Conventional wisdom holds that the politically astute in the workplace only bring ideas and issues that they would like to up channel to their direct supervisor. I happen to have a great relationship with my manager who relays my successes to the department, so this is not currently an issue for me, but it has been in past roles. And from what I hear, it can be a political minefield for many in the workplace.
So, what to do? In a hierarchical company, approaching a member of higher management in person, by phone, or by email may result in an annoyed message to your manager because it violates protocol and other people simply don’t have time for your thoughts or concerns.
Every person is different but these are five ways that I inadvertently took an end-run around this issue and got to know several members of other departments and upper management better. These suggestions ought not be used in a manipulative manner. They should arise organically based on your own interests… with a little bravery in some cases.
1. Twitter is the ultimate rank leveler. It’s normal to follow people who don’t know you without the expectation that they will follow you back. Twitter etiquette allows you to follow people because you are interested in what they write.
I made a list of everyone I knew who works or worked for Monster Worldwide and called it “Employees and Friends of Monster.” I occasionally looked at people copied on an email of particular interest and followed them and added them to my list. The cool thing about lists is they make it easy for you to quickly scan what people at your company are talking about. And other people can also subscribe to your lists. A Monster editor and marketing manager are subscribed to my list, and I’m glad other people also find it useful.
Because people who don’t work directly in social media tend to look at Twitter when they have a bit of time to kill, it’s a great place to strike up casual conversations with people you would like to know better who post interesting things in a very low key way. If they don’t respond, it’s no big deal. It’s not a breach of etiquette, in my opinion, not to have the time or interest to respond to everything on Twitter.
2. Join multi-departmental voluntary or special interest organizations at work. At my office, I joined a book club and got to know upper level managers in several departments that I never would have met otherwise. And the more I spoke to those people, the better I understood how our company operated as a whole.
3. Once you meet higher-up executives in your company, add them on LinkedIn. First, make sure your page is appropriate and up to date. Then, the hard part for me, avoid liking anything controversial as it is immediately visible to all of your connections. If the manager does add you back, pay attention to their background and what they post and “like.” You may have more in common than you would think, and those common areas of interest can lead to some extremely non-threatening communication with your new connections. You can also follow people throughout their careers and offer and receive help in different roles as appropriate.
4. Blog about work in a positive or instructive way. I post my blog pieces on Medium and LinkedIn and a few have been published on Monster.com. They often get re-tweeted on Twitter. It’s possible that in blogging about issues that people face in the workplace your ideas will resonate with others that you have yet to meet, but when you do, can add value to the conversation or even to your career.
5. Bring your authentic self to work and talk to your manager and Human Resources, if appropriate, about involving your coworkers in a charity event that is close to your heart. I often participate in AIDS Walk Boston and I would love to start a Monster Worldwide team. One of my upcoming plans is to get approval to move forward with this. The idea of an interdepartmental group of people joining together to do something positive for our community is extremely exciting.
To bring it all together, you can have awesome relationships at work that cross vertical and departmental lines, and those relationships will help you enjoy the opinions of a diverse group of people and be a huge value to you if you decide you want to pursue a leadership role at your company. For these relationships to work, you must be sincerely interested in getting to know other people for reasons other than personal gain, but an occasion may arise where you can both give and receive assistance from your wider circle of acquaintances.
Jessica L. Benjamin writes about workplace culture, leadership, academia, tech & politics. Reed English BA, Loyola JD.