“It’s not what you know, but who you know”, still rings true in many organizations today, but, what’s more is, “It’s not what you know, or who you know, but who knows you, and who knows that you know what you know”–you know?
Organizations have championed the value and importance of teamwork for over a decade. Now comes the importance of recognizing the adjunct activity of internal and “on purpose” networking. Many people think networking is an on-the-side, personal activity particularly reserved for:
- career pathing beyond their current organization
- the self-employed person looking to expand their business, or for
- multi-level-marketing sales agents
…but employee dedication to broadening personal influence and wisdom, while still within their current workplace, is essential for organizational health.
Networking “on the inside” is not new (just think of how long the term “Old Boys Club” has been around). What is new, is the conscious choice to raise the practice of networking from one of backroom favours, manipulations and hidden agendas, to one of smart business sense, focused on win/win solutions. Networking used to be little more than insincerely and randomly handing out business cards to everyone you meet, at every business (and other) function you attend, while scurrying around the room, ensuring that you make your “hellos” and shake hands with as many people as possible. There is a sincere art to effective and classy networking, and that which I’ve described, above, is not part of that art form! Sincere and effective business networking is about building relationships through effort, time and commitment.
As organizations stop ramming employees into static job descriptions, like square pegs into round holes, and start redefining the activities and nature of their services with each new project, the importance of internal networking increases. Becoming personally masterful at the skill of networking and relationship building is now essential, regardless of employee position or project.
Historically, many organization’s divisions and branches have felt a competitiveness which kept them suspicious and isolated from each other. Partnering rarely happened as a means to a common end. When it did happen, it was usually someone else’s idea. This isolationist thinking between branches still dangerously exists in many companies. Organization that care to maximize employee effort and performance on these new and evolving project teams, need to create and support a new corporate culture–a corporate culture which ensures employees’ right to establish internal networks, alignments and agreements of working together with others, perhaps from unconventional branches, or even outside of the organization, if need be.
Networking increases awareness and commitment, strengthens relationships and trust, and heightens empowerment. Networking creates information, and information is power to move forth; without it, an organization is wasting its resources and spinning its wheels.
Successful entrepreneurs are terrific networkers. So what do you call committed employees with entrepreneurial spirit and vision which they wish to invest inside their organizations? Author Gifford Pinchot (Intrapreneuring: Why you don’t have to leave your Corporation to become an Entrepreneur) calls them…Intrapreneurs!
Contemplate Intrapreneurial Networking by reflecting on:
- why bother to internally network, at all? what are the benefits?
- what would be my personal networking goals?
- how well developed are my current networking and people skills?
- what classic barriers might I create to networking? blocking excuses?
- who are the key people in my current circle of influence?
- what are the rules of effective networking?
- what are the key personality traits of masterful networkers?
- how can I maximize networking opportunities at meetings and conferences?
- what would my plan for career management networking look like?
- would a mentor be a good idea for me? if yes, who?
- would it be a good idea for me to mentor another? who?
- what actions can I take to build allies and loyalties at work?
Now, here are some suggestions for becoming an intrapreneurial networking master, right now, right there, inside your current organization:
- formally and informally communicate with customers, suppliers, industry experts, and business journalists for diverse perceptions of your company, industry, profession and/or organization
- attend trade shows, conventions, and workshops to increase your wisdom and connections in your field (and share that wisdom with your fellow, internal colleagues)
- read and listen to audio tapes/cds on subjects in your field; share that wisdom with internal colleagues
- ask information seeking questions about your colleagues’ needs and wants; help solve, lead the way ahead or put them in touch with what they need, either professionally or personally
- know the interests and hobbies of key colleagues and share information in those areas (a sense of relationship beyond the work tasks often leads to heightened trust)
- realize that you don’t have to have positional power to internally network (often times effective internal networking works better without the official, positional power title, because colleagues may be less likely to suspect such a person of hidden agendas)
- realize, though, that positional power often sees a project through; remind yourself to keep networking with those in positional power, too
- use/update your Rolodex (or whatever tracking system–electronic or otherwise–works for you)
- identify key people, within your organization, who are not yet part of your network; decide and act on how to bring them into your network/circle before you need their skills and/or expertise
- create case studies in which you and your fellow team members finish sentences such as, “Who would you go to, to get this or that information? What branch or division or regional office, etc. Who would you call? Who would you ask? What would you do?”
- extend the kind gesture of giving colleagues in other departments the “heads up” (where acceptable to do so) when you know information which they’d value having
When actually attending an internal meeting or conference (particularly one where you are exposed to other employees you’ve never met), remember to:
- Plan…know who will be there; know your personal networking goals for this event, ahead of time; know what you are hoping to achieve and what you are willing to give or offer, in return
- Have an Ear…find new colleagues with whom to chat…on purpose! Once found, ask questions. Listen for common interests which are totally separate from the organization’s function or your profession. Children in the same grade? Grew up in the same area? Went to the same school? Relatives in the same/other country? Love of the same kind of pet? or sport or hobby? travel? Challenges of helping aging parents?…and the list can go on and on! Common interests, and sharing new information that you possess about those very interests, helps build professional relationship and loyalty
- Be inclusive…introduce one of your “old” contacts to one of your “new” ones. Be that classy individual with the height of grace and manners, by bringing a third person into the fold of a two person conversation, eg. you and a friend are walking down the street. Your friend bumps into an old friend; those two gleefully embrace singing their metaphoric duet of “Auld Lang Syne”–thrilled to see one another after such a long, long time–while you stand by, idly and perhaps somewhat awkwardly, invisible for either seconds or even minutes! In one of these scenarios your “unconscious friend” doesn’t introduce you at all. At the end of it all, the two of you carry on down the road, afterwards, and it’s only then that your friend explains who that other was to them in their “past” life! In scenario two, while the “singing” is still going on, your “classy” friend insists on bringing you into the fold and makes introductions all around, ensuring that each is fed an interesting tid bit of information about the other. It’s the same at internal networking events; if you are the one who knows the two people, but they don’t know each other, be the conduit! Help to facilitate a three person experience which has inclusive, rather than exclusive, energy.
- Reconnect…after the event. Be sure to find a formal or informal way to follow-up with new contacts made at internal meetings, luncheons, professional development days, etc. And ensure that you do so in a timely fashion. If you’ve promised to share the name of a person, contact information, where to go to get an article on…whatever–be sure to follow-through and deliver. Talk is cheap; action is gold! Who knows…this could be the beginning of a beautiful business relationship!
Internal Networking is Systems Thinking! The larger the organization, the greater the potential for invisibility. Internal Networking elevates visibility, which helps individuals and whole organizations be more influential and effective in reaching their goals.
In the words of Author Harvey Mackay (“Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty; The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need”, Currency Doubleday, 1997), “A network provides a path, a way of getting from point A to point B in the shortest possible time over the least possible distance…a network is an organized collection of your personal contacts and your personal contacts’ own networks. Networking is finding fast whom you need to get what you need in any given situation and helping others do the same.” And…”you need to be open-minded and closed-mouthed in order to reap the benefits of building a geodesic network.”
How is your net working?