A word from Coach Darcy:
Networking is a word I despise for a process I love. It’s often the difference between a red cape career and having a career that craters.
So when my friend & talent management expert Michelle Salob told me what she’d been learning about networking–and what she wished she’d remembered throughout her career– I asked if she’d share those ideas here with you, too. Network with her here, and find more resources at the end of this guest post to help you take the work out of networking. Enjoy Michelle’s story. –D
Networking in Real Life (Guest Post By Michelle Salob)
True confession time:
For someone who’s spent her career managing projects small and large—thinking about timelines, dependencies, risk mitigation and change management—I hadn’t taken a particularly active role in managing my career.
I was certainly driven to achieve, and I was pretty successful at whatever I set out to do. I got great performance reviews and earned bigger projects and roles along the way.
But I wasn’t one of those folks with a five-year plan and a vision board, who knew exactly her next three steps and what it would take to get there.
Then, in my mid-30s, I met my first Reduction in Force.
There was an economic downturn, but even in my profession of talent management, I’d never experienced or even observed a RIF before.
So I started looking at my network, as you are told to do.
I quickly realized that most of my contacts were in cities where I wasn’t. They were people I knew from grad school, from out-of-town consulting clients, and from former jobs before I’d taken an opportunity hundreds of miles away.
Yikes. . .
So, I worked hard to build new relationships locally. Eventually, I landed a new role, thanks to an introduction made by someone in my freshly minted local network.
Then I told myself that I wouldn’t get caught in that position again.
But . . . things always seemed to get in the way of following that plan. Reality, as the 90’s movie fans will recall, bites.
Life was busy:
- Learning a new company and new job responsibilities;
- Building lots of new relationships;
- Being in meetings upon meetings for crazy projects;
- And another excuse. And another.
Then, add in a small thing called a new baby, and figuring out how to juggle working parenthood.
I know what got in the way of following my networking plan.
But I should have known better.
Because in my eight years at that company, I had four different SVPs . . four different leaders of my department, each of whom had different ideas on priorities and initiatives.
With each new leader, you had to rebuild relationships and prove your worth again. Once, it even included reapplying for our own jobs as part of a restructuring.
In later years, a colleague shared with me her observation that “you’re only as good as your last hero project.” The champions that you have can fizzle and disappear as fast as a passing summer storm.
And as those champions fizzled, I found myself reaching out to some contacts that I hadn’t talked to since I’d started that role to get advice on my next career move:
“Hi, I know we haven’t talked in eight years, but I’m in transition and would love your perspectives and advice.”
Thankfully, most of them willingly connected.
But I wonder how that effort might have gone smoother if I had connected with them even a few times in the interim.
Work Is Changing, So We Must, Too
Research from HR thought leader Josh Bersin at Deloitte indicates that “more than 60% of jobs are changing before our eyes.” (more here)
Companies after companies are restructuring and reorganizing how they do business, and loyalty among workers is diminished.
The pace of business change continues to increase rapidly with technological innovations and disruptions causing companies to rethink entire ways of doing business. So, as Bersin so eloquently states, “If you aren’t managing your own career, you can’t expect the company to do it for you.”
Those individuals who will succeed in the future will be nimble, agile, and resilient to continuously adapt.
Building and maintaining relationships—really, the art of networking—is your key to adapting faster.
And even though great accomplishments still matter, what I’ve learned is that it’s your relationships that serve as your true currency in today’s business environment.
With all that said, here are a few lessons I’ve learned to help you network in real life:
1. Networking doesn’t have to be a scary thing. You’re just getting to know other people better.
If going to a big event with 200 people and “working the room” isn’t your thing (& it’s not mine, either), then don’t start there.
Pick smaller, more intimate-sized events where there are greater opportunities for interaction. Or, use strategies to make larger events more approachable, such as:
- Researching who’ll be in attendance;
- Setting up coffee meetings within breaks at large meetings; and
- Focusing on asking questions and being a great listener, and offering your own insights and contacts to them as well.
2. Look for opportunities to get involved.
Whether it’s to serve on a committee, being a host, or volunteering, working together on something is a great way to build a relationship.
Doing this with others in your professional field is one avenue, but also think about your community interests. I’ve heard more stories about people getting connected to someone for a business opportunity through someone they met at church, or through their child’s school groups.
It’s a real thing. Don’t hesitate to talk with people and get to know them.
