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    Face Time and the Grapevine
                                                                            by Dr. Karen Otazo

An executive nostalgically talked about his time in the Air Force. When he was a major, he kept a huge jar of chocolate candy on his desk. He said he never had trouble getting face-time with the colonels and above because they would always stop by to raid the jar. He suspected that put them in a better mood and kept them coming to his office. He used the time when they stopped by to ask questions and learn so he could get a sense of what was happening on the base and how he fit in.

The Irish call it the “crack”, Wall Street may call it the “squawk,” or you might hear it called the “grapevine.” It can take place in the office, at the water cooler, in the coffee bar on the internet on LinkedIn and many other sites. It’s what every executive needs to regularly stay in the know and make sure that others are in the know. That way they have no surprises. They can test their thinking to get reactions. Half a century ago, executives would talk about their idea by “running it up the flagpole.” Whatever you call it, it’s a give and take information conduit that is vital to executive success and staying power in companies.

Information is very powerful and important in any organization. You can learn from it and affect it. You learn from it through a filter of questioning, testing and checking on everything you hear. You give to the information exchange by putting information into it.

The learning filters you need are to: 1) Act “dumb” and think dirty. That means keeping your mouth shut and questioning the motives for information you may get. You only know for sure about the veracity of news and ideas you hear when they are tested. 2) You test by running ideas by others in turn. 3) You check with those you trust who may pooh-pooh what others say you have to test again. May look like hard work but may take only a minute per light touch with your “chocolate jar” visitors and your network.

Putting information into the grapevine includes controlling your message and your brand. Take note of the political candidates who “stay on message”. 1) The "elevator speech" — a 30-second introduction that is supposed to "tell your story" in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Usually the elevator speech is concise and compelling and rehearsed so it’s easy to say. 2) In all communication situations, make your communication positive, upbeat, informational, and “tell what you want to sell.” 3) Move away from gossip and concerns to idea generation, expanding options and showing what you can offer. 4) Watch out for prejudices, and blind spots. Don’t push too hard. 5) Keep your mind on shaping your “story on the street”.

There are many ways to get “face time’ and to connect with the grapevine. You don’t have to sell out or sleep with someone to do this. (I am thinking of a book called “Face Time” written by the husband of someone in President Clinton’s administration about a fictitious affair with the President just to get “face time.”) You have to connect lightly and often with many people, including secretaries and assistants, to find out what’s happening. You’ll find that even cabinet officials in a President’s administration may not get the advice and information they need to be effective in their jobs. Not even the Secretary of State. They need “A seat at the table.”


As always, you get there by being part of the inner circle, or the core group. These folks pay attention to all the signals, overt and hidden, that let them know what is important to top leaders. That’s why the “crack” is vital, especially when you’re not part of the inner circle. When you’re in the know then you get to make new choices
 

 

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