Plan to Network

Want a promotion? A new job? How about a chance to try out a new business idea? Maybe you’re looking for a chance to learn from experts, or maybe you could use some social support in your tough job. Welcome to the need to network.

It is easy to see that you should network. What is often not so easy is knowing how. Think about networking as you would any business project. Identify your goals and create a plan. Seven steps can help you create a place for yourself within the network(s) of your choice.

Step One: Be sure you know why you want to network. What are your goals? Some people network to advance their careers or to create business opportunities. Others network for social support as they deal with a stressful occupation. Still others want to assemble learning opportunities. These and other goals all can be satisfied with a strong network.

Some people network for the wrong reason. For example, a woman I know assumed that she should network to get promoted. The problem is that she loves hands on work. Promotion to supervision would sharply reduce her hands on experience. She would spend most of her time managing others, something she does not enjoy. Rather than networking for promotion, she will do best if she networks to create opportunities to do diverse facets of the work that she loves.

Consider your work and life goals over the next few years. How can others help you to achieve those goals? Once you know why you want to network, you will have a much easier time creating an effective plan. As Steven Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.”

Step Two: Next, figure out who you want in your network. If you are seeking advancement, you need to know people who influence promotions, whether they be decision makers or the people who influence decision makers. If instead your goal is to create learning opportunities, identify people with strong technical skills, who might want to teach them to you. Don’t worry about their position in the company hierarchy. If you’re networking for social support, think about people who face problems similar to yours. They are the ones who will best understand your experience and who may have ideas about solving your common problems.

Write down all of the names of people who fit your criteria. If you don’t know actual names, write down the kinds of people you need to know, such as department heads or people who have experience with software you want to learn about.

Step Three: Now ask yourself who you already know who can help you. Networking is as much about deepening relationships as it is about making new ones. Perhaps you have met Mary, who works on a project of interest to you. Go talk with her about it.

Step Four: Ask yourself “Who do I know who knows people I want to know?” This question is based on the theory of Six Degrees of Separation. Research showed that any American can be linked to any other American in about six linked introductions (or degrees of separation). For example, suppose that you want to get a message to Bill Gates, and you want to make it effective by having it come from someone whom he already knows. You would ask yourself who you know who knows someone who knows someone (etc.) who knows him. While it may be surprising, almost anyone reading this column could be linked to Gates through a relatively small number of people (average = 5).

For networking, get people you already know to introduce you to people of interest. Introductions by someone who already knows you lends you enough credibility with the new person to begin a relationship. Maybe John knows Bill, the department head with a job you’d like to have. John might be happy to introduce you to Bill, once you let him know that this matters to you. In fact, it gives John a chance to do Bill a favor of putting him in touch with a viable candidate.

List the people you already know who might help you meet others of value to your goal.

Step Five: Now you know who you want to know and why. But why would they want to know you? Put yourself in their shoes to identify your potential value to those with whom you want to network. Determining this potential value will help you know how best to connect with them.

Maybe you have special knowledge about a problem or project John faces. Perhaps you want to know Mary because you are both mothers of small children facing day care problems and you can explore ideas with each other.

Step Six: Armed with the information you have gathered in steps one through five you are in position to take action. Let’s suppose that you work in IT. You see an interesting project in another department. You have met Susan, who heads the project. You have thought through your potential value to her, which lays the groundwork for the following phone call: “Hello, Susan. This is Jane Smith. I understand that you are working on the ABC project. I have experience with similar issues. I’d like to learn more about how these kinds of problems look to a non-IT person and maybe I’d have some ideas that you would find useful. Could we meet for a few minutes to find out?”

Step Seven: Each networking step you take can generate direct benefits. What is fascinating is that these steps will lead you to opportunities that you cannot see right now. Networking is like any other project. If you do your homework, it is amazing how lucky you become. This last step, then, is to keep your eyes open for the “luck.”

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., which helps individuals and companies solve problems and build skills. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.