The Cycle of Sponsorship in the Workplace: You Get What You Give

iStock_000007832712XSmallBy Michelle Hendelman, Editor-in-Chief

If you feel like you are stuck in a plateau in your personal career development, it is probably time to take a step back and assess what you should be doing to remain relevant in your company and in the eyes of upper management. The key to your success may not be found in the typical areas of corporate training and development. Instead, you may benefit by becoming a sponsor to someone within your organization who you feel can turn into a rising star with the right guidance and representation.

How does sponsoring someone else help you advance? While the idea of sponsoring someone may feel one-sided to you, this is actually not the case. Anna Beninger, Senior Research Associate for Catalyst, states, “One of our major research findings around the idea of sponsorship is that paying it forward pays back. Developing others really increases your own visibility.” She adds, “Essentially what you are doing is showing the company that you are not only about your own advancement, but that you are invested in the future of the organization.”

By taking on a sponsor role, you automatically align yourself with other influential players in your company. People will notice. You will inevitably get the attention of the decision makers as they start to recognize the impact of your institutional knowledge and experience. What this means is that by helping a young executive navigate their own career path, you reinforce and display your real value to the company, not just your perceived value.

Return on Investment

Research indicates that sponsoring a young executive is not only beneficial for increasing your visibility and showing off your value, but can directly influence your wallet. According to Beninger’s research, “Developing a protégé predicted high potential in advancement and compensation.” She continues, “The extra compensation that is connected to developing a protégé was over $25,000 from a two-year period between 2008 and 2010.”

The return on investment you will experience when you sponsor is undeniable, but knowing the positive impact this can have on your own career should not necessarily be the only motivating factor behind deciding to pursue sponsoring a young executive. Instead, you should be focusing more on the broad spectrum of results and the positive domino effect your influence will have throughout the entire company.

Beninger says, “The bottom line is that people who are sponsored themselves are more likely to sponsor others and it creates this virtuous cycle. Both people in the relationship benefit.”

The Ingredients for Successful Sponsorship

Understanding exactly how sponsoring someone can contribute to your own advancement is important, but there are certain factors that will lead to more successful sponsorship. People in business commonly seek out others similar to themselves, whether that is based on gender, culture, sexual identity, or some other characteristic. Beninger indicates that research conducted by Catalyst suggest that likeness does not have to be a deciding factor in sponsorship relationships.

For instance, young female executives will naturally gravitate toward senior female executives, but the problem with this is that women have yet to establish equal footing in upper level management positions in many of the leading businesses across the world. The number of women in mid-level roles is far greater than the number of women in leadership positions. How does this affect the sponsorship cycle?

The answer is that more men in leadership roles need to recognize the value in mentoring women and work toward shattering the perceptions that exist around men and women interacting closely at work.

“What our research has shown is that it is the level of one’s sponsor that predicts advancement,” says Beninger. “A sponsor who is more senior is in a much better position to advocate for someone at the decision making table.”

The Bottom Line

Sponsorship in the workplace is a very powerful development tool regardless of which side of the relationship you are on. Once you get involved in the cycle of sponsorship, you will find yourself in a revolving door of opportunity.

“Sponsoring others and being sponsored oneself are very tightly intertwined,” says Beninger. While it is critical to advocate for yourself at the table, you will find that helping others benefits your advancement as well.

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