3. Create multiple touchpoints over time.
Years ago, a vendor I worked with helped put together an informal group of local colleagues in my field. We met roughly quarterly to discuss topics of interest, listen to speakers, and share practices.
This group has been a great resource when any of us needs a sounding board to gather ideas for an issue or topic we are researching.
And when I was going through a job transition, many of these individuals provided me with advice, perspectives, and referrals to both their network and job leads.
Whether it’s through a group like that one, or your one-on-one relationships, the value of your relationships compound over time, like deposits in a bank (but with a much better interest rate!) Keep putting change in that jar.
4. Cast a broad net when building relationships internally.
A staple of every 30-60-90 day onboarding plan is to establish relationships with your immediate and extended team, along with key stakeholders. This helps you to learn about the company and understand various perspectives on what’s working well, challenges, and areas of opportunity.
Over time, I’d encourage you to seek to expand that list to others in different parts of the business. If you don’t know where to start, ask your manager or peers for suggestions.
With the rapid speed of change, it benefits all of us to be curious about the world outside our day-to-day walls. You never know when you might discover areas of intersection, or potential for collaboration. Or, you might find a part of the business you’d like to explore more for future career interests.
5. Make time to maintain the outside relationships you’ve taken the time to build.
You now have a valuable sounding board for outside perspectives, sources for industry insights and leading practices and people to reach out to for ideas when you are launching a new process. Along the way, you are continuing to strengthen the relationships you’ve established. Some may even turn into personal friendships.
Absolutely, you should go “all in” when you take a new job. But the reality is that you just never know what opportunities may cross your path in the future. And maintaining strong external relationships can only benefit you at that time.
So, take the time to stay connected. It’s probably not realistic to keep in touch with all 500+ of your LinkedIn contacts, so determine for yourself who makes sense.
How to fit networking into real life
Then there is the question of how to fit relationship maintenance into an ever jam-packed life. I had an executive coach* who told me there are 15 opportunities each week to connect with people: 3 meals, or 2 meals and a coffee. But that’s not practical for many of us.
(*Note from Coach Darcy: that advice didn’t come from me! I need to eat alone sometimes, and so do you. . .)
But while that number might not be the right fit, the underlying message was really about the importance of getting away from your desk and connecting.
Plus, as you move up in your career, your ability to get things done is often dependent upon influencing others, rather than executing alone.
So making time to connect isn’t really extra work. It’s a big part OF your work.
My advice is to figure out what will work for you, make a commitment, and stick to it. Here are a few ideas.
- Catch up by phone during your commute. Even at my busiest, I knew I was always captive in the car every morning from 7:15-8 a.m., which made for a great time to connect.
- Commit to reaching out to one contact a week, or a month, or pick your timeframe. Just do it. And create a log so you know when you last reached out to whom. LinkedIn is fantastic for collecting contacts but consider who the people are that you actively want to nurture. Think of it like a Customer Relationship Management tool in sales.
- Find ways to carve out time in your calendar. This one can be so hard for those of us whose calendars are not our own, where meetings get scheduled overtop of other meetings. Schedule blocks for yourself. Maybe mornings are great for coffees with internal colleagues–before the days get crazy. Or one morning a week you meet with someone outside your company, or you plan Thursday evenings to meet someone for drinks. Whatever you do, schedule the time and stick to it.
Finally, pay it forward first and pay it forward last. For those of you in job search, or even those seeking information, it can be tempting to meet someone and immediately ask for what you need.
Sometimes they’ll offer, which is great. But always put yourself in their seat and think about what would be beneficial to the other person.
Give freely of your time (to a point), your insights, and your contacts. Keith Ferrazzi, author of the classic book Never Eat Alone (affiliate link) writes, “It’s better to give before you receive. And never keep score. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”
And later, when that contact sends someone else your way for networking, you know what to do!
Michelle Salob is a human resources and talent management leader who has spent her career focused on aligning and executing people and talent practices to advance the strategic business agenda. She partners with business and HR leaders to diagnose needs, design effective solutions, and deliver large scale change initiatives that will ensure adoption and sustainability. Her areas of expertise include employee engagement, performance management, succession planning, organizational development, assessment, leadership development, and change management. She lives in the Atlanta area with her son. Find out more about Michelle and contact her on LinkedIn here.
More Resources to Help You Network in Real Life
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