I once held the misguided notion that networking equaled being “political” and getting ahead based on networked relationships was something less than earning the position based on merit.
Fortunately, through coaching and experience, that notion was dispelled. I learned that networking is not about being political or well connected. It’s about establishing and nurturing relationships with others that are mutually beneficial, and it has everything to do with growing a successful career.
As an Executive Coach, I find many clients also have views on networking that can use a broader perspective. I encourage anyone who wants to grow their network to begin today. Those who wait until they are looking for a new opportunity often find they haven’t cultivated a network strong enough to open doors. They also miss out on the many rewarding work and personal life experiences networking produces.
The good news is it’s easier to build your network today than ever before. Below are seven successful approaches for broadening your network that I’ve found to be helpful:
- Begin in your own workplace. Three key factors influence how you are viewed at work: A) the quality of your work, B) the results you achieve, and C) how you handle relationships inside your organization and with customers or clients, while delivering on your work. When your colleagues and managers see you consistently deliver in these three areas, they want to collaborate with you. Reliable performance not only builds your workplace reputation, it also increases the likelihood that clients and customers take notice. This can lead to their referrals when they are aware of opportunities. Similarly, when colleagues move on from your present organization, the chances are good they will recommend or hire others they know from their networks whose work reputations are strong. “Many who advance in their careers were offered jobs from, or were recommended to companies by, former colleagues or managers. In effect, they were pulled into their opportunity based on their previous work.”[i]
- Join professional associations and attend meetings or seminars. Many organizations recognize these activities as a form of training and development and cover the expenses related to them. As more content is pushed out online or through structured presentations with call-in connections, taking advantage of these development opportunities is increasingly accessible. In the process, you get to know others in your field and they get to know you. Through such channels, professionals often share what works in their organizations without giving away proprietary information. Such exchanges allow you to bring leading edge thinking back to your organization and demonstrate your willingness to grow and learn. They also allow for you to hear about – and potentially to be considered for – new opportunities in a broader professional network.
- Seek out and meet with successful people. One of the best ways to add value to your organization is to find out how others have driven success in their workplaces. Many people are willing to devote time to share information about a topic or area where they have expertise. Arranging a meeting can be as simple as making a call or sending an email that goes something like this: “Mary, I heard you implemented a new widget system in your organization, and that it’s been very successful. I’m researching the application of a new system for my group, and I’d really appreciate spending 30 minutes with you, either via phone or in person, to better understand what factors were key to your accomplishment. If you can’t find the time, perhaps you can refer me to a colleague who could be of help. I’d be more than happy to return the favor, perhaps in an area we have had success.” This shows you truly are interested in learning and you also are willing to reciprocate. When the meeting happens, exchange contact information and follow up with a thank you note. If appropriate, include useful details about a project your organization implemented successfully that has relevance for the person you met.
- Be a conduit within your network. Introduce individuals who may benefit mutually from knowing one another. Sharing and helping others without expecting anything in return can strengthen your reputation. “If you can provide a benefit or helping hand to someone, they’re a lot more likely to remember YOU down the road when they actually need your services or can make a referral.”[ii]
- Volunteer for a key project. Then, per item #1 above, deliver on positive quality, results and relationships. Whether you are a team member or the lead on the project, participating and achieving a positive outcome increases your visibility and expands your networking opportunities. Important! Share credit for success with all team members.
- Write an article or blog post. Strive to become an authority on subjects about which you have expertise and/or passion. Share your work via social media and establish a publishing routine. You may be invited to write more or speak on your topic, thereby growing your network.
- Non-profits, charitable organizations, your college’s local alumni association, etc., all need contributors. Participating on committees or becoming a board member allows you to share your talents with people who represent a broad cross-section of your community.
Some of the networking enhancing methods above may be outside your comfort zone. That’s the point. One of my son’s coaches used the saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” To develop a broader network, you need to take new and different actions.
How can executive coaching help you broaden your network and achieve what’s next?
Lance Hazzard, CPCC, ACC, is a certified Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach helping people and organizations successfully achieve what’s next. He is Executive Coach and President at Oppnå® Executive & Achievement Coaching. Find out more about Lance and Oppnå® Coaching at oppnacoaching.com
[i] A Pull System for Career Development, Inside Supply Management, September 2014, by Lance Hazzard and Joanne Leith
[ii] Why Networking in Human Resources Doesn’t Work Anymore (and What You Should Do Instead)…, LinkedIn, August 7, 2014, by Alan Collins