Friday, April 18, 2014

The Networker and the Hard Worker

Your network lets you lift heavier loads.
Some people just don't see the point. Maybe they are part of a large organization. Maybe all of their "clients" are internal. Maybe they never have to deal with anyone outside the ivory tower. At any rate they ask, "Why should I bother to network? As long as I work hard, I should have no problems keeping my job"

Maybe. Maybe not.

Most of the time, though, a great network can magnify what we can get done by our own efforts alone. Consider just one scenario:

Suppose you are the HR Director for a medium-sized company. Your IT expert, Bob, Has been working for the business happily for years. Bob knows everything about your IT infrastructure. If something goes wrong, which it rarely does, Bob is the one to make sure things get fixed and fixed quickly. Bob just gave notice. He will be leaving in two weeks. How do you deal with it?

The Hard Worker: Time to get to work. Post the job on the company website and on a few job search sites. Sift through the hundreds of applications that will result. Go through multiple levels of interviewing to winnow down the applicants. Make an offer to the best one. Make an offer to the second-best when your first choice ends up not taking the job. While you are doing all this, try to get Bob to record everything he knows about the infrastructure. By the time you have someone hired, things have started to fail.Oh, and Bob isn't available to take questions anymore. The other employees are complaining and unable to get their work done. This makes management unhappy. They start trying to "help" by "encouraging" you to hurry. You finally get someone hired. While skilled, it does take time before she truly understands all the systems you rely on. Result: Delay, stress, unhappiness, degraded morale.

But that's all OK, because you are a hard worker.

The Networker: Well, first of all, since you have developed a relationship with Bob, you'd know before this all came up that his wife is looking for a job -- the reason Bob would quit and leave town. With your connections outside the company, you might know of a job for her. Wouldn't that solidify Bob's loyalty forever? OK, suppose you can't help out. You still have your network to call upon to fill Bob's position. Heck, Bob might even know of a candidate or two. This will lead to a much smaller pool of higher quality potential replacements.That means the selection process goes faster, the system has less of an opportunity to break down, the other employees and management are happier and when it comes time to train the new employee, Bob may still be available to answer questions. Even if there's a gap in IT coverage, your other connections within the company may yield some temporary support or you may be able to call on your network contacts for recommendations on temporary third-party IT support.

Of course, it's always good to be a hard worker. If you dedicate at least some of your effort to building a powerful network, though, you might find that the same amount of work goes a lot farther than if you are working alone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Scenic Route

Well, that didn't work out the way I'd hoped -- and that's OK.

For about the past year, I've been trying to focus my speaking business on a specific target market. I thought I would try career resource departments at various institutions of higher education. It seemed like a good fit. I love working with the students. They definitely need my help. The departments usually have at least some budget for outside speakers. There are a lot of them from small local community colleges all the way to major, internationally-known universities.

The problem is, at least for the speaking segment of my business, it didn't fit so well. They don't usually need keynote speakers. The students don't have much money, so they are unlikely to want to pay for additional services or products. They also don't usually belong to other professional organizations where they can bring me in to speak again, so the spin-off business on any given engagement is pretty unlikely.

Don't get me wrong. I still love to work with colleges and universities. If I should receive a referral to help one of them, of course, I would be happy to work with the students.

They won't, however, be a focus for my networking efforts.

So, has the last year been wasted? Not a bit. I made great contacts who could still connect me with other opportunities. I had the chance to refine my offerings both with in-person presentations and information products that let people take me home with them. I certainly developed a better understanding of my business and the factors to consider as I select my next target market -- maybe banking and finance or maybe entrepreneurs and solo professionals. We'll see.

I'm certainly much better off than if I had just tried to market my business to "anybody". I wouldn't have learned any of these lessons. I would still be in the same place trying to figure out why I wasn't doing better. I think this is what is standing in the way of most people's success in networking. They are so afraid of selecting the wrong target market, they end up selecting no target market.

See, the way I look at it, I didn't so much go down the wrong path, I just took the scenic route.

