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Beyond the Conference Room Solution

March 06, 2014

Best Advice: Invest in Relationships in All Directions

My wife received this wonderful post from her friend, Jacki Zehner and since people are often asking me about navigating professional relationship, I thought I would post Jacki's insightful words - BK. 

I spent 14 years as a professional at Goldman Sachs. I was hired as an analyst, then became a trader, then a desk manager, and in 1996 I became the youngest woman and first female trader to be made a partner of the firm. Over those years I had the good fortune of receiving some great career advice, but the most useful advice did not come from a person, but instead came from a process: Goldman’s partner selection process.

In 2000, I left my trading seat to take a position in the Executive Office where my job was to help manage the careers of the firm’s managing director population. I was very involved in many human capital management programs, including succession planning, lateral hiring, performance measurement, compensation, leadership development, diversity and partner selection. The selection process was very robust, and it involved names being put forward to be cross-reviewed. There was a team of senior executives who had the responsibility to discuss the candidate with a variety of people with whom that candidate worked, whether it be directly, indirectly, or sometimes distantly. These people included senior managers, peers within and outside of their direct work area and people who worked for that candidate. These conversations were meant to enhance what could be found from the performance review process and the direct manager recommendation. Here is where the lesson comes in.

It really matters that you have quality, 360-degree relationships. It really matters that you not just manage up or just manage down, but that you invest in relationships in all directions. This is not about being ‘liked’, but rather it is about being perceived as helpful and a team player. Perhaps this is best illustrated with an example, and in particular, an example of the perfect partner candidate for Goldman Sachs.

In my experience from over a decade ago, the perfect candidate was first and foremost great at his or her job, whatever job that may be. This person managed their team well, was reliable, had a high level of responsibility, executed against stated goals and objectives, retained staff, was a good communicator, created and fostered a place where talented people would want to work, made money for the firm, owned up to their mistakes, was a visionary…all of the usual stuff. Those were generally the minimum requirements to be considered for a partnership. The bonus points were awarded if the candidate helped people when it did not directly help him or her, were involved in recruiting efforts, mentored young people, were generally a ‘hands-up’ kind of person, and the OVERALL impression of that person was good. The perfect candidate was not just thinking of his or her business, career, manager, or direct reports, but was concerned with the bigger picture as well.

This goes even deeper. As a professional, you need to care about every single contact point you have with every single person, both internal and external. Whether that person is an intern who is only there for the summer, someone from another department who needs help with something that may be out of your day-to-day responsibility but you could help nevertheless, or a client who said no to you today but may say yes in the future, you have to care about your interactions with everyone. This may sound like a lot of work, and especially work you don’t have time for if you want to succeed in your role, but over time, it will matter.

In my experience with the partner selection process, I saw candidates’ promotions accelerated for being a well-rounded employee, and penalized for not being one. I saw the managers of said candidates being shocked when their person was not given the nod, because when people in other departments were called, they described that person as ‘not willing to help’ and ‘self-promotional’.

Does this mean that every partner fit this perfect profile? Of course not, but your chances of becoming a partner were a lot higher if you did. You might be thinking that your firm does not have such a robust process, and therefore this is not relevant advice, but I am suggesting that no matter what the process at your place of work might be, take care to always be as friendly, as positive, and as helpful as you can possibly be. I call this taking a 360 perspective.

Take a moment to reflect on your own career. If today someone were to call every person you have had professional interactions with, what would they say? What would they say was your biggest weakness? Would they describe you as a ‘go-to’ person at your place of work? Would key people even know you and know of your contributions? While first and foremost you need to be good at your job, being attentive to the bigger picture certainly will not hurt, and when it comes to that big promotion, it may well be the deciding factor.

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