I’m hoping that every manager out there understands that we all have to be networking all the time. This means that we have to put a smile on our faces and go out there and meet new people. The reason that we do this is so that if at some point in the future we need to know who these people are, we’ll be able to reach out to them as a resource. However, if we go about doing this the wrong way, we can end up feeling “dirty” and not pleased with ourselves. What’s the right way for a manager to network?
The Problem With Networking
Nearly every manager recognizes that networking is good for them. The connections! The opportunities! And yet a significant percentage of us simply can’t bring ourselves to do it. The reason that we struggle with this is because it makes us feel dirty. Why is this? It turns out that the perceived moral contamination of networking clouds our perceptions so much that we develop a sudden and disproportionate interest in personal-cleansing products such as toothpaste and soap.
In all honesty, it’s really no wonder. We’ve all occasionally experienced what is called a “favor assailant” who cozies up to us with a “getting to know you” call or coffee, and then springs their sneak attack. None of us wants to be like that. So if you’re a manager who is in the “networking feels disgusting” camp, changing your perspective might seem impossible. However, there are a couple of key things that you need to realize. The first is that the type of networking participants engage in can make a huge difference. What people feel bad about is what is called transactional networking – i.e., networking to get something fast, like a job or an investment – rather the type of networking that we do in order to make friends.
The second thing that we need to be aware of is that junior-level managers are the ones who feel worse about networking, as compared with their more senior managers. One possible interpretation is that the junior managers, having fewer connections or resources at their disposal to offer others, felt like “takers” because they worry that they can never reciprocate. In both cases, the takeaway for us is clear: it isn’t networking that’s the problem, per se. It’s that no manager wants to feel like a user. The good news here is that that’s something we can control.
The Right Way To Network
What we all need are ways to become better – more comfortable, more authentic and classier – at professional networking. The first thing that you need to do is to figure out what you can offer. If you’re the junior manager in the networking equation, the problem might seem insoluble. The other person knows more people, has access to bigger budgets and perhaps has more clout than you. None of that is going to change anytime soon. You find yourself wondering what could you possibly offer to them? This isn’t obvious – but it’s essential that you get creative and figure it out.
Another way to get comfortable with networking is to use the rule that “no asks for a year”. This might seem draconian, but use the rule: no asks for a year. Of course, this is not meant to prevent you from inviting someone out to a meal or an event. The point of relationship building is taking the time to get to know someone, after all. The specific prohibition is on requests that require political capital – the kind that networkers tend to make right away. Instead you are going to want to ensure two things: that they don’t impute transactional motives to you and so you don’t subconsciously construct them yourself. Managers should avoid asking for favors until a relationship is so well established that you’re legitimately friends.
Managers who are willing to network should go all-in on their memberships. One of the best strategies to feel more normal about networking is for you to approach people as a peer, rather than a supplicant. Guess what: you can do that especially well if you actually are someone’s peer. Some managers assume that joining lots of groups – professional associations, alumni chapters, civic committees, employee resource groups, and the like – is the best way to meet a lot of people. That can work if your networking strategy is about quantity. However, if you’re optimizing for quality, it’s far better to join fewer groups and go deep. If you do join an organization, go ahead and sign up for a leadership role, which also helps with your reputation and credibility. You can also take the opportunity to reach out to other members and connect.
What All Of This Means For You
Networking is a tricky thing. We all know that it is something that managers should be spending time doing. However, at the same time many of us really don’t like doing it. There can be a variety of reasons why we don’t like networking, but more often than not it comes down to the simple fact that networking makes us feel “dirty”. What can a manager do about this?
Many managers view networking as coming with a perceived moral contamination and we don’t like it. We’ve seen people doing networking badly and it has shaped our perception of networking. We need to realize that the type of networking that we engage in can really matter. Additionally, junior managers generally feel worse about networking than senior managers do. We need to figure out what we can offer when we are networking. We can also create a rule that nobody asks for anything for a year. Finally, memberships can be a great way for us to do networking that we can feel good about.
I think that we all realize that networking is something that can be critical to our career. However, because a lot of us have a bad feeling about networking, we just are not doing enough of it. This needs to change. We need to find ways to become comfortable doing the type of networking that we can feel is actually valid interaction. If we can figure out a way to go about doing this, then we’ll be able to keep our career on track.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™
Question For You: How often do you think that a manager should spend time networking?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Congratulations: you’ve finally built the team that you need in order to be successful. Now comes the hard part: keeping your team together. Turnover is a problem in every manager needs to find ways to deal with it. Our goal should be that having built the team that we want, we should know how to go about keeping it together. It turns out that this may actually be easier than we originally thought. It all has to do with upskilling.