And that's a lot better than just leaving the car parked in the garage.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Squashpup

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forward Behavior: Check the Facts

Maybe they should have checked first
To quote Dennis Miller "I don't want get off on a rant here, but..."

A few years ago, I wrote a post about being a responsible forwarder -- someone who forwards articles of interest to other people in your network. While this can be a fantastic way to stay in contact and provide value to your network, there is a dark side. I've had a few recent incidents which forced me to revisit the topic.

All the rules I mentioned before still hold. Send it to only one person at a time, attach a note explaining its importance, avoid cutesy stories, inflammatory political screeds, and religious tracts. Above all else, though, please, please, please, check your facts.

I cannot tell you the number of times someone has sent me a message directly or posted it on LinkedIn or Facebook with a story and/or a call to action which has turned out to be either false or woefully out of date. These days, it takes about a second and a half to verify the truth of a particular story. In case you are wondering, though, here are a few warning signs that the message you are about to forward may only have a fleeting relationship with facts.

  1. It portrays a political viewpoint or figurehead as either divinely inspired or spawn of the devil. Much as we might desire the simplicity, rare indeed is the modern situation which we can render down to a battle of good versus evil.
  2. It uses the actions of an individual who belongs to a group or even a small segment of that group to make general, sweeping statements about that group or the society at large. Just because some teenagers hold a protest in Texas doesn't mean all teenagers are universally striving to topple the government.
  3. It makes the claim that it has the real story.
  4. It claims that the story has been downplayed in the media and this is some sort of indication of a vast conspiracy to keep the people in the dark.
  5. It contains no specific information which you can then verify via a trusted third party.
  6. It contains no citation for original sources which would allow you to research yourself and come up with your own conclusions. Caveat: Just because it does have citations doesn't mean it's accurate. The original sources may be just as flawed.
  7. It makes the claim that Snopes says it's true. They might, but don't take anyone else's word for it.
Even if the story passes the above tests, still check it with one or two of the reputable fact checking services. The ones I've used in the past are:

Really, this all comes down to taking responsibility for what you put your name on. You probably would refer someone to your network whom you didn't think could do the job. That would make you look bad. Wouldn't forwarding inaccurate information have a similar result?

Do you have any fact checking sites beyond those I've listed?

Photo by Victor Victoria at en.wikipedia

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Network Provides

They say, every once in a while, we should count our blessings. We really need to appreciate all we have in our lives and know that we need to be good stewards of all the good things we have.

I also like to count my networking blessings. Similarly, it helps remind me to take care of my connections and do all I can to help them in return.

What are some of the great things I've received through my network?
  1. Our new basement. Backyard neighbors passed along out contractor's information.
  2. My 10-year marriage. My mom (yes, she's a part of my network) introduced me to my lovely bride.
  3. About 90% of my clients in my old business. In fact, most of them I can trace back through a chain of referral back to my original freelance project.
  4. About 90% of my clients in my current business. A few show up at my workshops after reading about them or contact me out of the blue to speak at their organization, but most are from talking with someone else who's attended.
  5. My radio spots on WLBY. Thanks to Mike Wynn for making that connection.
  6. My column in the Ann Arbor News. Thanks to Jenn Cornell for the introduction.
  7. My 16-year history with Keith Hafner's Karate. I wouldn't have known about them without a friend.
  8. Our nanny, Miss Beth, who has cared for our children for the last six years. Where would we be if one of my networking contacts hadn't connected us with his daughter-in-law?
  9. Numerous radio and television interviews. So many opportunities that I didn't even have to ask for.
You probably have one or two good things that have happened with the assistance of someone else. Take a moment to make a list.

Then take another to thank them.

Image by openclipart user dkdlv

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Making the Magic

I love Christmas. I love the presents. I love the food. I love getting together with family. I love the whole thing and I have loved it my whole life.

When I was a child, Christmas was pure magic. I believed in Santa Claus and every year the lights on the tree just lifted my heart. Then I became a teenager. I still loved Christmas, but I had kind of "seen behind the curtains" and now the magic wasn't there anymore.

This year, the magic came back.

