Cultivating an Advocacy Circle

Building your internal network with intention can help you get ahead.

Published: Dec 8, 2020

When Tamara started her new job, she began networking internally right away. After a few months, she had made some good work friends but wasn’t sure how to cultivate a group of people she could look to specifically for mentorship and sponsorship.

A software company found that its highest performers had 36% larger “strong” internal networks than average performers. Having more people in your network is part of the equation, but career experts also recommend being intentional about their roles.

An advocacy circle is a diverse group of people in your network who bring different perspectives and serve different roles in your professional development. Also known as stakeholder mapping, building an advocacy circle prevents overreliance on a single stakeholder and gives you a more diverse range of perspectives—and paths to your career goals.

Also known as stakeholder mapping, building an advocacy circle prevents overreliance on a single stakeholder and gives you a more diverse range of perspectives—and paths to your career goals.

“If you’re working toward a promotion, an advocacy circle helps you avoid a situation where no one can speak to your accomplishments. If you’re recently promoted, it gives you a framework for developing relationships with your stakeholders,” says Tracy Valle, a senior consultant and career coach at Korn Ferry. And there’s no power dynamic in these roles, except “power roles.” They can be up, down, or across in the organization.

Here are the three types of roles you need in your advocacy circle, and how to talk to someone about joining it.

Information roles

There are three types of information roles:

  • Clarifier: asks the clear, critical questions
  • Expert: gives advice based on the challenge and their expertise
  • Navigator: can tell you who you need to know, who does what, and how things are done around here

These people are your standard mentor. You can go to them to learn what often goes unspoken within a company’s culture, such as what you need to know about the promotion cycle. This should be a person you can be transparent with and who doesn’t guard information.

Power roles

There are three types of power roles:

  • Connector: leads you to other people
  • Influencer: helps you get things done
  • Sponsor: speaks out for you and provides you with resources

This is the traditional organizational sponsor. They make the promotion decisions and get things done. When asking someone to be in one of these roles, career experts say to look outside your immediate network, but start the conversation with your boss. “You don’t want to seem like you’re stepping over your manager,” Valle says. “Let them know you want to know more people, understand how things work, and make a bigger impact.”

Development roles

There are two types of development roles:

  • Challenger: helps you act boldly
  • Wise elder or sage: anchors you and helps you improve

These are your coaches. They help you see your blind spots, point to your strengths, and help you grow. Ideally, your manager will fill one development role in your advocacy circle, but you can also look to a career coach or someone with lots of experience in your field.

How to choose your advocacy circle

It can be easy to lean on your manager for development, connections, and insider intel. But experts say the key to a successful advocacy circle is to seek out diverse people and perspectives and not have one person serving all three roles. “Draw upon the wisdom of people who think differently than you do,” Valle says.

When you ask someone to be in your advocacy circle, start the conversation with your purpose and then make a specific request for help. Your advocate can better help you when they know their role and what you hope to accomplish.

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