The importance of having Social Capital in the workplace cannot be understated. Social Capital is a vital lubricant for getting your ideas through the typical cogs and gears of a workplace. It convinces others to work with you to advance goals, which is vital to helping you push through change efforts. If you can’t convince others to buy in to your radical ideas about changing a company process, there is no way that change will ever become reality (unless a crisis strikes).
So how does one go about building Social Capital? If you are new to a workplace, or if you are just tired of your ideas getting nowhere, building your Social Capital is a bit like launching a political campaign. And just like any campaign, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. Here are some great ideas for launching a successful campaign to increase your Social Capital at the office, and some pitfalls to avoid.
To Build Social Capital in The Workplace
Identify Your Goals – Before you launch your Social Capital campaign, you need to think clearly about what your goals are. What do you want to use your Social Capital for? Do you want to change an organizational process? Do you want to shore up weak spots in your knowledge areas? Are you trying to pivot to a new career? How you answer these questions will have a huge influence in who you reach out to, and how you go about launching your Social Capital Campaign.
Be Strategic – Once you know what your goals are, you use that information to determine who you would like to reach out to. In some cases, it may make sense for you to reach out to experts in certain knowledge areas if your goal is to learn new things or pivot in your career. But in other cases it may make more sense for you to reach out to Connectors; people who may not be experts themselves, but they have a lot of contacts they can leverage to get answers.
Be Patient – Just like dieting, you aren’t going to see the results of your efforts overnight. Particularly if you are in the situation where you are new to a workplace, it is going to take some time for you to meet everyone and get a reputation established within the organization. Play the long game to reap the best rewards.
Develop a Solid Relationship – Once you start reaching out to people, you need to develop solid relationships with them. These relationships don’t have to be friendships, and in a lot of cases they shouldn’t be. Your goal should be to develop a reputation with your connection that causes them to associate you with whatever qualities you are seeking to advance. If you want to be seen as an expert in a certain area, develop the reputation of an expert in that area through your work and perspective. Sometimes that will mean you contradict what some others will want to do if you truly believe that a decision is a poor one. Your relationship shouldn’t be based on simple flattery; it must be based on respect for your opinions and ideas.
Advance The Goals of Others – Most people can spot a self-serving flatterer from a mile away. To be effective at building Social Capital, you must make it about far more than just yourself. Advancing the goals of others not only helps buttress your reputation as someone who is working towards the common good, it also adds those others to your network, thus strengthening your own reputation. The key is to know which goals to advance, and which to pass on, depending on your own strategic plan. Just remember never to outright campaign against an idea you don’t like; there is no advantage to be gained and only Social Capital to lose in that scenario.
Avoid These Common Social Capital Blunders
Don’t Be a Kiss-Up – This is such a common mistake in the workplace! The idea that if you simply kiss up to powerful people, flatter them, agree with everything they agree with and disagree with everything they disagree with you will build Social Capital. This could not be further from the truth. The only thing you will build is a reputation as a Yes Man or a Yes Woman, and no intelligent person takes advice or gives weight to the advice of Yes People.Don’t Make Janus Your Idol – In Roman mythology, Janus is the two-faced god of beginnings, transitions and gates/doorways. When people are building their Social Capital, it’s easy to focus so much on reaching out to those they have identified that they forget that there are other people in the workplace as well. You will only undermine your efforts if you are attempting to build your Social Capital with some people, but treating others like they are not valuable to you.
Don’t Base Your Relationships on Superficial Things – The reputation you are basing your Social Capital on needs to be stronger than mere flattery or coolness. It needs to be able to withstand challenges and changes in the workplace. It needs to be strong enough that people will respect you and your ideas. Friendships and group dynamics can change in a heartbeat. Your reputation needs to be able to withstand these changes so that you can leverage it when you need to, regardless of the existing organizational politics or group dynamics.
Don’t Be a Bully – Social Capital is not a zero-sum game, and it should not be treated as one. Someone else in the workplace building their reputation is not a threat to you, and your shouldn’t immediately try to knock that person back down like a game of King of the Hill. Remember, if you have done this right, your reputation and Social Capital is strong enough to allow others to advance as well. Magnanimity is always a desirable trait to be associated with.