Backchanneling. Where the real action happens.
You’re already familiar with the back channel. Someone hijacks a meeting down a rabbit hole, realizes they’re pissing everyone else off, cuts things short, and suggests taking the conversation to the back channel. Or maybe there’s a radically innovative new idea afoot; the kind of thing that will make the company loads of money—if you can sneak it past ultra-conservative, boat anchor, middle management.
But these are just talking about the back channel itself. What is “backchanneling,” the verb?
Backchanneling is getting things done based on who you know. It’s the number one asset to any organization. Get the right people together in the right place at the right time and you can move mountains. Hell, you can change the world. And if you’re looking to change the world, you need to streamline the communication process. You need to be backchanneling.
Why no one teaches backchanneling
We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” And we’ve all been super annoyed by some name-dropping shill who wants to feel important. There’s an unconscious disgust toward the thought of success being another popularity contest—and nobody wants to be that guy.
Used for good or bad, backchanneling is an excellent way of getting things done. Today, let’s forgo the shady biz and focus on how backchanneling gets things done for those with things worth doing. There’s two reasons to backchannel:
You’ve got a great idea. And you know who would absolutely love it? Michael. This idea could save his team a lot of time with some of the major initiatives they’ve got coming down the pipe. You could bring it up in the next department heads meeting—it might even make sense to do so—but while the other department heads might find it interesting, Michael could use this info right now. Fire up the backchannel. Go direct.
You’ve got a great idea. If you build it, they will come. But you also know others prefer a more cautious approach and will actively work to impede you. If you swim the proper channels, your brilliant idea will most likely die by a thousands paper cuts in committee, so what do you do? You take it to the back channel, building proof of concept and the kind of strong, initial results that will silence the naysayers.
All of the above
You’ve got a great idea. Your company has helped thousands of customers become more efficient and more profitable—but there’s a subset of your customer base where you’ve found your team can deliver absolutely jaw dropping results. You could spin up another demand gen program, run a few targeted campaigns, and hope to catch a couple more in the nets—or you could ask one of your existing account champions if he knows anyone in the business who’d like to join the two of you for lunch next week. Backchanneling.
How to backchannel
Inherent in backchanneling is the fact that you’re working outside the normal channels. You’re going rogue. This is black ops stuff, taking place in the shadows until the iron’s hot enough to strike. You need to ensure value for everyone in the backchannel. It’s got to be worth their time to engage in clandestine conversations above and beyond their existing commitments.
Successful backchanneling relies on three simple rules:
- Mutual respect for everyone’s time – make it hyper-relevant
- Clear, actionable information each step of the way
- High-value results for everyone involved
What backchanneling can do for you
Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. The best time to do the right thing is right now. If you’ve got something hyper-relevant to share with someone that’s really going to make a difference in their life, the right thing to do is get them the information as quickly and directly as possible. If that means leveraging your network for an introduction on the side instead of going through the gatekeeper, so be it.
Backchanneling can put you in the spotlight—good or bad. It can help you bypass bureaucracy and get high-value shit done quickly, and it can help you drive greater efficiency in the common channels, both of which stand to endear you to the organization.