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Morgan Stanley's Carla Harris: Invest in ‘relationship currency’

Carla Harris

Early in a career, overachieving will bring you recognition and pay, but over time, relationships are more valuable to women who want to advance, Morgan Stanley Vice Chair Carla Harris told 1,200 NEW members at the NEW Leadership Summit, Sept. 28 in Chicago.

Performance currency grows as you deliver above expectations, Harris said. “In a new environment, performance currency will get you noticed and create a reputation. It will get you paid and promoted. It will attract a sponsor.”

But as time goes on, performance currency loses its value, as everyone expects you to deliver at a high level. Relationship currency — time invested in people in your environment — becomes more valuable. “Relationship currency never experiences diminishing returns,” Harris said. “None of us work in a silo anymore. We work in highly interdependent environments. If someone perceives they know you, they believe they can impact your success.”

Relationships are built on frequency of touch points, she noted. “A relationship doesn’t mean knowing someone’s deep, dark secrets. It’s making sure people feel they know you well enough that they can pull you over the margin when a group is making decisions behind closed doors.

“Women tend to hug performance currency to the exclusion of the relationship currency,” added Harris, who challenged NEW Summit attendees to choose three people at work and build a relationship with them before the end of the year. “Talk to them in the elevator. Tell them you are going for coffee and ask if they want anything. Ask them for advice before a meeting. Planting seedlings so that people are talking about you when you are not in the room.”