To Diversify Your Network, Follow the 2+1 Rule
October 27, 2013 Editor 0
Aimee, a senior executive at a global financial services firm, had carefully cultivated her network of sponsors and supporters over 15 years, but recently, she watched helplessly as waves of market dislocation, structural reorganizations, and headcount reductions battered the industry and shredded her connections. “Many of the leadership team whom I had worked with for a number of years changed,” she explained. “You feel you’ve lost the equity you built up over the years — people knowing what you do and how you perform.”
Conventional wisdom claims that a powerful sponsor can help you keep the job you have or find you a new one. But with job insecurity the new normal, we have heard from a number of top-level managers who had counted on one high-level backer to protect them — only to find themselves marginalized or even made redundant when their sponsor jumped ship.
Financial advisors frequently enjoin clients to diversify their portfolio of assets. Sponsorship is no different. A single sponsor offers a very thin shield. She — or he — might be spread too thin to give you the protection you need. She might take a better offer elsewhere. She might get canned. She might peel off to launch her own venture. In short, in tough times, your sponsor may no longer have the chips to expend helping you because she needs them to protect her own interests.
The solution? Cultivate more than one sponsor. The ideal life raft, research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows, consists of three sponsors: In organizations with fewer than ten people, you’re best served by having one sponsor within the firm and two outside of it in the same industry; in larger firms, you’ll want one outsider and two insiders — one in your line of sight and one in a different department or division. This “2+1 Rule” pertains for every career stage, from entry level to executive.
One manager compares her sponsor strategy to her investment portfolio. “You want it to be diversified, and you want to keep adding to it, or it won’t be an adequate hedge,” she counsels. This means that your sponsors should be independent of each other, so that if one goes down, you don’t find the others — and yourself — dragged along.
Building out your portfolio of sponsors means increasing the number of arenas in which you play a leadership role. Your job alone probably won’t attract the attention of powerful individuals outside your team, department, or division, especially if they’re busy watching their own backs. You need to make yourself visible to a wide range of high-level managers across divisions. Volunteer for formal mentoring programs as a mentor, or sign up for a high-profile position in another leadership development program. Ask for formalized mentorship for yourself, as executives are often tapped to lead these programs.
Spearhead a philanthropic project or cultural event, or consider taking a leading role in an employee network. Two women whom Barbara Adachi, head of Human Capital for Deloitte Consulting, describes as her protégées both “found” her, she says, through WIN, Deloitte’s professional women’s network, which Adachi heads up. It was their offer to help her and their follow-through on the important tasks she assigned them that won them her advocacy. “Even though one of my protégées was in a different division, I was able to be a voice at the table when she came up for partnership,” Adachi says, because the woman’s work on the WIN project had convincingly established her leadership abilities.
Outside the office, take a similar tack. Run for office in your professional association. Attend conferences, and find a way to be invited to be a speaker, panelist, or facilitator. Create a personal board of directors or circle of mentors outside of your company to act as a sounding board and source of advice and introductions.
Nurture your networks. Join a philanthropic cause; get on a nonprofit board; take a leadership role in your church, synagogue, or community organization; head up your alumni chapter — all with a view to gaining visibility in a larger community by showcasing your unique skills or experience. While potential sponsors in these arenas may not be directly linked to your profession, they comprise an influence network which will burnish your brand and expand the scope of connections you can call on.
The 2+1 Rule ensures that you’ll survive a direct hit to your department, a threat to your division, or even a catastrophic blow to your firm. Finding and sustaining a relationship with three sponsors is a daunting task, to be sure. But now more than ever, diversification is the key to career survival.
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