Using ‘relationship currency’ to get ahead – why women are the best ‘bankers’

Would you use your name and hard-earned influence to back somebody that you don’t know? Probably not.

Now, if you had a colleague that you had successfully collaborated with previously, you would probably be more likely to vouch for their work ethic and you would have the grounds to do so.

Contrary to the common belief that women excel as relationship-builders, men tend to be the ones focused on their professional relationships and it may be helping them to rise up the corporate ladder more quickly.

It’s a mistake many women accidentally fall into. We assume that our hard work will make a statement, but then watch with dismay as we’re passed over for opportunities. This is especially true the farther into your career you get.

“You can’t let your work speak for you, work doesn’t speak,” stated Carla Harris, managing director and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley during her panel at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. Hard work is important, but it’s not the only thing needed to succeed.

And that’s where “relationship currency” comes into play.

Performance Currency vs. Relationship Currency

Early on in your career you need to get noticed, so as women we tend to over-invest in performance currency. This is when you deliver more than promised, exceed expectations and work to increase your visibility. However, at this point in their careers, men are additionally racking up this relationship currency.

As defined by Harris, “Relationship currency is created by spending time with people in your organization, getting to know them, sharing ideas with them, or working with them on internal task forces and other company projects.” This piggy bank is the most valuable by far, because relationships will bring your hard work to fruition and bring your career to the next level.

Relationship currency can provide you with opportunities you wouldn’t know about otherwise, new relationships and credibility. After all, if your trusted friend or business partner came to you and referred one of their colleagues for a position you’re looking to fill, you would likely value their recommendation.

So how can you build up your reserves of relationship currency?

Think about which relationships to cultivate within your organization or broader network. Who will stand in your corner when your name is brought into consideration? Better yet, who may throw your name into the discussion when a promotion is on the table.

To point you in the right direction, think about who knows you, believes in your vision and management skills – then reach out to them. Ask them to grab lunch and discuss your latest vision, discuss strategy, career paths or if they would want to work with you on an initiative or give you some notes.

You have the skill sets to build and maintain strong relationships, but now is your moment to narrow your focus and leverage them.