How to Build Consensus ‘Top Down’ and ‘Bottom Up’
by Phyllis Ehrlich
Group Vice President, Spectrum Reach
One of the keys to long-lasting professional (and personal) success is learning how to build consensus. Consensus has many definitions, but my favorite is working toward solutions that are best for everyone, not just best for you.
Consensus is about collaboration and cooperation and a genuine desire to listen to everyone’s opinions to reach an agreement.
If you learn how to build consensus among the people you work with — from your boss and direct reports to peers and junior colleagues — you will achieve consensus for your ideas and your personal brand. Here are some key tips to navigate the many ways we encounter consensus at work:
Treat Everyone With Mutual Respect
One of the most common mistakes people make is a sole focus on impressing senior management. If you work in a company with many internal stakeholders, it’s critical to develop relationships at all levels. And sometimes that begins with a junior team member or assistant. In fact, executive assistants can be highly influential. Throughout the years, I have always asked my assistants how others treat them. If I hear good things, I am apt to go out of my way for those individuals. If people are rude or dismissive, that becomes a huge turnoff. And you never know when former colleagues may reappear in your life. Coincidentally, two talented former Time Warner colleagues recently joined our Spectrum Reach team — one as our new CMO and the other as an executive assistant, both reporting to our president. Fortunately, my previous relationships with both were built on collaboration and mutual respect. The Golden Rule of “treat others as you want to be treated” applies to everyone in the business world as well.
Talk Less, Listen More
Everyone likes to be heard. When you are charged with developing new projects or ideas, seek the opinions of others and listen to their advice. Talk to the people who are the closest to the business. For example, 10 years ago, my first mission at Time Warner Cable Media was to transform a marketing team to better serve the changing needs of the business and clients in more than 25 markets across the East. The foundation of my 90-day plan was a listening tour to as many markets as possible to hear directly from sales team members at all levels, as well as cross-functional partners. I would never have been able to develop a successful plan from our corporate headquarters in NYC without that intelligence. Of course, today we are all learning to also make those vital connections virtually.
Collaborate With Colleagues
Before an important meeting or presentation, it’s a good idea to solicit input from key internal stakeholders. For example, I am currently spearheading a complex initiative with a working project team of more than 50 colleagues. In advance of every update with the president of our division, I brief my boss and other meeting attendees on my recommendations and ask for feedback to ensure alignment at the meeting.
Empower And Acknowledge Your Team
If — or when — you manage people, make them feel empowered and appreciated. When someone on your team does a great job, acknowledge the contribution and share with other managers and your boss. A heartfelt “Thank you” or “Well done!” can go a long way. When people on your team shine, you shine even brighter! Always remember that people who report to you can spread the word about whether they think you’re a supportive boss or a difficult boss–both inside and outside your company.
Take advantage of company employee rewards programs to also congratulate team members in other departments. At Charter, we have a great program called Charter Champions. Every month we celebrate team members who have both received — and given — Charter Champion awards.
Ultimately, building consensus “top down” and “bottom up” is about trust. When you succeed at earning that trust, you will be poised for sustained success. Good luck!