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BLUF: How do you ensure you become part of the leadership team (or at least are not excluded from it), when that team consists of college networks and alumni?

I am not sure if this specific situation was discussed already or if there are any resources.

I work at a young tech/e-commerce company (Pinterest/Facebook-style - approx 1000 employees, multinational) and have been a junior/middle manager or project manager for a few years, i.e. over time, I have been promoted to head new projects across different departments. There is also one specific team of which I have been the direct manager for 2 years.

One of the reasons I feel I have been moved around laterally rather than upward on the ladder is that most senior managers (Head of..., Director of, COO, CFO, etc.) seem to have been connected way before they were hired at the company: either they were old boys from the same school or university, or are good friends of friends. We once had a case where a guy who had just finished college was appointed manager of a team previously led by someone with 4+ years of experience.

There are some good success stories in this, i.e. I learned that age and experience can mean nothing. The college-grad manager mentioned above brought in much more to the company than his predecessor.

However, there are also multiple situations where good people are ignored in crucial communication, and career growth is stifled in favor of the COO's college buddy. People (including myself) are easily demotivated by the influx of network-based seniors rather than internal promotions.

I have been following a lot of articles on how to climb up the ladder, but despite the praise and "lateral promotions" I receive, I have come across many degrading situations, where even in day-to-day work I find out things last, or am put out of the loop - while my boss discusses strategies over a morning jog with my lateral colleagues.

A recent example:
The same college-grad manager mentioned above (who is at my same level in terms of rank) had assigned some tasks to my direct reports - and I hadn't found out until my direct report asked me how to prioritize tasks because he had too much on his plate... When I told my boss he said it was fine. Worst of all, this college-grad manager had even made a few decisions that are under my area of responsibility, without ever telling me.

While I don't want to come across as someone trying to stop teamwork, and I am in no absolute hurry to become the next Director (maybe I have been discouraged by all my attempts?), I just feel like I am being put out of the loop, decisions made without me, etc. and the lack of communication is a bit degrading.

How would you solve a situation like this, how do you find more vertical career growth up the ladder? How do you ensure you become part of the leadership team (or at least are not excluded)... when the team is consists of college networks and alumni?

Thank you

P.S.: aside from this situation, I otherwise have a good professional relationship with my boss and other managers senior to me. I am actually one of the very few in the whole company who has been promoted from within so despite not being in the loop, I am one of the first to know when we look at the entire company. I am confident that they trust me more than the majority of other employees and junior managers.

Jrlz's picture

Hi Alex,

I am in a very similar situation.  In my case, my company is comprised of two large divisions that were merged into one.  All of the management from director level up is from one of the original divisions.  There is a definte us versus them mentality.  If you are from the division that is running the company, then you are on the inside track for promotions.  If you are not as I am, then promotions are nearly impossible (truth be told you fight just to keep your job).  I understand promotions are based on results and relationships.  I have actively worked on developing a good relationships with my boss, my peers and everyone else that I can in the company (I have built my network).   However, the "good old boys" network still seems exclusive to those from the right divison.  Here are the three courses of action that I have come up with.  Not sure if they will help you and fankly I have not decided on which course of action I will ultimatly take.

  1. Keep working on building the relationships and your network.  Can you make your way to getting on the inside of the group with all the power?  You may deem this, as I have, to be a goal that may never be reached.    However, it is possible, the person driving this "good old boys" network with leave the company and the network falls apart?  I have seen it happen, and if it does your strong network with come in very handy.   Keep growing the network to include those "on the inside" as well as those out of the loop.
  2. Look for an opening in a part of the company that may not have the "good old boys" network.   Even if it is lateral move, is there a part of the company that the "good old boys" network is not as exclusive.  Or even if it is, with a fresh start could you get on the inside?
  3. Look for another job outside of your company.  Last resort, but there comes a time where moving on is beneficial.  I have seen far too many times where senior leaders form an opinion that someone is not promotable, or director material.   In my opinion, far too many senior level executives, stick to there initial impression and never revisit it.  Perhaps a clean slate some where else will help you to achieve what you want.  

I hope this helps and I am interested to see what other recommendations come in on.

Best of Luck

alextupolev's picture

Well, thanks for your answer JRLZ.

Interesting to hear that this kind of situation can be experienced in other sorts of organizational set-ups.

The common thread is that there are ingredients for some sort of a political conflict due to a change (if not pre-established) in the balance of power.

Maybe the question could be rephrased as: how to become buddies with management when they are already a very close-knit gang of elite buddies?

In an ideal world, these organizations should be made illegal...

bingtravels's picture

I am in the same situation....rapid expansion in a mid-size company, but those being promoted are buddies with the boss and NOT qualified other than being "buds".

My only suggestion is reading anything from Kathleen Reardon.  "It's all Politics" and "The Secret Handshake" are both good.

Good luck!

Kevin1's picture

Nothing says relationships matter more than this kind of activity.  The time old advice is If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  In other words, how can you work on your relationships with these guys to become one of them?

If you can't do that, work on getting out of the kitchen.  You are very unlikely to overcome it and it will most likely corode your commitment if you think your company is unfair in this manner.

Good luck

jrb3's picture

Continue delivering results.  Also continue keeping the relationships going.  Also handle each of the behaviors as they come, work out corrections, see whether they stick, and decide what you want from there.  If you're responsible for something, and someone from outside tinkers with it, you need to resolve that.

Perhaps you can address this indirectly.  Perhaps one of your key people is leaving, frustrated by the "old boy network".  You can ask advice about handling the perception, and retaining those with the perception.

Go on those jogs if you can, or somehow else get into the same informal situations with them.  Tell your boss that you want to make sure you stay effective, so you need to get into the informal communications channel.  Heck, share that at times you feel actively excluded and bypassed, which means your results are merely great not stellar like you want to give them.

The most reliable way to be part of a leadership team is to help form it.  Help start a company, or step onto a non-profit's board, or find yourself a manager or VP position in a much smaller company.  Or create a new product for this company, make it noticeably contribute to the bottom line, and grow your own leadership team for that little "business sub-unit".