Why should I network? I hardly have enough time to do my job as it is.
What comes to mind when I say the word “network”?
Responses I have received run the gamut from “I know I need to build a network, but I don’t have time” to “I hate walking into a room of people I don’t know and trying to generate superficial conversations.” In many cases, the adjectives used are self-serving, inauthentic, uncomfortable, and downright overwhelming. But that’s not what I mean when I say “network”.
Network is not a verb. Network is a NOUN.
Your network is a strategic asset that helps you in your current job and in your life; it does not just help you find your next job. Begin to think of your network as “a connected set of relationships built one at a time, over time.” This simple mindset shift will allow you to view the friendly people you see at work or in your personal life as assets. They have knowledge you wish you had, and they are happy to share. If you lead with curiosity and intend to learn, each connection can be a fun experience.
Building a network is not about collecting business cards, getting acquainted with thousands of people, or connecting with everyone who pops up on your LinkedIn. I believe in quality of relationships. You must have a real connection with the people in your network. Otherwise, following them and reading their comments on LinkedIn has no value.
Your network can help you be better in your current role.
Here are just a few examples of how I’ve seen a network used effectively:
1. Sharpen your understanding of a role you’ve been offered. Use your network to provide insight to what that might look like.
When considering a new role, especially outside of your area of expertise, your network can provide information about the actual day-to-day challenges, who are the main stakeholders for success (often a blind spot), and what new skills and relationships you might build with this experience. You can try out the role without having to accept the position first.
2. Shape a job offering into one that excites you.
When I was interviewing for a position as a Chief Marketing Officer, I was very excited about the company, the other executive team members, and the CEO’s vision. But the role was defined as a traditional CMO role, whereas my signature strengths are all about growth. I loved the opportunity, but I needed to reshape the role so I could bring my best to the company. Using my network, I connected with the company’s suppliers, customers, competitors, and even the Chairman of the company’s industry association. By asking questions, I did a 360 review of the company and created a value proposition for the CMO role. I brought my research to the CEO, lined it up with my unique skill set, and showed him how I could add way more value as the Chief Commercial Officer. It was a win for the company and for me.
3. Validate your assumptions or get a new perspective.
An SVP of HR of a global hospitality company was asked to take a lateral move requiring that she uproot her family from Chicago to Hong Kong. She was uncertain it would be a good decision. I suggested she ask her Signature Program peers about their experiences with lateral moves, with family moves into new countries, etc. She did just that, and with her new perspective and knowledge, she became excited about the opportunity for both her career and her family, and she accepted the role. Your network can lift you out of the emotional hand-wringing of a big decision and help you see the benefits through your trepidation. Since then, her 2 years in Hong Kong have turned into 6 because she and her family are thriving!
4. Extend your expertise to bring value to your company.
You have been invited to a management meeting where the leadership team will discuss the company’s big initiative. Although you have no expertise in the areas of the business it impacts or the technology it utilizes, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. Tap into the expertise of people outside your company who have experience implementing the same technology. Find out what obstacles they faced and share that experience in the meeting. You don’t have to have personal expertise about the topic, but good leaders show up with good questions to help the entire team advance their collective thinking. Preparing with a point of view on an area outside your direct responsibility demonstrates your value as a leader in the company.
Building a network is not about attending the happy hour after work. It should be a planned and intentional part of your normal day. Think about it as “building one relationship at a time, over time,” and you will enjoy the connections as opportunities to learn. You can shift your mindset from feeling networking is daunting and inauthentic to finding it enjoyable and full of personal and professional growth for you.