This has been a great year for conversations about “equity” –- political equity, financial equity (or not), social equity.
From a conceptual standpoint, equity refers to how much investment you’ve built in a given asset, which might be your political reputation and influence, the value of your home relative to your mortgage, or the amount of standing and influence you have in your community of choice.
This last example especially interests me, because my delightful (and oh-so-patient) twenty-something colleagues have recently been coaching me in the nuances of building social equity on sites like Reddit, Twitter, and Stumbleupon. Essentially, the focus is on investing time and energy in “engaging,” and on building community trust in who you are based on the value of your contributions to the community.
As I struggled to connect with my inner social marketer (and my coworkers tried not to laugh), I realized that the same concepts apply equally well to building what I would call “professional equity.”
Invest in Relationships
Every day in our careers we have an opportunity to build positive long-term relationships with coworkers we’ve identified as people we enjoy, admire, respect, and/or can learn from. While working with them, we have an opportunity to see very clearly who they are, how their values align with ours, and what professional skills they bring.
We also have an opportunity to help these individuals build their careers. In so doing, we build long-term and mutual respect, trust, and goodwill. By being a positive player in your coworkers’ lives and careers, you signal that you care as much about their success as you do your own. And, you build the professional relationships –- and equity –- that will sustain your own career for years to come.
Build Your Professional Equity
There are all sorts of ways to build positive connections with your coworkers and the other people with whom you come into contact professionally. Here are some of the basics to get you started:
Support others’ success. Despite author and playwright Gore Vidal’s oft-quoted statement that “it is not enough to succeed; others must fail,” your career will be a lot richer (in every way) if you find ways to help others succeed. They will appreciate it, remember it, and recognize that you are someone they can trust.
Share knowledge and experience. Assuming we’ve been paying attention, the longer we work, the more we learn. Understand that your knowledge and experience can be invaluable to someone who’s just starting out or may not have experienced what you’ve been through (and learned from). Share that knowledge and experience in a supportive, non-critical manner, while also recognizing that others have much to teach you, regardless of age or background.
Find opportunities to give credit –- in public. A powerful way to build authentic trust is to make sure that you publicly recognize (in meetings, team emails, company newsletters, casual conversations) coworkers for their good work. This could be a smart idea, an innovative process, a resolved issue, or a great team effort.
Model collaboration. Work environments can be competitive, or collaborative. Sometimes all it takes to move a group from the former to the latter is to take a leadership role and model collaboration. That means you, going visible with sharing knowledge, soliciting feedback, offering help and constructive recommendations, being a sounding board, and finding ways to support and promote a team mindset. People will value you as a colleague rather than distrust you as a competitor, and will feel safe seeking out future opportunities to work with you.
Find ways to help others. Ways to help others are limited only by your imagination –- most of us need lots of help, every day! But here are some possibilities:
Passing along information about a job opening
Brainstorming ideas with a colleague needing to develop new solutions for a work issue
Providing introductions and connections between colleagues with similar interests
Recommending someone for a job
Bringing someone in on a committee
Pinch-hitting for someone on a professional commitment
Sharing information of value you’ve come across
Contributing your expertise to a colleague’s social cause
Mentoring younger (or older!) colleagues
Add building professional connections to your new-job agenda. One of the benefits of moving around professionally (AKA, job-hopping) is that you get to join a lot of new professional communities, and build connections to a lot of new colleagues. In fact, if you’re looking to create a sustainable career, the breadth and depth of your connections is a key asset — but only if the people you’re connecting with trust and respect your professional skills and integrity.
So, make it a point with every new job to establish high-value relationships with key individuals (the ones you like and respect), and to demonstrate to them your commitment to collaboration, trust, and mutual success.
Recognize the difference between networking and building professional equity. LinkedIn and other social networking tools are excellent for building links to other people, but true professional equity gets created by working with individuals in a positive manner. That work can be virtual or face-to-face, business-oriented or volunteer, peer-to-peer or boss-to-staffer, or any other myriad variations. But the goal is always to find a way to establish a positive working relationship that will carry forward once you’ve moved on to other jobs or projects.
Professional Equity and Your Career
Over the past twenty years, I’ve worked in seven different organizations and led or been a team member for at least ten different information projects. During that time, I’ve also given workshops, served on professional committees, worked with book editors and marketing directors for my four books, and been part of a number of advisory boards. In each on of these situations, I’ve had an opportunity to establish positive working relationships with each of the individuals I came into contact with. Essentially, I’ve had an opportunity to build professional equity.
Happily, I tend to enjoy the work I do, and by extension, the people with whom I do it. I’ve tried to be enjoyable to work with, collaborative, supportive, and appreciative of others’ efforts and achievements and I tend to gravitate to others who mirror those same values. The result: during the process of working with a large number of really cool information professionals, I’ve had the good fortune to build long-lasting, extremely rewarding professional relationships built on mutual respect and trust. How has this turned out?
Last week I was able to provide two job references for former co-workers, connected a former colleague (now working as a contract employee) with a new client, helped a current colleague draft a conference proposal, and coached another staffer on how to talk so the CEO will listen.
Also last week, a guy I’d had the pleasure of presenting with at a conference put me in touch with an individual my company has been trying to connect with for months, a former student sent me information about a nonprofit with whom my company may now partner, and a fellow member of my local AIIP group recommended an intern who has just the digital media expertise we’ve been looking for.
Bottom line: think of building your professional equity as an updated version of karma: what goes around, comes around. And, if what you’re sending around is trust, collaboration, mutual support, and a genuine interest in others’ success, it’s pretty likely that all of those gifts are going to come back to you as well.
Multiplied over years of work engagements, the professional equity you build will be the greatest asset you have for creating a sustainable career.