This year, my daughter, Kaylie, had just turned six. She is old enough to think, but still young enough for magic. She stayed up to watch for Santa, set out cookies and milk, and swears that she not only heard sleigh bells, but actually saw the Man himself -- obviously magical for her. It was magical for me, on the other hand, because I was a part of the magic. I helped make it happen.

This happens to us as we develop as networkers. If we are lucky when we start out, we run into a fantastic networker or two who starts connecting us with a few opportunities. We love that feeling and we wait for more of it to happen. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't. Sooner or later, though, we begin to feel a bit jaded. Oh, we still enjoy the process of networking and the occasional opportunities it brings, but we think we've seen behind the curtain and that's all there is to it.

The magic doesn't come back until we become a part of the process. We can't be the child receiving gifts all the time. Sooner or later, we have to give.

And that's when we discover the real meaning of the season, er, I mean, networking.

Bob Burg, the author of "The Go-Giver", said it quite well when he defined networking as "the process of developing long-term, mutually-beneficial, give-and-take relationships". If we don't have the "give" with the "take", then there just won't be any long-term networking magic.

Photo by Jonathan G Meath

Monday, April 7, 2014

Limited Networker Field Guide: The Gray-Crested Moral Ambigue

This is the another in the "Limited Networker Field Guide" series.

Name: Gray-Crested Moral Ambigue

Environment: Frighteningly common in all walks of life.

Behavior: The Moral Ambigue shows up at networking events, businesses, and social events. His camouflaged markings make him appear much like any other attendee. The main distinction happens when he starts to regale you with stories of his success. At that point, his plumage -- the gray of muddied morality -- suddenly becomes apparent. He often tells of his greatest achievements being earning a lot of money. No problem there. The dark side of this individual comes in when he admits that he is actually taking advantage of other people to accomplish his goals. In fact, he doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between serving those who are in true need and manufacturing a false need so that he can profit from their misfortunes -- to him, they are the same thing.

Broken Rules of Good Networking: First impressions may count, but a bad reputation lasts forever. Similar to the Strong-Arm Salesman, the Ambigue wants to succeed in the "sale" (whatever that might mean to him. The difference here is what he's selling may or may not actually solve the problem -- and he doesn't care. Sooner or later, the fact that he doesn't care will get out and at that point, things are going to start getting hard for him.

Counter-Measures: When you discover the person with whom you've been chatting is indeed an Ambigue, it's time to end the conversation and move along. If we are known by those with whom we associate, we do not want their muddy grayness to stick to us. You really have nothing to gain from them and more than likely, they are simply sizing you up to see how they can best use you to their own benefit.

How We Can Help: Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to help these poor misguided souls. Until they perceive that there is a problem, they will have no reason to change.

As skilled networkers we should always find ways to help other people whenever possible. In this case, though, there really isn't anything to do and any attempts on our part are only likely to further enable the Ambigue's behaviors.

Sometimes all we can do is save ourselves.

Photo by Kevin Law

Friday, April 4, 2014

Networking Pride and Prejudice

I love the A&E miniseries of "Pride & Prejudice". There, I've said it and you may now proceed to call me a sissy-man.

Just remember I also have a fourth-degree black belt.

Joking aside, I do really enjoy watching this story and do so usually at least once per year. Great dialog. Great characters. Great story.

One of my favorite passages involves an exchange over the pianoforte between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. She teases him about not making an effort to connect with those around him.
"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done."
"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."
How many of us feel like Darcy when we show up at the networking event? At one time, I was a computer programmer with all the social skills that implies. Attending those events felt like I was at my first junior high school dance -- awkward, embarrassed, painful. It's amusing to think of people who think I'm a "natural networker". The truth is it took me a lot of practice to become that way.

Any learnable skill -- which networking is -- takes time and practice to master. We don't wake up one morning able to cook a gourmet meal, walk a tight rope, or drive a car. Why would we expect anything different when we are learning the techniques and tactics of developing our web of connections?

Give yourself permission to feel a little awkward. Be OK with discomfort. Just understand that this, too, shall pass and soon you, too, can be a "natural networker".

Photo by Luigi Rosa