detriment of my earlier career. If you have felt stuck or unnoticed or found yourself isolated by silos in your organization, you might consider the transformative power of managing up and influencing across your organization as a potential solution. It's a pivotal skill for career advancement, leadership development, and job satisfaction.


But how? What does it truly entail, and why is it so critical for today’s professionals? Lots of people will advise you to network, but it's not very common you're told how to actually do it. Here is my attempt to help you get there a little faster than I did.


How to Unlock the transformative power of managing up and across

Understanding the Concept

At its core, managing up and influencing across is about strategically navigating and optimizing your relationships within the organization to achieve mutual success. It's not just about upward management in the traditional sense; it's about proactively managing your interactions and perceptions across all levels of the organization, including peers and those in leadership positions.


Personal Branding: Central to managing up and across is the concept of personal branding—deliberately crafting and influencing how others perceive your professional identity. This involves consistently demonstrating your unique value proposition through your contributions, expertise, and the way you engage with others. A strong personal brand makes you a memorable and respected figure within your organization, someone who is seen as a go-to expert, a problem solver, and a leader, regardless of your official title.


Alignment with Leadership: A crucial aspect of managing up is ensuring that your career goals and professional development efforts are in sync with the vision and needs of the organization. This alignment not only positions you as a forward-thinking and strategic asset to the team but also opens up channels for advocacy and support from those in leadership roles. It's about understanding the bigger picture and how your career trajectory can contribute to and benefit from the organization's direction and success.


Outcome-Oriented Approach: Managing up and influencing across should be seen through the lens of outcomes—what you accomplish and how those accomplishments contribute to the organization's goals. It's about taking initiative, proposing solutions, and leading projects that align with strategic objectives. This approach not only showcases your leadership capabilities but also demonstrates a deep commitment to the organization's success, fostering a culture of trust and mutual respect.


By embedding these concepts into your professional demeanor, you not only enhance your visibility and impact within the organization but also pave the way for meaningful career advancement and fulfillment.


Why It's Important

Navigating the complexities of the professional landscape requires more than just hard work and dedication; it demands an acute understanding of the bigger picture and a strategic approach to collaboration and influence.


Enhanced Visibility and Strategic Insight: One of the most common workplace grievances is feeling out of the loop—like decisions that dramatically affect your work and career are made in a black box you can't access. Managing up and influencing across effectively pulls back the curtain, offering you a front-row seat to the strategic discussions and challenges at the leadership level. This visibility not only demystifies the direction in which the organization is headed but also equips you with the knowledge to align your efforts with these broader objectives. Imagine the empowerment that comes from understanding the 'why' behind decisions, enabling you to anticipate changes and position yourself as a proactive contributor to solutions, rather than feeling like a bystander in your own career trajectory.


Building Credibility and Political Capital: The relationships you cultivate with leaders through managing up are more than just networking—they're an investment in your professional credibility and the accumulation of political capital. This capital is not about office politics in the traditional sense but represents the trust, respect, and confidence you earn from those in decision-making positions. With this foundation, your ideas and suggestions carry weight, allowing you to influence decisions and advocate for initiatives that you believe in. This isn't just about having a voice; it's about ensuring that voice is heard, valued, and acted upon. It's the difference between merely submitting an idea and championing a cause that shapes the direction of your team, your department, and potentially the entire organization.


Professional Development, Leadership, and Job Satisfaction: Integrating these concepts into your approach to professional development, leadership, and job satisfaction transforms the landscape of your career. It's about evolving from a participant to a key player in your organization's narrative. You're not just adapting to changes—you're helping to guide them. This level of engagement and influence significantly enhances your job satisfaction, as you see your contributions directly affecting the organization's trajectory and your career path.


How To Plan Your Personal Networking Campaign

Navigating up and across can be hard, especially when you don’t have an immediate business reason to be meeting with your cross-functional and vertical colleagues. Here are some tips to help you define a personalized strategy and plan for making and nurturing these connections long-term in a way that adds value for both sides and doesn’t come across as self-interested.


1. Identify the Right People For Connections:


  • Cross-Functional Leaders: Building relationships with leaders outside your immediate department can provide a broader perspective on the organization's challenges and opportunities. These connections offer insights into different facets of the business, enriching your understanding and enabling you to contribute more holistically.

