Maybe I was a late starter in terms of the benefitting from knowing people as I wanted to do it all myself without being in debt to others combined with the what I considered were good manners of not wanting to bother anyone with my requests. As my career progressed and I had increased scope of responsibility and managed people the challenges I faced increased in complexity and novelty, and eventually a determined independent approach was not going to scale to get me the information to get everything done. I had to figure out another approach – I knew the expression ‘Don’t work harder, work smarter’ but what did that mean other than the belief that it was an expression created by lazy people to give the appearance of doing work without doing it.
I had heard about ‘Networking’ and considered it a formalactivity that schmoozing people did to get ahead without doing the work. I wasn’t up for it and ignored it. So I kept on working and making friends and meeting people at the company, and ignoring networking events.
In a women’s training session (Women Unlimited) we were talking about how guys have no trouble in asking for help (note, I didn’t say asking for directions that would be a different topic). They feel quite comfortable with calling up someone they haven’t talked to for years and after a brief, “Hi, how you doing?” they move straight to the purpose of the call. Whereas we women often feel uncomfortable if we have lost touch with someone, we think over all the things we could have done in the past, like have coffee last time in their area. We think we need to commit to a formal engagement, rekindle the relationship rather than a 2 minute call with a request.
One day a problem arrived at my desk, I had to find out some details about a financial model for the product I was working on, this was a topic I knew nothing about and also couldn’t think of anyone I knew who would know anything. Then I remembered I’d met a VP of Finance at a training session 18 months earlier. We’d had a 15 minute conversation at the time during a break. Even though he was not in the division where the answer would be, he surely must know someone who could give me the answer. Thinking of the conversation I’d had recently about guys asking for help without a relationship, I decided to send him an email, I reminded him we had talked at the training event and asked if he knew anyone who could help me get the details I was looking for. Within an hour he’d sent me two names, and cc’d them on the email, and within another 2 hours my problem was solved.
What a revelation – what I realized afterwards was this was a deliberate act of me leveraging my network. For all those years I had been thinking of networking as some kind of uncomfortable social activity that smarmy people did to get ahead, it was in fact a simple means to get a problem solved.
It may sound like a small happening, but I can tell you this one act of reaching out for assistance to someone I’d met by chance at an event changed my whole perspective on the purpose of networking, or what I prefer to call leveraging connections. If only the topic of networking was not introduced as a social activity and as a problem solving activity I think it would be experienced differently by women from the start. Forming a social connection for women is loaded with expectations and behaviors, and nuances of the importance of likeability.
As I progressed in my career I found myself being responsible for product areas and disciplines that I wasn’t familiar with. Inside I may have had the voice that said – “what are you doing here, you don’t know about this stuff, or what these people do?” but I also had a voice that got louder that would say, “okay, what do you need to know and who do you know that can help you, or point you to someone who can help you”. My ability to ramp up on new areas, domains, businesses got more efficient at knowing what I needed to know and how to get it.
I’ll post more on connection making later, and also on approaches to more complex needs. I’m convinced you probably know names of people that can point you in the right direction or give answers to questions you have, but haven’t taken the step to reach out. Remember this isn’t about long-term friendships it’s about getting your job done.
Tips for getting what you need to know.
1. Most important step, once you’ve thought of a name of someone who you think could help answer your question or point you in the right direction reach out to them. The longer you procrastinate the more you turn it into a big deal in your head.
2. To ask for a pointer or help in business most of the time you don’t need a deep and trusted relationship with the person you’re going to ask.
3. You don’t need to send a long catch up email, or phone message before making the request– it’s not a friendship you’re looking to leverage.
4. Make the request to the point, so the contact can make a quick decision on how to help you.
5. Ask a couple of people for the same input if its time critical. It’s not a monogamous relationship you’re looking for.
6. Be okay with not getting a response in a timely manner or at all. People get busy, or are on
vacation. Don’t strike them off your list as a possible contact for a future need.
7. Say thanks for the help or input, and if it makes sense follow up with a brief message on how it went.