Relationships and reputation in the enterprise: a course outline

One of the best things about working for a large company should be the vast array of roles and opportunities throughout the firm. Yet, for most people, it’s easier to find a job across town than across the hall. So people tend to stagnate in less-than-fulfilling roles. Or leave. And tremendous personal and corporate potential are squandered as a result.

I think we can change this. And the key is teaching people how to build relationships and shape their reputation at work.

The weakness of strong connections

If you want access to opportunities, then you need to know about them. And the people with the opportunities need to know about you - who you are, what you do, and how well you do it.

There are two big problems with this. First, it’s very difficult to find out what opportunities really exist. Great opportunities are often created with a specific person in mind. And most never make it to any official clearinghouse before they’re already filled. Internally, all you can do is discreetly ask your closest connections (your “strong ties”) to keep an eye out. In large firms, though, there are simply many more opportunities than your small circle could possibly know about.

Second, when people want to know about you, the main source of information is typically your manager. The manager is the one who has the official view of your performance and who needs to sponsor you for promotion (and often other opportunities).

So, as we hope to match the right people with the right jobs, we have an incomplete and incorrect view of both.

The strength of weak ones

But we’ve known for a long time there are better ways. Almost 40 years ago, Mark Granovetter authored the most famous paper in sociology based on his findings that “most jobs were found through 'weak' acquaintances." Simply put, he found that people outside your strongest connections were key to matching people and opportunities.

Hence the age-old importance of networking. Of going beyond your circle and creating a network of weak ties. The more people who know you and know what you do, the more opportunities you’ll be aware of.

More recently, social platforms have made it easier to create social networks and make them larger than ever. And since these these tools make it easy to publish and get feedback from a wide audience in a public way, they allow you to shape your own reputation instead of having your manager do it.

If we know that social networks are “indispensable to individuals’ opportunities” and that it’s easier than ever for anyone to build them, then now’s the time to teach the required skills at work.

What would a course look like?

I’m preparing a "Relationships & Reputation in the Enterprise" course to be taught within a large company. There’s no special system or 12 step program (all of the course elements are widely available). If there’s anything new, it’s the idea of teaching employees these skills in a corporate environment in order to improve mobility, diversity, and engagement.

The basic structure

Most corporate training is delivered in small chunks, either online or lecture style. This is great if you want employees to know the latest anti-money laundering rules. But it’s bad if you want to teach them life skills.

So the course I’m planning will take place over 3 months. And it will be 10% learning- by-lecture and 90% learning-by-doing. Here are the main elements:

  • 6 half-day classes (lectures and in-class exercises)
  • Peer support groups: each person is matched with 2 others to form a peer group. They’ll meet regularly outside of class to share progress and challenges; to listen and help.
  • Coaching: access to coaches to escalate issues the peer group can’t handle
  • Social events to reinforce class bonds (particularly among the peer groups) and to practice certain conversational skills taught in class
  • External guest speakers: people who’ve achieved their goals through relationships and reputation
  • Internal guest speakers: people within the firm who are successfully applying concepts in the course

The 5 main topics

I was lucky enough to participate in a program by Keith Ferrazzi called the Relationship Master’s Academy. It consisted of 3 weekends over the course of a year with peer support groups that met between sessions. The content consisted largely of material from his two books: “Never Eat Alone” and “Who’s Got Your Back?” (The in-person academy has since evolved and become an on-line offering called myGreenlight.)

Inspired in large part by Ferrazzi's ideas, here are the 5 main topics we'll cover in "Relationships & Reputation in the Enterprise":

1. Defining your personal goal

This is the most obvious and the most difficult part of the course, working with each person to think through and articulate what they want to achieve. And how that objective fits into a broader picture of their future life. Exercises include each person sharing their goal with their peer group and discussing it, often asking “Why?” in an effort to ensure the goal will lead to greater engagement and fulfillment.

2. “Leading with generosity” and the basics of building relationships

Perhaps Ferrazzi’s greatest contribution has been to reframe how people think of networking. He helped make it less about point-to-point transactions and more about leading with generosity with a broad, diverse set of people who can help you reach your goal. This section includes content on generosity, authenticity, and intimacy while also providing techniques and exercises on how to employ those concepts in an enterprise context.

3. Listing your assets

To lead with generosity, you need to have something to give. And most people think too narrowly about what they have to give, thereby limiting their interactions. This section helps people think much more broadly about what they have to offer. Through numerous examples and exercises, everyone develops a comprehensive inventory and how to make use of it.

4. Your social networking plan

Armed with a clear sense of purpose, an understanding of how to approach people, and an inventory of what you have to offer, the next step is to identify who can help you - both the kinds of people and specific individuals. You’re not trying to get anything specific from each person other than a closer relationship through authentic, generous behavior.

The idea is that the sum of these actions over a broad, diverse network will lead to a set of closer relationships that are fulfilling in and of themselves while also yielding more opportunities. The exercises are all about helping people put the ideas into action, helping them build their network as they learn.

5. Using social platforms

So far, all of this has very little to do with technology. Dale Carnegie could have taught this course in 1936. The last section of the course is to teach people how to use modern social tools and practices to shape their reputation through curating and publishing content while they establish and enrich more connections.

What’s next?

My hypothesis and my hope is that everyone can learn the skills needed to build relationships and shape their reputation at work.

But is a 3-month course the best way to teach people? Is this the right set of topics?

With this post and with the first class, I’m hoping to take a step. To attract more opinions and ideas and to keep evolving the course.

As I wrote in my first post:

“...Gallup was right in asserting that increased engagement at work boosts productivity. They said disengagement costs $300 billion in the US. I think they’re off by a factor of at least 3.”

The opportunity to improve our access to opportunities is of huge value to both the individual and to the enterprise. It’s time to do something about it.