I’ve come across this term a few times while reading articles related to job-searching.
According to the originator of this term — Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley — relationship currency is a form of social pull in the workplace that is obtained through “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.”
According to Harris, relationship currency is a skill that is overlooked in favour of performance currency — your past track record in getting the job done and your level of expertise in your chosen field. She also adds that it can open avenues of opportunity to get things done at work that performance currency and job authority cannot.
How does one build relationship currency? In an article stressing the importance of relationship currency, she used an example of “chatting with others about the firm, a recent movie, their families, …..outside interests”. Small talk, in other words.
Small talk is nothing new. I remember as far back in my teenage years when I worked at the Eglinton Theatre in Toronto shooting the breeze with fellow ushers and confections staff. What is new is how this is to be used in the workplace. Here is an example from her article of how she did this in her workplace:
“….my manager would decide to make some last-minute changes to the client presentation that was due in, let’s say, three hours. I would hurry down to the word processing department, only to find a long queue in place and an estimated five-hour turnaround time at best.
While I did not do it often, if the situation was really dire I would ask my word processing colleagues if they would make an exception for me and move our presentation ahead in the queue. They helped me meet my manager’s deadline every single time. Why? Because we had a relationship. Had I not spent the time getting to know them, I would have been just another associate asking for my work to be done first. “
I don’t know about you, but reading this made me a little uncomfortable. I would hate to be one of the word processing colleagues being asked to make that exception. It makes me uncomfortable because, during my early years in my I.T. career when I was a computer operator, I remember fellow employees coming up to me to call in favours of having extra time on the system when I had to perform a backup, and they used this very technique in order to do this. Later on in my career there were times some users wanted access to specific menu options without going through the authorization approval process, again using our familiarity as grease to work the procedural gears to their advantage.
Look, I get how important it is to be able to get along with people. Sometimes getting to know people better beyond the title does help with in a team initiative, like a systems migration project or an emergency situation.
It also makes the workplace a less toxic environment. I have to use all my fingers and toes to count the number of employees I’ve known who were good at their job but lousy people to deal with. I knew a programmer who was a genius coder but was socially inept. In my last full time job we had a PC whiz kid who partied too much and came to work looking like Keith Richards on a bender. In that same full-time position I’ve dealt with managers who attempted to bully me into getting their help-desk requests done first and who I had to complain to HR about. These people had the skill and the talent to do their job but were a liability in the end because, let’s face it, their behaviour sucked more than a Hoover vacuum cleaner.
Having said this, there’s a line in the sand I personally will not cross for the sake of good relations. This includes using social hacks to bypass the organizational chart, violate standard operating procedures at both the departmental and company levels, or use an emotional play just to do my job. There are other avenues, other channels available that employees can use if they are having trouble getting things done. Sometimes all it takes is fixing something that is broken in procedure, or a problem employee HR can have a word with.
In case my point hasn’t been understood, take a moment to read another excerpt from her article:
“This is powerful currency. It takes the goodwill and leverage that exists in one relationship and positively influences the trajectory of a new connection. “
In other words, it’s a subtle form of using people to get ahead in one’s profession.
I have never needed to take that approach with others in my twenty years in I.T. nor will I allow someone to do that to me.
The fact I’ve been out of full time work for so long, have been in a homeless shelter, and am struggling to return back to financial self-sustainability has not made me willing to break that policy. I prefer to work with people, not work on people.
Thanks for reading!