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← How to find the person who can help you get ahead at work

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Showing Revision 6 created 12/13/2018 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. It was the spring of 1988
  2. when I had the aha moment.
  3. I was at my first roundtable,
  4. and for those of you who don't know,
  5. the roundtable was a very
    commonly used phrase on Wall Street
  6. to describe the year-end
    evaluative process
  7. for analysts, associates, vice presidents,
    all the way up to managing directors.
  8. That was the process where they
    were discussed behind closed doors
  9. around a table, i.e. the round table,
  10. and everyone was put into a category --
  11. the top bucket, the middle bucket,
    the lower bucket --
  12. and then that was translated
    into a bonus range
  13. that would be assigned
    to each professional.
  14. This was my first time there,
    and as I observed,
  15. I saw that there was one person
    that was responsible
  16. for recording the outcome
    of a conversation.
  17. There were other people in the room
    that had the responsibility
  18. of presenting the cases
    of all the candidates.
  19. And there were other invited guests
    who were supposed to comment
  20. as a candidate's position was presented.
  21. It was interesting to me
    that those other people
  22. were folks who were more senior
    than the folks that were being discussed
  23. and they theoretically had had
    some interaction with those candidates.
  24. Now, I was really excited to be
    at this roundtable for the first time,

  25. because I knew that my own process
    would go through this same way,
  26. and that my bonus would be
    decided in the same way,
  27. so I wanted to know how it worked,
  28. but more importantly,
  29. I wanted to understand
    how this concept of a meritocracy
  30. that every company that I talked to
    walking out of business school
  31. was selling.
  32. Every time I talked to a company,
  33. they would say, "Our culture,
    our process, is a meritocracy.
  34. The way you get ahead in this organization
    is that you're smart,
  35. you put your head down
    and you work really hard,
  36. and you'll go right to the top.
  37. So here was my opportunity to see
    exactly how that worked.
  38. So as the process began,

  39. I heard the recorder
    call the first person's name.
  40. "Joe Smith."
  41. The person responsible
    for presenting Joe's case did just that.
  42. Three quarters of the way through,
    someone interrupted and said,
  43. "This is a great candidate, outstanding,
  44. has great analytical
    and quantitative skills.
  45. This is a superstar."
  46. The recorder then said,
  47. "Sounds like Joe
    should go in the top bucket."
  48. Second person, Mary Smith.
  49. Halfway through that presentation,
    someone said, "Solid candidate.
  50. Nothing really special,
    but a good pair of hands."
  51. The recorder said,
  52. "Sounds like Mary
    should go in the middle bucket."
  53. And then someone said, "Arnold Smith."
  54. Before the person
    could present Arnold's case,
  55. somebody said, "Disaster. Disaster.
    This kid doesn't have a clue.
  56. Can't do a model."
  57. And before the case was presented,
  58. the recorder said,
  59. "Sounds like Arnold
    should go in the bottom bucket."
  60. It was at that moment
    that I clutched my pearls --

  61. (Laughter)

  62. and said, "Who is going to speak for me?"

  63. Who is going to speak for me?
  64. It was that moment that I realized
    that this idea of a meritocracy
  65. that every organizations sells
    is really just a myth.
  66. You cannot have a 100 percent
    meritocratic environment
  67. when there is a human element
    involved in the evaluative equation,
  68. because by definition,
  69. that makes it subjective.
  70. I knew at that moment that somebody
    would have to be behind closed doors
  71. arguing on my behalf,
  72. presenting content in such a way
  73. that other decision makers
    around that table
  74. would answer in my best favor.
  75. That was a really interesting lesson,

  76. and then I said to myself,
    "Well, who is that person?
  77. What do you call this person?"
  78. And as I thought about
    the popular business terms at the time,
  79. I said, wow, this person
    can't be a mentor,
  80. because a mentor's job
    is to give you tailored advice,
  81. tailored specifically to you
    and to your career aspirations.
  82. They're the ones who give you
    the good, the bad and the ugly
  83. in a no-holds-barred way.
  84. OK. Person can't be
    a champion or an advocate,
  85. because you don't necessarily
    have to spend any currency
  86. to be someone's champion.
  87. You don't necessarily
    get invited to the room
  88. behind closed doors if you're an advocate.
  89. It was almost two years later

  90. when I realized what
    this person should be called.
  91. I was speaking
    at the University of Michigan
  92. to the MBA candidates,
  93. talking about the lessons
    that I had learned
  94. after my three short years on Wall Street,
  95. and then it came to me.
  96. I said, "Oh, this person
    that is carrying your interest,
  97. or as I like to say,
    carrying your paper into the room,
  98. this person who is spending
  99. their valuable political
    and social capital on you,
  100. this person who is going
    to pound the table on your behalf,
  101. this is a sponsor.
  102. This is a sponsor."
  103. And then I said to myself,

  104. "Well, how do you get a sponsor?
  105. And frankly, why do you need one?"
  106. Well, you need a sponsor, frankly,
  107. because as you can see,
  108. there's not one evaluative process
    that I can think of,
  109. whether it's in academia,
    health care, financial services,
  110. not one that does not have
    a human element.
  111. So that means it has
    that measure of subjectivity.
  112. There is a measure of subjectivity
    in who is presenting your case.
  113. There is a measure of subjectivity
  114. in what they say
  115. and how they interpret
    any objective data that you might have.
  116. There is a measure of subjectivity
    in how they say what they're going to say
  117. to influence the outcome.
  118. So therefore, you need to make sure
    that that person who is speaking,
  119. that sponsor,
  120. has your best interests at heart
  121. and has the power to get it,
    whatever it is for you,
  122. to get it done behind closed doors.
  123. Now, I'm asked all the time,

