Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Success Series Part 2: Networking

There is so much talk about networking. Social Networking. Professional Networking. And so forth. The law of averages touts that being we are so inundated with networking- it MUST be important. It must warrant an extra look…not just in blog form- but in yours and my own lives. Is it important to you? Or is it just another piece of the puzzle that you don’t really care about? Does it get left in the box? Knowing that it’s a corner piece to complete the final puzzle- but you can see the whole picture of the puzzle without putting that small, background piece in place…so you leave it.  But I warn you- that puzzle is not complete until you put the final corner piece in play.  Networking is the foundation of success. It can provide more opportunities than you can fathom. But like any good foundation- it has to be laid with intention – and carefully plotted. If haphazardly placed- it will crack, crumble, and fall apart after the first winter.

So how do we do this so called networking? Is creating a Linked In profile and adding all your Facebook friends enough? Can you just go out for happy hour with your pals at work and complain about the nasty customer you had to deal with today? How about only sending emails to an executive that you’re terrified of? NO! It’s not enough. It doesn’t touch the surface of being enough. Sure- some of those are good tools. But in the same breath- they are passive aggressive, they are the bare minimum…. Those examples are “dollar general” attempts. We need to work up to at least “Target” style effort… and aspire to “Nordstrom”esque Networking abilities. If you follow my drift- you can see that Networking has to be classy, it has to have a high end feel to it… but in the same breath- it depends on what industry you work in. If you work in Wildlife Management- you would be reaching for “Cabellas” – moving away from Wal-Marts fishing aisle.

Networking, as defines it is: “ a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.” Networking is not relegated to simply people within your company or office... Branch out - think outside the box. I have found it advantageous to build relationships with other vendors, carriers and even competition... the more knowledge you have in your arsenal- the better equipped you are to succeed. Think of every person you talk to on a regular basis as an opportunity to expand your network.

I like to believe that I have gotten where I am by means of building an excellent Network. At a young age I was working at DHL and was surrounded by knowledge and people who knew far more than I could ever hope to learn. I knew that my best resource would be tapping into those peoples skill sets. So, I did what I knew best... I started chatting them up... in different channels. First, I would seek out those that I knew I could identify with - be it personality, humor, location... etc. Then I found a way to relate to them. Some it was drinking beers and playing poker after a long day in meetings at a work trip in Minneapolis. Others, I found my best opportunity came during the quiet afternoons, when I would pick up the phone and pick their brain- and always leave room for personal questions- learn their likes/hobbies/family members names. When you can relate to someone- it makes it that much easier to reach out to them when you have a problem or simply need help.

Networking is never done -there isn't a set time frame for its completion. I would hope that I continue to see every meeting as an opportunity to continue to network. So what happened when I moved on to Netflix, then Machinery Link and now Touton? Well- I didn't lose the numbers of any previous employers- or solid contacts. I kept them. I reached out to them to inform them I was moving on and would like to keep in touch. But you ask- what happens when they quit emailing/calling you? Well- I pick up the phone. I send an email. I REACH OUT. Don't give up. To this day- I still have the very same, amazing contacts/now friends as I did when I first began my professional career. And the upside to all that is they know me and my work habits, they know what makes me tick and can give solid advice as to what move to make. What's better is if I am ever in a town near any of these people- I make a point to grab a cocktail or lunch... face to face is the best way to form a relationship.

Remember- every meeting, event, happy hour is an opportunity to grow your network. You NEVER know who or what they might know... so yes- I do believe that its not always WHAT you know - but WHO you know. Just be sure you can back up the who with the what. But that's a conversation for a different day.

And with that- I'm out - off to meet another airport. But before my flight I made time for a lunch with a Frenchman from our office who is visiting- sneaky how I scheduled our flights for the same time  - eh?! Am I nervous yep... excited... hell yea!

OH and remember - this is all in my own opinion- and what has worked for me...

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