Career advice: Be in the business of building and maintaining bridges

TalentGrow blog post Career advice be in the business of building and maintaining bridges by Halelly Azulay

We’ve all heard the cliché before: don’t burn bridges.

When we say that, we mean that when we leave a job (presumably), we should not do things that will cause the people there to remember us poorly.

In general, this is good advice. All things being equal, I would advise this too.

But there’s more than just not destroying your reputation as far as your former boss and colleagues are concerned.

I think that there’s a huge opportunity (read: something most of us are not paying enough attention to) in the bridge building and maintenance business.

(Yes, I’m still speaking metaphorically here, unless construction or civil engineering is your jam.)

Build bridges, actively and consistently, in your current job

Here’s the reality of today’s jobs: we won’t be in them forever like our parents or grandparents expected to be.

In fact, trends point to ever-shorter tenures in jobs, especially in the younger generations in the workplace.

And herein lies the challenge and the opportunity: You don’t have years and years to form relationships, and the people you work with all day now will soon be gone from your daily life. The people you could connect with and enjoy knowing could be history before you know it, and your easy ‘in’ for connecting (um, hello? You work together!) will soon be history, too.

So, we need to be super proactive in our efforts to forge those connections with the people around us in meaningful and sustainable ways.

And we need to stretch our neck up (metaphorically, again) to see who else is interesting and important to connect with who might not be on our direct team or working from our same geographic office, but in our current employment pool of talent. And then meaningfully create ‘bridges’ – connections – to them.

It’s not enough to just come in to work, do a good job, make friendly banter with those we see at the coffee pot or on our way to lunch or in our team meetings. It’s not enough to just keep our heads down and do our job well and hope to be remembered for that.

It’s not enough.

Because the truth is, those people will move on, and you will move on, and when you and they are at a new job, they’ll forge those kind of loose easy connections with the new people at the new coffee pot and you will become a distant memory. A fading memory. Forgotten…

I know this because that’s how I used to be. It was a big mistake.

So BUILD those bridges and intentionally forge connections in ways that are more long-lasting, that will withstand the test of time and changing employment. Be connected in a memorable and employer-agnostic way. In a way that will allow you to maintain your bridges after you, or they, left this job and moved on.

Maintain your bridges with intention and attention

Become an active bridge maintenance person: Ensure that you connect with current coworkers in a way that you can upkeep even when you’re no longer at the same workplace.

How?

The most obvious form would be ensuring you are linked on LinkedIn, which people tend to keep up-to-date. Be sure that your own LinkedIn account is not tied to your current work email but rather to a permanent email address that will stay with you as you shift employment.

Hopefully other people are doing the same, and then they will stay in your network and you will be able to continue to keep in touch and add value to them (and potentially receive value from them).

Key word: Keep in touch.

Key word: Add value. Be a giver.

(Because one of the most annoying and rude things is when someone seems to come out of the woodwork ASKING for help or favors from you when they’ve not done a single thing to 1) keep in touch or 2) give you anything of value for the last XX number of months or even years. Don’t be one of those people, please!)

[Here’s a helpful post about how to build great business relationships by being a giver.]

3 steps for good ‘bridge maintenance’

  1. Make it a career development goal to be a person who actively stays in touch with your network. This is easier said than done because almost everyone knows this but most don’t do it as much as they should be. We’re more likely to do something when we make it an explicit goal (and write it down – you’ll be even more likely to achieve it). So articulate a specific bridge-maintenance goal, write it down, and review it periodically.
     
  2. Set up small, doable daily or weekly networking habits that have you checking up on your contacts. For example,
     
    • Like, comment on, and/or share their business-related social media updates and posts;
    • Introduce your contacts to others in your network that they should know (just ensure that you make these double-opt-in introductions);
    • Send them articles that might be of interest with a personal note about why you sent it and asking how they’re doing or wishing them well;
    • Send them a simple note of appreciation (bonus points for hand-written, snail-mail notes but emails and even text messages will do fine).

      This is by no means an exhaustive list. They sky’s the limit for ways to easily maintain bridges so be creative. The key is, none of these tasks take a long time to complete, but we often neglect or procrastinate on them. That’s why I suggest that you…

       
  3. View network maintenance like brushing your teeth: you won’t relish it (well, most people don’t), you won’t hate it (most of us get over that at some point in our childhood), you won’t look forward to it nor procrastinate on it. You’ll just DO IT. Because just like tooth brushing, maintaining your bridges is a simple habit that you know can produce long-term value that you care about and that requires a minimal short-term investment of time and intentional effort.

Sum Up

Forge new connections with those in your current network while they’re (and you’re) still there. Then, keep in touch, maintain your bridges, and you will benefit by having a robust network that grows with every new job and creates many win-win benefits for all involved.

Your turn

Do you have any stories of missed opportunities where you didn’t maintain your bridges? What about current bridge building efforts to share? I’d love to hear from you – chime in via the comments! And if you enjoyed this, please share it with someone else. (Bonus: it could totally count as a bridge-maintenance task!)


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