  124. "How do you get one?"
  125. Well, frankly, nirvana is when
    someone sees you in an environment
  126. and decides, "I'm going
    to make it happen for you.
  127. I'm going to make sure
    that you are successful."
  128. But for many of us in this room,
    we know it doesn't really happen that way.
  129. So let me introduce
    this concept of currency

  130. and talk to you about how it impacts
    your ability to get a sponsor.
  131. There are two types of currency
    in any environment:
  132. performance currency
    and relationship currency.
  133. And performance currency
    is the currency that is generated
  134. by your delivering that
    which was asked of you
  135. and a little bit extra.
  136. Every time you deliver upon an assignment
    above people's expectations,
  137. you generate performance currency.
  138. It works exactly like the stock market.
  139. Any time a company says to the street
  140. that they will deliver 25 cents a share
  141. and that company delivers
    40 cents a share,
  142. that stock goes up, and so will yours.
  143. Performance currency
    is valuable for three reasons.
  144. Number one, it will get you noticed.
  145. It will create a reputation for you.
  146. Number two, it will also
    get you paid and promoted
  147. very early on in your career
  148. and very early on in any environment.
  149. And number three,
    it may attract a sponsor.
  150. Why? Because strong performance currency
  151. raises your level of visibility
    in the environment, as I said earlier,
  152. such that a sponsor
    may be attracted to you.
  153. Why? Because everybody loves a star.
  154. But if you find yourself in a situation
  155. where you don't have a sponsor,
  156. here's the good news.
  157. Remember that you can exercise
    your power and ask for one.
  158. But here's where the other currency
    is now most important.

  159. That is the relationship currency,
  160. and relationship currency
    is the currency that is generated
  161. by the investments that you make
    in the people in your environment,
  162. the investments that you make
    in the people in your environment.
  163. You cannot ask someone
    to use their hard-earned
  164. personal influential
    currency on your behalf
  165. if you've never had
    any interaction with them.
  166. It is not going to happen.
  167. So it is important that you invest
    the time to connect, to engage
  168. and to get to know the people
    that are in your environment,
  169. and more importantly to give them
    the opportunity to know you.
  170. Because once they know you,
  171. there's a higher probability
    that when you approach them
  172. to ask them to be your sponsor,
  173. they will in fact answer
    in the affirmative.
  174. Now, if you're with me and you agree
    that you have to have a sponsor,

  175. let's talk about how
    you identify a sponsor.
  176. Well, if you're looking for a sponsor,
  177. they need to have
    three primary characteristics.
  178. Number one, they need to have
    a seat at the decision-making table,
  179. they need to have exposure to your work
  180. in order to have credibility
    behind closed doors,
  181. and they need to have some juice,
  182. or let me say it differently,
    they'd better have some power.
  183. It's really important
    that they have those three things.
  184. And then once you have
    identified the person,

  185. how do you ask for one?
  186. The script goes like this.
  187. "Jim, I'm really interested
    in getting promoted this year.
  188. I've had an amazing year
  189. and I cannot show this organization
    anything else to prove my worthiness
  190. or my readiness for this promotion,
  191. but I am aware that somebody
    has to be behind closed doors
  192. arguing on my behalf
    and pounding the table.
  193. You know me, you know my work
    and you are aware of the client feedback,
  194. and I hope that you will feel comfortable
    arguing on my behalf."
  195. If Jim knows you
  196. and you have any kind of a relationship,
  197. there's a very high probability
    that he will answer yes,
  198. and if he says yes,
  199. he will endeavor to get it done for you.
  200. But there's also a shot
    that Jim might say no,

  201. and if he says no, in my opinion,
  202. there's only three reasons
    that he would tell you no.
  203. The first is he doesn't think
    that he has enough exposure to your work
  204. to have real credibility
    behind closed doors
  205. to be impactful and effective
    on your behalf.
  206. The second reason he may tell you no
  207. is that you think
    he has the juice to get it done,
  208. but he knows that he does not
    have the power to do it
  209. and he is not going to admit that
    in that conversation with you.
  210. (Laughter)

  211. And the third reason
    that he would tell you no,

  212. he doesn't like you.
  213. He doesn't like you.
  214. (Laughter)

  215. And that's something that could happen.

  216. But even that will be
    valuable information for you
  217. that will help to inform
    your next conversation with a sponsor
  218. that might make it
    a little bit more impactful.
  219. I cannot tell you how important
    it is to have a sponsor.

  220. It is the critical relationship
    in your career.
  221. A mentor, frankly, is a nice to have,
  222. but you can survive a long time
    in your career without a mentor,
  223. but you are not going to ascend
    in any organization without a sponsor.
  224. It is so critical that you
    should ask yourself regularly,
  225. "Who's carrying my paper into the room?
  226. Who is carrying my paper into the room?"
  227. And if you can't answer
    who is carrying your paper into the room,
  228. then I will tell you to divert
    some of your hardworking energies
  229. into investing in a sponsor relationship,
  230. because it will be critical
    to your success.
  231. And as I close, let me give a word

  232. to the would-be sponsors
    that are in the room.
  233. If you have been invited into the room,
  234. know that you have a seat at that table,
  235. and if you have a seat at the table,
  236. you have a responsibility to speak.
  237. Don't waste your power worrying
    about what people are going to say
  238. and whether or not they think
    you might be supporting someone
  239. just because they look like you.
  240. If somebody is worthy of your currency,
  241. spend it.
  242. One thing I have learned
    after several decades on Wall Street
  243. is the way to grow your power
    is to give it away,
  244. and your voice is at the heart.
  245. (Applause)

  246. And your voice
    is at the heart of your power.

  247. Use it.
  248. Thank you very much.

  249. (Applause)