Ping! You've just receive a beautifully designed invitation for an event in your inbox, you read it line-by-line: Oh! Interesting topic, Wow! Great location! Gosh! Great speakers! Moderator from prime time news....nice. Then AAARRRGGGHHH Networking Cocktail/Apero.
- get a knot in your stomach?
- suddenly feel struck by an inexplicable wave of exhaustion?
- do you purr with delight "Networrrrrrrrking"?
- think "Networking Cocktail? Does it have vodka? Is it as good as a Cosmopolitan?"
This Networking thing, what is it exactly? What does it mean? Why has it spread like an air-borne virus infecting events left, right and center; conferences, meetings, workshops, the list goes on. An entire event genre has been named after it: "The Networking Event". It's even become a verb "To Network". Just imagine all those English language students sitting in class conjugating the verb: I network, you network, he networks, she networks, we network...............the mind boggles.
"Networking" is now to events, what bread is to butter or Brangelina.
Have you noticed how this is doubly true for events aimed at women. Why? Anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to the lack of women in leadership topic will be well versed in the fact that "Networking" is one of THE key reasons why. Apparently women:
- Can't network
- Don't have networks.
Of course this is rubbish. Women network. They have networks. Great networks at that. They just see it differently and do it differently.
And BTW, I can promise you, not all men are natural born networkers.
So lets brush the cobwebs of confusion aside and shine some light on what is actually at stake. The real issues at hand are, do women:
- Have access to the networks that count - that means the people that count?
- Use their networks wisely?
- Network for the sake of networking?
- Do any of these questions ring a bell?
I don't know about you, but at this point if I have to read the word "networking" once more I might just scream.
So let's change the tone.
Your relationships are arguably one of your most valuable business assets - if not the most important one. Think of "Relationship Capital". There is financial capital, intellectual capital, cultural capital but Relationship Capital is the currency that you need to get your PIE right.
No, you don't need apples, or cherries or to google "Jamie Oliver's perfect shortcrust pastry" to get your PIE right. According to Harvey Coleman in his book "Empowering Yourself, The Organizational Game Revealed" what you do need is Performance, Image and Exposure.
According to the PIE model, success in your (any) profession is weighted:
Imagine! 60% of your career success depends on Who knows you and Who knows what you do? (don't get this wrong, you HAVE to do your job well but it will only get you 10% of the way).
What does this boil down to? You've got it - "Relationship Capital". Who you know, Who knows you, and Who knows what you're doing, is crucial to your success.
How do you build up your Relationship Capital? Just like all the other "capitals" you have to work at it. You can't expect to build financial capital by being a couch potato (unless you've just inherited a lump sum or won the lottery - and even then you have to go out and buy the lottery ticket). You can't expect to build intellectual capital by watching reality TV all day. You can't expect to build your relationship capital by being stuck behind your computer all day to then go straight home.
You have to get out there, get to know people and let people get to know you. This doesn't mean that you have to go out to a different event every evening, and it certainly it doesn't mean that you have to blow your own trumpet until everyone's fed up of hearing you. But it does mean that you have to work at it.
What does it mean to be a Natural Born Networker?
- Firstly there are very few Natural Born Networkers, the rest of us have learnt along the way. I did. You can too.
- You can work on your relationship capital and network any time during the day, especially at work - it is not confined to the end of an event.
- Collaborating with others on projects is one of the best ways of really doing this effectively.
- Recognising that Networking is an activity that generates opportunities to develop your career.
- Articulate and make clear your work or career goals.
- Decide what you want to be known for. What should your name by synonymous with? What's your personal brand?
- Have your story ready to tell: about yourself (private - just enough to show you're human) and your vision (professional - what is your Big Idea, what are your goals, what are your key achievements).
- Find and sign-up to relevant events, conferences, professional groups, advisory boards inside and outside your organisation.
- Whatever your demographic don't stick to groups that only reflect the same demographic - mix it up and broaden your network.
- Who are the other players in your field? Get introduced by mutual colleagues/friends. Invite them for lunch or a coffee, just to get to know each other and share ideas. When you do meet always ask "What can I do to help you?"
- Use all the above to get speaking engagements, internally and externally. If you're a nervous public speaker opt for panels or small informal style gatherings.
You'll be surprised how building your Relationship Capital will change the way you are perceived from within and outside your organisation. It really will make you a richer person, just imagine how much you are learning from all the new people you are meeting, career opportunities that cross your path (because you're putting yourself in their way) and if you're lucky you might just make some great friends along the way - I know I have.
So start working on the magic ingredients of your own personal PIE, and treat yourself to a Networking cocktail to help wash it down.