  • Advocates in Leadership Meetings: Cultivate relationships with individuals who have a seat at the table in meetings you're not part of. These advocates can represent your interests, share your successes, and ensure your contributions are recognized at the decision-making level.

  • Future Hiring Managers: Consider connecting with potential future managers or leaders in departments where you aspire to work. Understanding their challenges and goals can position you as a proactive problem-solver, making you a top-of-mind candidate when opportunities arise.

2. Set Up Value-add Meetings and Build the Relationships:


  • Initial Meetings: When reaching out for an initial meeting, be clear about your intent to learn and understand their role, challenges, and priorities. This can be framed as an informational interview, where the focus is on gaining insights rather than pushing your agenda.

  • Discussion Points: Start by asking about their current projects, challenges, and what they see as the biggest opportunities for the organization. Share relevant experiences or insights where appropriate, but keep the focus on listening and learning.

  • Adding Value: Always think about how you can add value to the conversation. This could be through sharing a relevant article, connecting them with a contact who could help with a challenge they're facing, or offering a fresh perspective on an issue.

  • Follow-Up and Cadence: After your initial meeting, follow up with a thank-you note expressing gratitude for their time and insights. Be sure you make all follow-up notes personal – mention something specific you found interesting or that you can help them solve; send an article or blog link. It’s important to demonstrate to them that you were listening and engaged so they feel their time was well spent. Periodically check in with updates or new insights that relate to your previous discussion. A quarterly cadence for follow-up meetings or check-ins can keep the relationship warm without feeling intrusive.

3. Tips to Help You Manage the Relationship Dynamic:


  • Subtlety and Authenticity: Your approach should always be authentic. People can sense when they're being 'networked' in a transactional way. Focus on building genuine relationships based on mutual respect and shared interests.

  • Providing Value Before Asking for Anything: Before you ever ask for a favor or advocate for your own interests, ensure you've provided value to the other person. This could be in the form of insights, support on their projects, or introductions to valuable contacts.

  • Listening More Than Talking: Use these interactions to listen and gather information. The more you understand about others' roles and challenges, the better equipped you'll be to contribute in meaningful ways.

CAUTION: You don’t have to have an immediate response when your leaders express frustrations and challenges to you. Leaders in your organization have experience on their side, so the obvious solutions we might think about off the cuff are probably not new insights. Sometimes just listening can be enough, especially when dealing with cross-functional leaders. Be empathetic and consider what you can bring back later. Be careful not to insert yourself where you can’t be truly helpful – this will create a situation in which the leader now has to spend extra time managing you out of the way! If your expertise is not relevant to the challenge at hand, simply offer to help in whatever way they feel you can and move on to other topics. If you want to, leave them their favorite comfort item (a coffee, a snack, etc) with a thank you note instead of trying to solve problems that won’t benefit from your expertise.

By adopting this strategic approach to managing up and influencing across, you're not just promoting yourself; you're building a reputation as a collaborative, insightful, and strategic thinker. This positions you not just for immediate gains but for long-term career growth and satisfaction.


How To Ensure You Nurture an Impactful, Authentic Image

Your personal brand is at the heart of your professional identity, encapsulating what you uniquely bring to the table, how you differentiate yourself in the workplace, and helping others understand where you want your career to go next. Here's how you can create your professional brand and effective personal messaging.


1.    Identify Your Unique Strengths and Skills: Consider what colleagues and managers have consistently praised you for and think about the moments when you've felt most engaged and successful at work. These are the building blocks of your value add.

 

2.     Understand Your Personal Values: Think about what makes you tick and what you really want. Look at a list of value-words and goals; pick out the ones that resonate with you. Financial gain, impact on customers, impact on your company’s strategic direction. There are dozens of potential goals and values that you can identify to help you understand yourself better.

 

3.     Articulate Your Value AND Your Values: Condense your strengths and skills into a clear, concise statement that summarizes what you offer. This should not only reflect your capabilities but also how you solve problems and contribute to your organization's goals. Think about the outcomes you achieve and the benefits you bring to your team and the broader organization.


Here are my value statements to give you an idea of what this can look like (everyone is different, so create your own!).

