Making the best use of social networks – both digital and in-person – is clearly a crucial element in the development and advancement of an executive’s career. In fact, the world is flooded with blogs, websites, books and motivational material that all portend to reveal the “million-dollar secret” about how to become a networking champion.
The truth, however, is that there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ formula for successful networking, and many executives may, in fact, be taking the wrong approach or underutilizing the networks they have so carefully developed over time.
These network connections represent assets that most business professionals will never leverage. But, why? I would compare it to owning a set of new high-end tools, but having little or no knowledge of how they might be used or the individual capabilities. Without the proper know-how, these tools are just taking up space on your garage shelf.
One of the major problems with networking is that most professionals see their network as a single entity when in truth it can be separated into three distinct categories: Personal, Operational and Strategic. As Tim explains, “Personal networks are important since they can result in personal development as they expand your circle of influential and helpful colleagues and friends,” explains Tim Scannell, Director of Strategic Content at CIO Executive Council. These networks often stem from simple events, such as meeting someone at a gathering, or in line at the local supermarket. As such, they are often the most utilized networks, he notes.
Operational and strategic networks take a lot more work to fertilize, but can often result in the most gains, he notes. “Operational networks can provide advice and support in managing current responsibilities and internal challenges.”
Strategic networks are perhaps the most important, Tim Scannell says, “since the ‘people connections’ you make in this group can assist in new business directions and foster allegiances with the IT and business stakeholders needed to achieve goals and elevate your own career.”
For further insights into networking, we interviewed a few of our CEC Coaches – Barbara Cooper, GVP and CIO of Toyota (retired); and Bob Kantor, IT Management Consultant, and Executive Coach. They offered some of their tips, tricks and best practices that, when used appropriately, can result in getting the most out of your network and network activities…
Q: How important is it to have a strong network?
Barbara: I believe having a strong and sustaining network is one of the most significant career management strategies you can have. It is a hard thing to do, since it isn’t just one activity, like having a LinkedIn page and figuring you’re networked. It involves multiple channels both inside and outside your business, including social media, connecting with industry groups through local, regional and national functions, maintaining an ongoing presence, and proactively keeping up with contact you have made along the way.
The payoff is a form of freedom. No matter what happens on your career journey, by having a strong network you have more options for exposure to better positions. And, if the worst happens, and you find yourself caught on the outs with a merger or failed business, you have a far more likely chance of landing on your feet.
Bob: I don’t know who first said it, but… “If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go with a community.” Most of us can accomplish something of limited scope and impact very quickly on our own. But to have a huge and long-term impact, we need to leverage our network.
Q: How can you leverage your network to advance your career?
Barbara: Gaining industry exposure by maintaining an active networking strategy is always an advantage, but hopefully not just to position yourself for that recruitment call for the job of your dreams. It is a huge opportunity to advance your professional development and hone your skills. Speaking engagements at conferences, volunteering to serve in a leadership capacity for an organization, or participating on the governing board for public professional groups can help reinforce your leadership skills. Other examples include: Participating on a technology advisory committee for a local college or university and offering to speak at some of their classes and offering your IT leadership skills by serving on technology advisory committees for regional or state governments.
All of these venues offer an opportunity to practice your communication and leadership skills. They also give you insight into how other people are handling many of the same challenges you have in your business and your specific position. Getting yourself “out there” and practicing your interpersonal and leadership style are great ways to accelerate your own development.
Q: What’s the best tip you’ve been given for networking in the digital age?
Bob: Actually, it’s no different in the digital age than it was in the pre-digital age. That is, networking is about human-to-human connections using a pay-it-forward model. Give to the members of your network when and where you can, and when you need something from them they are more likely to be there to support you.
Q: What’s the best tip you’ve been given for networking in a global environment?
Barbara: Pay close attention and do your homework when you work across cultures since even though you may be in the same business you have to work in a variety of different countries and work cultures. Always be sure to study the cultural nuances of doing business and building relationships with individuals in other countries.
Creating a habit of always reaching out and thanking your hosts after a meeting or social gathering, and taking any opportunity to reinforce the theme or outcome and praise your contact for their contribution will be appreciated. Follow-up again in a few weeks or months, just to check in and ask them how they are doing. It is hard enough to keep the internal networking polished and fresh within your own backyard. It takes extra effort if you have to do it on a global level.
The largest problem that people have with networking is realizing your network is something that requires effort and is not just a one-off socializing activity. Tim Scannell puts it best, “Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, business executives today are only as strong as the personal and professional networks that are built, maintained and trusted over time.”
In summary, your network is a tool that must be carefully maintained. It is a platform where you both share and receive insights and help. It is never too late to start managing and making use of these personal and professional networks to help grow and enhance your career and influence as a leader.
It is a place where you both share and receive insights and help. It is never too late to start managing CIO Executive Council (CEC) is an interactive community of IT Executives who have successfully honed their networking skills to elevate their careers and contribute to the continued growth of the IT industry as an integral business partner. The CEC has worked with many of its members to develop their internal and external networking and communications skills and identify opportunities to put these practices into play on a global stage. We are all about community, peer connections, and providing a culture of professional support and services.
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