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Cohort Alpha

Entering the Circle of Trust

Perception 4 min read
Improving Access through Better Perception at Work

One of the hardest, yet most critical, steps one can take is to garner the trust of the ‘inner circle.’ In other words: gaining the trust of the CEO or other senior leaders.

Unfortunately, this can be hard to do. One common blocker is that the inner circle is often based on insiders’ comfort, trust and familiarity with new potential entrants. This means that the ones who are most likely to be invited are familiar to those on the inside.

Here’s the challenge: those who don’t share the same degree of similarity with those who are in that circle can have a difficult time. Perhaps you relate to this experience.

Some potential similarities cannot be controlled such as race, gender, class, or accent. Some can be controlled: interest in sports, vacation locations, hobbies, associations, political causes, schools.

Arguably, even those factors that seem to be controllable often have a high barrier to entry, typically due to factors that are beyond one’s control. For example, someone who grew up in an immigrant background where, culturally, political involvement presented danger would be less likely to be politically active than someone who grew up in a household of journalists and activists.

However, if the CEO can more easily bond to someone who is politically connected, that cultural background could limit opportunities.

While this isn’t fair, and the dynamics are complex, it contributes to some people having a much harder time penetrating the circle than others.

These limitations can be further compounded by an individual’s lack of social and political savvy (skills which can be improved).

However, without that access, there are several negative impacts:

“The effect of mere exposure on preference and choice is important and well demonstrated.”1

Other studies suggest negative impacts for not acquiring access:

  • Increased likelihood of being let go
  • Higher job stress and health risks
  • Lower pay
  • Higher job dissatisfaction
  • Lower mobility

So even if you’re not interested in your career reaching into the C-suite, you still need to find ways to enter the circle of trust at the highest levels.

Building visibility and access

What are some ways to do this?

One way to acquire status is to start an organization that is so compelling in its mission that high-status people join the project and you build both status and a network of important relationships.2

However, leading a pet-project which attracts people like this isn’t the only way.

Within the organization, finding a way to be central to the flow of information or relationships can make a difference:

Centrality matters. Research shows that centrality within both advice and friendship networks produces many benefits, including access to information, positive performance ratings, and higher pay.3
One study at a newspaper publishing company found that “being in a position to control communications within the department is particularly important to being promoted.”4

One reason why centrality can have an outsized impact on one’s success at work has to do with social capital:

Social capital, measured by how many structural holes an individual bridges, positively affects promotions, salary, and organizational level attained.5

Those who have both an awareness and a plan of how to develop social capital are able to address these holes. Being able to do so is one way to access this “inner circle.”

However, it’s definitely difficult to do. One way is to act as a “broker” across different roles and positions. This doesn’t even need to be within your company. It could be within the industry or perhaps cross-industry but of value to the company.

Note: this means doing the legwork to be the builder, not just part of the social network. However, being part of that social network, even if these are “weak ties” still makes a difference:

a large network of weak ties is good for innovation and locating information, while a small network of strong ties is better suited to exploiting existing knowledge and transferring tacit skills. 6

While the access to social capital is one powerful way to build access, it’s not the only way.

Going through an effective framework of what you’re good at, what are the important needs of the people you care about, enables you to develop a kind of “currency.”

This is the key idea for access: how do you cultivate your own currency?

To be able to make compelling offers for exchange, you want to know what the other person values. We call these currencies, because they represent what can be exchanged. This isn’t always easy to determine.7

How to address these concerns?

Cohort Alpha’s mission is to enable high-performing, high-potential (HiPo) individuals and leaders who may have low political or social capital to scale their careers and make the organizations they work for healthy and inclusive.

We care about this because empowering such HiPos can help increase the cultural diversity in organizations, particularly high-growth technology companies.

By inter-connecting our diverse, invite-only members in confidential “cohorts,” we help them widen their social networks and, as a result, their social capital. These cohorts span function, rank, and company. Companies are typically high-growth tech. Doing so not only gives our Members access to real-world advice, but also broadens their network for job opportunities and company intelligence.

Members receive access to a private online network, as well as live virtual meetings where we provide valuable, actionable content. One example is a table of the different kinds of “currencies” someone can offer to increase their own access and visibility.

If you’re interested in learning more tips and insights to enable your career to scale, enter your email address below.

  1. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 111). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  2. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 118). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition ↩︎
  3. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 119). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  4. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 119). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  5. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 124). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  6. Pfeffer, Jeffery. Power (p. 122). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
  7. Cohen, Allan R.. Influencing Up (p. 51). Wiley. Kindle Edition. ↩︎