In part one of this blog series, we interviewed Dr. Kathy Kram, formerly OB Professor in the MBA program at Boston University, and well know expert on mentoring and strategic relationships. Kathy and her colleague, Dr. Wendy Murphy of Babson College, recently released their book, Strategic Relationships at Work which highlights practical insights for creating and maintaining strategic relationships.

In part two of this series, we’ll look deeper into Dr. Kram’s advice on how to find these relationships and to ensure that you maintain a robust constellation of career advisors/mentors.

The Top 3 Must-Haves

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand the key traits needed to pursue and maintain strategic relationships for your career. Dr. Kram notes three important skills, which include:

  • Self Awareness: Knowing what you need, what you’re seeking and what you bring to the table.
  • Relationship Skills: Ability to initiate a conversation, ask good questions and provide positive feedback.
  • Due Diligence: Willingness to spend time preparing for and meeting with any potential mentor.

Some of these skills may require you to step a bit out of your comfort zone but will be essential to achieving your longer term career aspirations.

Finding the Right People

Dr. Kram advises that you think carefully about the people around you. Who would you like to learn from? Who do you admire? What do you need at this point in your career? Who can help you transition to the next level or into an entirely new field?Strategy

Evaluating Your Network

It’s helpful to start by looking in your close network of contacts and then branching out. Consider colleagues, friends in a similar field or even your boss. Then look for people who are currently doing what you ultimately aspire to do.

Consider having multiple career developers, rather than following the more traditional model of having just one. This will allow you to get deeper and wider advice and access to other networks. Ensure your developers are diverse as well. Diversity will help give you a well-rounded group of advisors, which can include family, friends or community professionals. 

Making the “Ask”

One you have a solid list of prospects, you can approach them for coffee or a short meeting to:

  • Ask for feedback on a project
  • Tell them you’d like to learn more about how they got to their position
  • Solicit input of how to enter a new field
  • Ask for input on work-life balance or how to re-enter the workforce after a sabbatical

Their response will tell you a lot about their potential availability. Chances are that they will be flattered, but if they don’t show interest, are always busy or don’t listen well, then you may have to find a new contact. If they are receptive to your offers, take the initiative to make sure your plans are followed through.

Fostering Mutually Beneficial Relationships

Your new connections will most likely be pleased to know that their knowledge is putting you on the right track to succeed. But in order for this type of relationship to truly thrive, it’s important to offer any “reverse mentoring” you can. Help your connections understand your value and ensure your relationship lasts longer.

It’s likely that you excel in an area that your new mentor may not. If you’re part of the younger generation and you have a more seasoned career mentor, offering the latest, up-to-date technical advice is always appreciated. You can also pass along contacts you might have, make connections where appropriate or provide input on a project.

Think of your strengths—everyone has something to offer! Your best qualities just may be an area where your mentor is lacking.

Remember: when considering a strategic relationship, it is important to evaluate your mentors and/network every six months to a year. Your needs will change and so should you career advisors.

For more information about how to successfully create strategic relationships, contact us today.