Are you a corporate type who is slow to network? Then take a clue from entrepreneurs and connectors who reap many benefits from contacts.
When it comes to networking, you guys need to wake up and smell the coffee! Entrepreneurs love to talk to people about their businesses— networking is typically their No. 1 or No. 2 channel for new clients.
I have a message for my friends in the corporate world: When it comes to networking, you guys need to wake up and smell the coffee! Your peers in the entrepreneurial realm are miles ahead of you when it comes to making and sustaining business connections.
Not long ago I spoke at an entrepreneurial conference in Wisconsin. When it was time for me to speak, the conference emcee had to practically shout into the microphone in order to get people to stop talking. Entrepreneurs love to talk to people about their businesses— networking is typically their No. 1 or No. 2 channel for new clients.
But corporate people don’t get it. They don’t go to networking events because they’re afraid of being hit up by job-seekers and service providers. What they don’t see is that by staying home instead of getting out to meet people, their own networks don’t grow. And that, over time, can really hurt them.
The difference between corporate types and entrepreneurial ones was really brought home to me when I attended an all-corporate event here in Denver. I couldn’t figure out why the audience was downright torpid. Finally, a friend of mine pulled me aside and said: “Their companies have sent these folks. Each company bought a table and sent over enough employees to fill it. They don’t see the need to network, and see things like this as an obligation.”
Then I understood why this group was so lackluster—and I couldn’t help comparing them to the entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs were jazzed to meet one another, while the corporate people milled about in their own company groupings, speaking to strangers as little as possible.
Not Only Job Searching
How can a person read the newspaper and listen to the radio and not realize that what seems like the world’s most secure corporate job could be gone tomorrow? I would hate to be a laid-off corporate person hitting the networking circuit for the first time when I desperately needed a new job.
Expanding your list of job-search contacts is only one reason for corporate people to get better at networking, however. Possessing a varied and vibrant network of contacts helps you make better decisions; provides you with advice and moral support for career steps and transitions as you encounter them; and gives you another outlet (besides your own workmates, your spouse or partner, and your dog) to vent about and process your experiences at work.
When I was a young corporate HR bunny, I’d always hear the older, better-connected executives say things like, “I’ll call my buddy over at Amoco about that issue, he’s an expert on petrodollars.” I remember thinking, “How do they get all these buddies?”
Well, of course for most of these guys, the network-building started way back in college. But for avid networkers, it never ends. They are out and about, in person and online, making and cultivating relationships with people across the business ecosystem. Can you doubt that the managers with the most robust networks somehow end up hearing about the plum assignments, locating the best suppliers, getting into the most sought-after accounts, and generally thriving all the way to the bank?
Be a Connector
So if you’re a typical walled-off corporate person, moving from home to car to cube and back again, let this be your wake-up call. Now is the time—now, March, 2007, to be exact— to shake off the torpor and get your network going.
And if you feel that you’ve got a head start on your slow-to-networking corporate fellows, here’s another tip for you. Well-connected networkers thrive, but the people who really benefit from the buoyant networks around them are connectors, who I call the uber-networkers.
Connectors are people who don’t merely build their own networks but also introduce great people to one another. One of my favorite connectors, Ellen, is a master at the art of finding intersections between her contacts’ business needs. She’ll hear your story (having trouble formatting a new report, struggling with a difficult supplier in China) and process it. Two days later, she’ll send along an e-mail message that introduces you to the very person in her own network who can solve your problem—and quite likely, for whom you can do something useful as well.
Connectors thrive because they actively seek to move the value of their networks from one contact to another. They know—they trust—that this interaction will benefit them, too. Their networking isn’t a matter of “help me, right now,” but rather of finding common elements among the people they’ve known for years and the new people they’re meeting.
Tune In To Others
And guess what happens as a result? Connectors build enormous networks around them. Everybody knows them, and everybody trusts and appreciates them. What more could a working person ask for?
So put down the crossword puzzle or the video-game controller and head out to a local networking event, pronto. If you’re uncomfortable talking about yourself, focus on learning as much as you can about the people you meet so that you can make helpful introductions for them later. Even the most gun-shy corporate person can and should establish one solid new business relationship per month.
If you’re not doing that, ask yourself: Is my network a professional asset to me? If not, the year is young: You’ve got nine months left to move into active networking and cultivate some terrific connecting skills, as well, before 2008. Do it now, before the corporate torpor hits you again!
Liz Ryan is a former corporate HR executive and an author and speaker on the new-millennium workplace. Ryan is the CEO of WorldWIT, the global network for professional women. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.