Many of us have benefited from mentors in our lives – who listen and provide great advice. Mentors can be very helpful in bouncing off things that you might not feel comfortable discussing with your boss or colleagues. While having mentors can be very useful, having a sponsor can also greatly help you achieve your career objectives. An effective sponsor can be a strong advocate, open doors and help propel your career – as I remember someone saying, a sponsor is mentorship on steroids!
I am very pleased that Tessa Tysome has authored this week’s message on why sponsorship is so important and how you can benefit from such a relationship. Tessa, as you may know, is our Global Digital Manager and leads our key digital projects across geographies.
Please read on..
When I first left university, I started working at Diageo in West Africa. At that time, I left with a degree in languages which wasn’t directly useful and no real work experience. So, the only way I had managed to get the job was by emailing some person in HR, whose email I had found, every week for 6 months.
On my return, I emailed Nick Blazquez, the President of the Africa region, to “give him my thoughts” on what could be improved. Being generous and, probably by this point, highly amused by my gutsy nature, he gave me some time. During my 30 minutes with Nick I disagreed fervently with some of his thoughts on POS spend and tried to persuade him of the on-the-ground reality.
Now the reason for this long-winded story is that after our friendly “altercation” over POS, Nick had a big impact on the track of my career at Diageo and since then, while I was not always aware, he opened doors and introduced me to people who I would normally not have had access to.
While I never took this for granted, and wouldn’t be so ballsy now, it was only when I read a piece written by Sylvia Hewlett, Founder of the Center for Talent Innovation, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, that talked about sponsorship that I realised what I had been fortunate enough to have in Nick.
Hewlett and Sandberg talk about a sponsor as being a senior key player in your organisation who can go out on a limb and vouch for you– for promotions, moves or special projects. Research shows that those with a sponsor are 23 percent more likely to progress faster than those without one.
Sandberg credits her stratospheric rise in her career to Larry Summers who she worked for as a research assistant. After proving her dedication and intellectual rigour, he brought her with him to the World Bank, US Treasury and eventually she became his Chief of Staff at 29 years old. In turn, Summer’s sponsorship gave her visibility to the likes of Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerburg, leading to her role at Google and finally her leadership position at Facebook.
But what makes this relationship different to that of a mentor?
Here are some of Sandberg’s thoughts:
A sponsor is a transactional relationship – one in which you need to show your worth and make your sponsor looks good before they are willing to go out on a limb for you.
In Hewlett’s case, she describes calling up an old acquaintance to offer pro bono consulting in an area he was opening. After 3 months of working for him, she then asked for a personal introduction to someone she had been trying to access for a while. On the back of the personal credit and loyalty she had built the acquaintance she helped went above and beyond.
A sponsor is a relationship of constructive criticism and career advancement, not advice and support (as with a mentor).
This means a sponsor isn’t someone you can go to, to complain or struggle with a problem at work. A sponsor is someone where you strive to understand how you can add value to them and then make clear your career goals so it is easy for them to know how to help you.
So, mentors are relatively easy to come by – you ask someone you know or HR allots you one. How do you even begin to cultivate a sponsor relationship?
Here are seven hot tips:
1. Work out an engagement strategy
Make a focused plan. Join networks outside of your organisation which give you access to influential people. Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com) can be great for finding out about events within your sector, where you can meet people and also learn about the latest advancements.
Recently, I went to a ‘Shoppable and E-commerce’ roundtable with Digital Leads from Coca Cola, Nestle and other FMCG firms. The intimate setting with 10 of us meant we were able to share some of the challenges we face and any breakthroughs which was great from a day-to-day work perspective. We now have a quarterly roundtable set up and a WhatsApp group to share interesting articles we find on E-commerce and the use of Artificial Intelligence. Events like this enable you to build relationships with people outside of your company to fuel your knowledge and network.
2. Diversify your sponsor pool
You’d be surprised at how impactful this can be. So, diversify both in terms of the numbers of people you are targeting and also gender. Nick was my first example of a sponsor relationship, but over the course of my time he also introduced me to SylSaller, at the time Global Head of Innovation and who later became CMO of Diageo. Meeting Syl opened me up to another viewpoint on careers, even after Nick had left the business.
3. Focus on building a rapport
Do this, in terms of confidence in your abilities, but more importantly your loyalty. Don’t go straight in with what you are looking to get out of the relationship. A sponsor may start as a mentor relationship and then progress.
I was assigned a mentor when I joined L’Oreal and, while it wasn’t comfortable or natural for me, I made sure we had a regular catch up so that I could build the relationship. Eventually I was able to introduce her to a previous collage when she had a gap in her team, thereby showing my loyalty and value and I continue to be in touch with her.
4. Say YES, worry later!
Embrace every opportunity offered to you even the less obvious ones. The most important advice I have ever had was to say YES and then work out how you are going to do what you have agreed to later. It often forces you outside of your comfort zone to do things you never would have thought possible but also makes people realise you are open to challenge and change.
When I joined Godrej, my new boss Tom said he had a brainwave and wanted to find a way to build an editorial site for our black hair business in Africa. I said ‘YES’ immediately and then went away. Daunted, I regrouped before working out how on earth we could do this and who would be the best team for the job. Now, the site is live and we are seeing extremely high consumer engagement showing there was clear consumer need for the type of content we are creating. It also introduced me to other people within the business, when I was still very new at Godrej. Simone D’Cruz influenced my critique of content, while Gurpreet Singh is still teaching me all I know about design.
Self-advocate for challenging assignments. Don’t wait to be picked or asked – go in and offer yourself even if you think you are maybe an outside option.
6. Make it clear what you want
Articulate what your goal is. Sponsors may want to help but may not be clear on what you want to do. So, create your plan and stay focused.
7. Give before you get
Notice an area you can add value in, as a first move, and then prove your worth.
From my experience, a sponsor can, not only, open doors but really unleash potential you may not have realised you had. Be open and willing to graft but more importantly NEVER be afraid to be ballsy and ask!
For more information and inspiration I encourage you to sign up to CTI (Center for Talent Innovation) for new white papers and fresh thinking (http://www.talentinnovation.org), dedicate an hour or so to exploring events on Eventbrite in your area and if you’ve got any thoughts or want to bounce ideas, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Tessa for sharing some very helpful perspectives. I’m sure that those of you who have had great sponsors, will agree that it can be tremendously beneficial.
Whether it is providing the right kind of feedback, making connections, providing opportunities or being a strong advocate –sponsorship can be an important lever when it comes to seeking out and building our next set of leaders.
I would encourage you to follow the tips above to find a sponsor or two who can propel your career.
At the same time, as you reflect on your own experiences with sponsors, ask yourself how you will pass this on. What are you doing to become a sponsor to someone else? When was the last time that you reached out, stuck your neck out and made a tangible difference in someone’s career? How about each of us committing to nurture at least one protégé this year?
As always, I look forward to your thoughts.