How to Jump Start Your Networking
There is no such thing as a “self-made” man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success. – George Burton Adams
One of the key areas of focus of my executive leadership coaching work centers upon building, maintaining and enhancing relationships all around you. Leaders exert influence through the relationships they have established, internally and externally, to their organizations and within their field or industry.
The most influential leaders, whether they occupy key positions in various organizations, or are regarded as “thought leaders” in their field, “work” their network in a disciplined manner on a regular basis. When we consider how busy we are with everything we have in our work lives, not to mention our other lives (remember that?), many of us really wonder how they do it.
Over time, we have come up with many reasons for why we do not have a network, much less work the one we have. Here are some excuses you have heard or use yourself:
- I have no time for that!
- It’s not as important as my work for my company.
- It’s disloyal to my company since the real purpose is to look for another job!
- I’m pretty good at what I do and have no time to do this so how would someone else have the time to talk with me, much less have lunch?
- I’ve never really done this before. What would I talk about? Why would someone else want to speak with me?
I am sure you have heard others too, but these are excuses and do not reflect the reality of the way the world works today.
The pace and severity of change in our world has created a need for a different and expanded way of looking at our work and how we accomplish things. There has been such an explosion of information and a “flattening” of the economic landscape that it requires this network of contacts to understand and develop shared meaning so you can keep up on what’s happening in your field or industry and to keep tabs on current and emerging best practices.
The pressure for productivity is not just to keep ahead of the firm across town or across our country but global, due to the developing capacity of potential competitors in India, China, Brazil and Eastern Europe.
Branding guru and all-star business consultant Tom Peters insists that we live in a “World Turned Upside Down”. The conventions of the past are meaningless. Rules are irrelevant. The lines have blurred between new and old economy, Hollywood, huge corporations, and simply huge incorporated individuals.
It’s what Peters calls the “white-collar revolution”. A confluence of factors – including a streamlining of business processes, technology that replaces jobs, an increase in outsourcing to foreign countries, and an age of entrepreneurialism where more and more people see themselves as free agents – are combining in such a way that Peters predicts over 90 percent of all white-collar jobs will be radically different or won’t exist at all in ten to fifteen years. He says:
You must think of your job, your department, your division as a self-contained ‘Inc’. (p.225)
Every one of my clients is dealing with this reality in one form or another. Many of them are dealing with the many opportunities that success has dealt them, but the challenges are pushing at some of the fundamental assumptions and beliefs about their business models in some very uncomfortable ways.
The biggest challenge is for them to discern how to figure it all out. As the old adage says, “many hands make light work”. If you can leverage a network of folks with valuable insights, won’t that get you to answer or strategy more effectively?
What do I mean by networking? Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as, “The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions”.
In his excellent book, Never Eat Alone, author Keith Ferrazzi stresses that it’s really about generosity which I feel is a wonderful metaphor for this critical concept:
There’s no need to ponder whether it’s their lunch or yours. There’s no point in keeping track of favors done and owed. Who cares? Bottom line: It’s better to give before you receive. And never keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit. (p.174 – 175)
“Reap and ye shall sow”, as the Bible says!
In my discussions with my clients over the years, I have stressed a four-step process to reengaging in the networking process or in getting it kick started:
- Identify the top 40 people you know who are interesting, compelling, knowledgeable, and possibly helpful to you and your organization. Look through your Outlook or Rolodex (now that dates me!) files. You have their names in there for a reason and must have either met them or connected with them in some manner. Write their name and their phone numbers down and keep them handy. In the next 90 days, make a promise to yourself that you will try to connect with 20 of those people. That’s about one every third workday. Each call may not take more than 15 minutes. It’s not a lot of time for the return on the investment!
- Think of a question or two that you would like to ask. Be prepared with this and make it very clear. Look up something about them before you call to show that you have invested in this effort. Use Google, the company’s website, etc. to find out what’s going on with their company and them. Call their PR department if you need more data. Have your assistant call ahead to schedule a time for a chat if that works better for you. Make the call and ask the question(s). Get ready to pick their brain! Enjoy the dialogue.
- Try to connect with them in a personal fashion. What is it you know about them from when you met or have found out about on-line that you can mention? Show you are interested in them.
- Have an “ELEVATOR” speech prepared about yourself. That is 3-5 sentences about how things are going for you and what you are working on. It’s referred to as an elevator speech in that if you were asked on an elevator “what are you up to lately”, you’d only have a short period of time to say anything. DO NOT SHARE YOUR PAIN with them; don’t be anything but honest, but even if things are not going well, stress the positive. So make it short, memorable, upbeat and hopefully enough to have the other person want to ask more. If they are interested, there you go. If not, don’t be discouraged; they may need to get to another call or meeting or they just need to think about the dialogue you’ve had some more. If they say they have 15 minutes, be done in 14. This may be all you need to keep the dialogue going later.
You haven’t asked them for much other than their opinion and those can be short and sweet calls. The key thing is you have connected with them and put yourself in their “mind’s eye”. This can go a long way towards beginning a powerful ongoing dialogue, as hopefully they will think of you when they have a question or issue.
There is no doubt that these are not easy calls to make, but it is a matter of critical importance for you to work on establishing and maintaining this network. In terms of you exploiting the value of your “Brand”, this process must become a regular part of your work world. As Ken Ferrazzi so aptly summarized:
Job security? Experience will not save you in hard times, nor will hard work or talent. If you need a job, money, advice, help, hope, or a means to make a sale, there’s only one surefire, fail-safe place to find them – within your extended circle of friends and associates.
The business world is a fluid, competitive landscape; yesterday’s assistant is today’s influence peddler. Many of the young men and women who used to answer my phones now thankfully take my calls. Remember, it’s easier to get ahead in the world when those below you are happy to help you get ahead, rather than hoping for your downfall.
Each of us is now a brand. Gone are the days where your value as an employee was linked to your loyalty and seniority. Companies use branding to develop strong, enduring relationships with customers. In today’s fluid economy, you must do the same with your network.
I would argue that your relationships with others are your finest, most credible expression of who you are and what you have to offer. Nothing else compares. (p.21 – 22)
The process of networking effectively will require that you begin to understand through experience that this really can pay off for you and for all those in your ever-expanding network. I urge everyone to make networking a critical and regular part of their work and personal lives. It’s an investment that reaps substantial benefits for you, your company, and all the connections in the network you develop.
- What is my attitude to networking? Am I afraid of it, unfamiliar with it or do I know it’s something I should value but have not put any effort into?
- What can I do to get started and what can I accomplish in the next 90 days?
I look forward to your comments or questions.