 

  • My Value Statement: I'm a market strategist, opportunity creator, product visionary, results-driven seller of ideas and solutions who offers data-driven strategy development and execution support for innovators and entrepreneurs

  • My Values: No idea that could make life better should ever fade away or fail simply for lack of access to information and expertise; that is a moral indignity

4. Align With Organizational Needs: Ensure your value is not just about you but is aligned with your organization's values and needs. This alignment demonstrates that you're not only self-aware but also organizationally aware, positioning you as a key player in the company's future.

 

5.     Communicate Consistently: Your personal brand is not just what you say about yourself; it's also what others say about you. Consistently demonstrate your value and brand in your work, your collaborations, and your communications. Every project, meeting, and interaction is an opportunity to reinforce your brand.

 

6.     Seek Feedback and Evolve: A strong personal brand is not static; it evolves as you grow and as organizational needs change. Seek feedback regularly to understand how others perceive you and where you can improve or adapt. This feedback loop is crucial for keeping your brand relevant and impactful. This is a great topic for mentor discussions.

 

7.     LEVERAGE YOUR BRAND IN NETWORKING: When managing up and influencing across, leverage your personal brand by sharing relevant successes and experiences that highlight your value proposition. This doesn't mean boasting; it's about sharing examples that illustrate how you've tackled challenges or contributed to successes in ways that resonate with your audience's needs and goals. Couch it in solutions and empathy.

 

8.     Be Authentic: Above all, your personal value communication and brand should be authentic reflections of who you are. Authenticity builds trust and credibility, which are foundational for effective relationships and influence within your organization. Further, if you are inauthentic, your brand may cause leaders to direct you into areas that are misaligned with your skills and goals. The bottom line is that inauthenticity can be easily spotted, damaging your relationships and brand, and it can lead you down the wrong path. It’s a win-win to be authentic.


By thoughtfully defining and communicating your personal value and brand, you equip yourself with a powerful tool for navigating professional relationships and advancing your career. This strategic self-awareness enables you to not only articulate your worth but also to make meaningful contributions that are recognized and valued by your peers, leaders, and the organization as a whole.


How To Manage Through Networking Challenges

Networking within the professional landscape is pivotal for career growth but comes with its unique set of challenges. Navigating these intricacies requires a blend of adaptability, empathy, and strategic communication.


Navigating Office Politics With Diplomacy: Your aim should be to resolve conflicts in a way that strengthens your relationships and team cohesion. Contributes insights and solutions that reflect on you as a forward-thinker and problem-solver, rather than a participant in office politics. Promote honesty and directness while seeking to understand many divergent points of view. Above all, never engage in gossip.


Overcoming Resistance: Encountering resistance, whether to your ideas, projects, or your efforts to network, is a common challenge. Seek to understand the source of the resistance. Is it fear of change, lack of trust, or perhaps a misunderstanding of your intentions? It might even be a legitimate business need. Empathy is your ally here; try to see the situation from other perspectives and address concerns directly. Clear communication and demonstrating the mutual benefits of your proposals can help alleviate resistance. If your proposal is, in reality, misaligned with the other party’s objectives, be flexible; know when to change direction or compromise and when not to.


Balancing Assertiveness and Diplomacy: Assertiveness is necessary for making your voice heard and your contributions recognized. However, it's important to balance this with diplomacy, especially when managing up and across. Articulate your ideas and needs confidently, but be receptive to feedback and alternative viewpoints. This balance ensures that you are respected for your contributions and perspective without alienating others.


Adjusting Your Network: Recognize that not every connection within your network will serve the same role. Some may offer mentorship, while others might provide sponsorship or collaboration opportunities. Be open to adjusting the nature of your relationships based on what is mutually beneficial. For instance, if someone isn't in a position to be a mentor, they might still offer valuable insights or introductions. Regularly assess your network and be willing to realign your relationships to better match your evolving career goals and the changing dynamics of your organization.


Listening and Aligning Interests: Effective networking is as much about listening as it is about speaking. Pay close attention to the interests, challenges, and goals of your colleagues. This not only helps you identify areas where you can add value but also enables you to align your networking efforts with the needs and capacities of your connections. When your colleagues see that you're genuinely interested in creating mutually beneficial relationships, they're more likely to support and advocate for you.


Cultivating Long-Term Relationships: Finally, view networking not as a series of transactions but as the cultivation of long-term professional relationships. This perspective encourages you to invest in these relationships, offering your support and collaboration without an immediate expectation of return. Over time, these relationships can become a powerful support network, aiding your career growth and professional development.


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