Frientorship, it’s a thing

Claudia Williams - (Photo / Submitted)

A back-to-back trip to China, a chocolate posse and an observant 7-year-old were a few of the seeds Claudia Williams needed to grow her own consulting and human resource company.

And mentorship, leadership and friendship became part of The Human Zone’s core principles.

So much so, that she coined the term “Frientorship,” and uses that concept to help her clients succeed.

Taking the personal leap

About two years ago Williams was an in house attorney for The Hershey Company. She was traveling a lot. In the middle of a back-to-back trip to China, one of her daughters made an assessment that only children tend to do.

Let’s set the scene:

A car service was picking Williams up at her home before she headed to the airport. The service had already picked up Williams’ boss for the trip. At Williams’ home stop, her boss got out of the car to greet Williams’ family.

“My boss got out of the car to say “Hi” to my family.” Williams said. “And then my 7-year-old said, ‘So you’re the reason my mom is never home?’”

No, Williams thought later. That’s a cop out.

Her boss, The Hershey Company or her position weren’t making her do anything.

“It was a moment where I thought, ‘No, my boss isn’t the reason I’m not home. I’m the reason I’m not home. I’m choosing to do this and I’m wanting to choose not to do this anymore.’”

Fast forward to August 2016 and Williams has been heading up her own company, The Human Zone, in the midstate for the past year.

What is Frientorship?

Williams agreed to break down the Frientorship philosophy for the Central Penn Business Journal and the benefits a company can derive from its components. It’s key for women looking to enter leadership positions.

“Businesses that have women in leadership positions outperform their counterparts who don’t,” Williams said. “And not just women. Diverse leadership brings about better business results by something like 147 percent greater return.”

And women are generally relationship-driven.

“If we don’t feel connected to our coworkers, our boss, our company. When we lose that connection, we start to check out,” she said.

That doesn’t mean everyone becomes best friends, it means having that environment will help the success of the company.

“I don’t think it’s the employer’s job to make me happy. It’s my employer’s job to pay me a fair, equal wage for what I am doing. And to provide me a safe place to work. It is my job to make myself career happy.”

The Frientorship concept helps women become better leaders, and to help keep women engaged in business, Williams said. “But it’s also to help men understand how to work with us. Because if we are coming from a relationship-driven standpoint and they aren’t, we have to meet in the middle.”

Let’s break down the three areas:

Friendship: I call them my chocolate posse

While Williams worked in Hershey, she had a circle of friends, co-workers, which she had very close relationships with.  She called them her “chocolate posse.” She felt safe talking to them, knowing they weren’t going to use her vulnerability against her.

In simple terms, they had her back.

“I have her back, I have his back. So ultimately the question is: ‘Who’s got your back?’ We need to have somebody who has our back at work because there is always going to be somebody who is trying to tear us down.”

We also need our workplace friends to put a mirror up to us.

“We need the person who will say to us, ‘You could have done that better.’ Or walk out of a meeting and pull us aside and say ‘You were really hard on that guy.’”

So how do you find those people? Time and commitment. Put in the effort.

“It starts with a cup a coffee. It starts with walking into someone’s office and saying ‘How are you?'” Williams said. “Find the ways to make the little connections with someone. It takes time.”

Mentoring: The company doesn’t need a formal policy

So your company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program. So what?

While you are having the cup of coffee or visiting a friend in their office, those relationships can naturally grow into mentoring opportunities.

“Then you can say, ‘If anything comes up in this area, or if you ever have to go meet with Joe, I’ve had a lot of interaction with Joe and I can give you some tips.’”

Companies that don’t have to have a formal mentoring program force us to take charge of our own career, Williams said.

And a mentoring peer does not have to be someone your age.

Different kinds of friendships can serve different purposes. Millennials can help Baby Boomers, and Gen-Xers can help Millennials. Don’t corner them into a certain age bracket, she said.

Leadership: Tying it all together

It’s the friendship and the mentoring that helps make us good leaders.

If we don’t have the friendships and the mentors, when we become a leader we are not going to be there very long, Williams said.

Under that leadership pillar is accountability and communication. And that’s where the friends and mentors’ help comes in. They help leaders keep that connection with their team.

“We as leaders tend to get a little disconnected from the people (who work with us). Employees need to know why, need to know what’s next. They need to know what’s in it for them.”

Communicate that with them.

“We know what it’s like when our boss doesn’t hold people accountable. And we start to build on that why bother. Why should we?”

A leader who hears the rumblings and rumors needs to address that head on, hold people accountable and communicate that in the right way.

If you don’t, you won’t have the people you want or need in your company.

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.”

Cathy Hirko
Cathy Hirko is Associate Publisher/Editorial Director for the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business. Email her at chirko@bridgetowermedia.com.

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