4 Ways to Start Building Your Sponsor (Advocate) Relationships

A coach talks to you
A mentor talks with you
A sponsor talks about you and champions you to others.

- Steve Bucherati, Former Chief Diversity Officer, Coca Cola
Managing Partner of Bucherati & Hildebrand, LLC

So the entire 'old boys network' is really built on Sponsorship.  A man often takes a younger man (or  woman) under his wing, introduces him or sets him up with key connections. This often leads to opportunity in the form of a new business accounts, a job, a prestigious internship, a promotion and more. 

I read recently that 83% of women do not have a sponsor and research from The Center for Talent Innovation shows that men are 46% more likely  to have a Sponsor.

These last few months, our team at Twomentor, LLC have been building The Mentor Road Trip™ Action Guide & Mentor Training Modules and the Taking Flight With Your Sponsor™ Program.  We want to share with you our thinking about both mentorship and sponsorship as well as some tangible tips on getting started with Sponsorship which we view as crucial for retention, especially of mid-career women and minorities.

Here are four recommendations to get you started and focused on building a your Sponsor relationship(s):

1] INTERNAL SPONSOR- A Sponsor can be someone at your work or someone externally that you are building a valued alliance with. If you have an internal Sponsor at your company willing to champion you for opportunities, schedule a meeting to have shared vision on where you want to go or grow in the company. What are the action items for you and your Sponsor?  Is he/she going to help you schedule a meeting with a senior leader or take on a stretch assignment? Remember that if she makes introductions or schedules a meeting for you, follow up in a timely fashion and keep her well in the loop.   You are walking into those meetings representing both yourself and your Sponsor if she championed you. Arrive early, dress for success and do great! 

2] A TWO-WAY STREET? Yes, there are people in positions of power who can make a lot of key introductions for you personally and elevate your business and reputation. These can be life changing introductions when they are speaking about you behind closed doors to people in decision making roles. Could you ALSO make some introductions as well for your Sponsor and champion him/her to others?  Sponsorship can absolutely be a two-way street.  I am proud to be an entrepreneur and I have several women and men in my life who are 'Co-Sponsors.' We know each other well and we take the time to advocate for each other and open new doors. We have standing monthly meetings to evaluate progress. It's a great WIN/WIN.  

Also, if you feel like you do not have a great network, there are many other things you can do in support of your Sponsor. Be creative. You have so much more to offer than you realize. Even taking her/him to Starbucks, retweeting him on twitter, sharing a key observation, or bringing her a personalized card from-the-heart is a super nice gesture. 

3] REVENUE SHARE? This recommendation is for people who are responsible for business development results. Is there some way that your sponsor also wins financially if you secure business as a direct result of his/her intervention? Why not! we built this into the fabric of our companies model that my Sponsors will receive a percentage of revenue for helping us build based on their specific efforts.  None of them asked to be incentivized, but we insisted. We like and value the entrepreneurial spirit and WIN/WIN collaborations. One Sponsor said to me jokingly, "Well if that's the case, I was going to set you up with four key meetings, but now let's make that twelve." Another said "I won't take your money Julie, but if you insist, go ahead and send a contribution to my favorite charity XYZ." Most entrepreneurs and mid-career women really need a Sponsor to champion them.   If your Sponsor is at the same company, the question is can they receive a financial benefit on a deal they help you get to the table on?  This often is negotiable with commissioned Sales teams but it has to align with the policies of the company.

4] START SIMPLE- There is a great quote "Inch by inch, life is a cinch. Yard by yard, life is hard." I cannot tell you how many awesome people I know are currently looking for a job.  They need a Sponsor now probably more than they have ever needed a Sponsor in their lives. Several friends come to my office twice a month and are simply stunned that they have been looking for three months, six months or longer.  In my opinion, they don't need advice, they need us to champion them to others (the 3rd party endorsement is so, so valuable). One woman I met with was a Chief Financial Officer at a well known company and she is brilliant! I opened up my Linkedin and saw that I knew the Chief Human Resources Officer at a company that was high on her list. It took less than 3-minutes we agreed to a nice direct note to the CHRO to see if he would meet her for coffee (which he agreed to). My friend was humbled and said that most people say they will make introductions but then often don't follow through. I understand how that happens.  People get busy, but we can also decide to proactively make that outreach right then and there while it's top of mind. Took only three minutes and an extra eight to make three more connections for her with hiring managers. Additionally, I know she's awesome so I am confident my key contacts will be in great hands and very impressed when they meet her.

... and finally you don't have to be perfect, just get the courage to try to put yourself out there a bit for another human being and let some magic occur in this 'new girls network'. We can respect what the guys built so long ago and join the fun.  It's an amazing feeling when you can make something happen for someone else if you are very deliberate in building these key alliances.

Julie Kantor is the CEO of Twomentor, LLC, a management consulting firm that provides mentor training, strategy, flash mentoring sessions and global speaking to elevate women and better retain Millennials in the workforce. She can be reached through associate@twomentor.com