Are Your Professional Network Goals Aligned To Your Desired Outcomes?

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We all know that having a plan is a cornerstone to developing your robust professional network. We also know that having a good plan allows you to be even more effective in carrying out your networking activities. More importantly we know that the foundation of any good plan no matter what it is for is about having goals, being really clear on what you are trying to achieve and the desired outcome that you want. Establishing clear and achievable goals that will enable you to build and maintain your professional network is no different. The same rules apply.

As you create, review or even revise your network or networking goals take into consideration the following to ensure that you are successful in accomplishing the desired outcomes that you want:

Your Network Goals Have A Purpose

Ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve with this goal?” If you cannot answer that question then you should rethink your goal. You should be crystal clear on why the goal is important to you and what it will help you to achieve as you build or maintain your network. This is often one of the major pitfalls of maintaining a robust network. We don’t think about what the goal will help us to accomplish and jump right into action later discovering or wondering why the goal we set wasn’t accomplished.

They Are Granular Enough To Be Accomplished

There is no need to try to boil the ocean. Developing as well as maintaining your network takes time and occurs over time. The clearer and more specific you can become with your goal in what you are trying to achieve the higher the probability that you will achieve it. Often breaking down the steps and details to actionable tasks ensures that the goals will be accomplished. Also breaking down the steps allows you to review and make the appropriate course corrections where or at what step taking specific action is needed.

Your Goals Represent Your Desired Outcome(s)

People often lose their way at the onset as well as when they continue to develop their network. Why, because they never took the time at the beginning to think through the desired end results. We often start from the beginning and then go step by step ultimately trying to reach a specific end goal or more importantly hoping that we do. Rather than thinking about “Step One”, then “Step Two” followed by three and so on, the premise is that you start with the end goal in mind. This is akin to assessing one’s network in which you think about what you would like the network to look like for the future and then build it. Identifying what is a desired end-goal or that last step then working backwards increases success. Not only does this force you to think through what you ultimately want to achieve, but also the approach you need to take based on your desired outcome.

Goals overall are important and especially key as you develop or maintain your professional network. This is about increasing the probability of your success. Take the time to put your goals in place then go about executing on them and course correct as needed.

Here’s to building a successful network. Make sure you celebrate each goal or accomplishment.

You can reach me at email@francineparham.com

Developing Your Professional Network: The Unspoken Management Skill Your Company Doesn’t Teach You

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I’ve attended several management courses throughout my tenure in the corporate sector, far too many to name. They ranged from being technical in nature to being management and leadership focused. I’ve attended them within the companies that I worked for through their internal programs and departments. I’ve also attended courses outside my company at major colleges and universities offered though executive education programs. I’ve participated in the spectrum.

Reflecting back on those myriad of skill building and learning opportunities, that were designed to help me do my job better or aide me in my career development, there was one skill that I never received training on. It was how to create and maintain my professional network.

What is interesting about this skill is that it is the least openly talked about but one of the most important skills you will need in your career. It is almost a secret and if discussed it is done so in very informal manners or described in terms of networking – the verb. It is even minimized to gossip. I am sure we can all recall the hallway chatter related to a promotional announcement. Chatter that questioned or implied that the person must have known someone to get the opportunity; that it was not based on merit but who they were connected to or who they knew. We’ve all made such comments including myself without all the facts.

Forget finding anything on how one actually goes about developing and maintaining their professional network either. Much of what has been written or discussed is about the “what” you do versus the “how” you do it. What is even more perplexing is that there is written research on this topic that denotes the value add of having a network. Research that has shown often the difference between one being successful or not as it relates to career outcomes or the ability to achieve organizational goals and objectives is tied to their network.

As I became more experienced moving into management and senior leadership roles, it became even clearer and more important for me to have a robust network. The stakes became higher. I learned by trial and error that it was about who I knew and who knew me which tied to the relationship I had with them to assist me in accomplishing my goals. My ability to do the job became a given. The cultivation of those relationships (both internally and externally) coupled with being thoughtful in how I created and maintained them was paramount and could not be ignored. It sounds like common sense, but it isn’t. We are often told to do our jobs exceptionally well, keep our heads down and the rewards will come because we will be recognized by others for our efforts. Well that’s not the way it works nor is it completely true. You can work very hard and execute flawlessly and never get noticed because you have no network and no one knows who you are.

I was also fortunate in many of my positions to see the benefits of employees that took the time to develop their network and those that did not. Those that had a robust network comprised of their peers, subordinates and leaders were viewed differently. They were viewed as far more successful, bigger contributors and often received better support from those that knew them or of them in the organization. I witnessed countless times when it was obvious that the employee had no network in the company. Individuals did not know who they were and it was often tougher for them to achieve their goals whether for themselves or their company as they were simply overlooked.

So though this topic isn’t taught as a skill; is often viewed as a nuisance and; a lot of information focuses on what you should do versus how you should build your network, below are three suggestions that I recommend you use. They helped me in effectively learning how to develop and maintain my professional network:

Ensure you are crystal clear about your professional goals. This is priority #1. In a recent conversation with Dolores DeGiacomo, a Leadership and Development Coach she shared that when she coaches managers and leaders that aspire to higher levels in the organization, this is one of the most important items that they are unclear about. She went further to say, “This lack of clarity handicaps them and how they are viewed in their organizations and more importantly in the development of their network.” Not thinking about what you are trying to achieve and poor communication of your goals limits those in your network in helping to position you, according to DeGiacomo. “One requirement for success is communicating your goals to decision makers in a way that makes them not only want to help you but feel confident in providing support”, she stated.

Think about the type of profiles you need in your network. Think of a job description. You create one first, then you go out and find the person to fill it, not the other way around. We naturally tend to think about names of people along with their titles that we may need in our network. However, a word of caution is appropriate. Just because a certain person has a certain title in your organization, it does not make him/her the right person to have in your network. The most senior individual or well-known person should not be your solution either. Take a step back and describe the profile of the type of individual(s) you need to help you to achieve your goal and then seek them out.

Become strategic about how you engage your network. It’s called messaging. Think about and decide how to engage those individuals you want in your network. As we know this could be in the form of an offering. However before you get to any offer stage of any skills that you bring, how about just communicating what you are trying to do and you would like to obtain that individual’s perspective, as an example. Maybe you would like to just have them as a contact to connect with from time to time. Be savvy before you jump in with any offer. You really don’t know them and they don’t know you either, so think about the message you want to impress upon them about you.

Building your network is work. It is a skill. It takes effort and it can be difficult at times. To become good at something you have to practice building it as it evolves. As professional goals evolve, so should your network. The evolution of your network and knowing when to do this is for another post. In the meantime, here’s to making purposeful network connections to achieve your professional goals!

Conquering the Networking Event: It Doesn’t Have to Be Painful

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How many of you have gone to the networking event or proverbial cocktail party and after the guest speaker or panel concluded you wandered around aimlessly hoping to see a familiar face? I’ll admit it. I’ve been to several events and was a wanderer. I tried several methods from going with a group to going it alone to force myself to network. What were the results? When I went in a group, I stayed with those that I knew. When I went alone, I didn’t have the courage to just walk up to someone and introduce myself based on what I may have overheard that person talking about. I’ve tried it and it was uncomfortable. Either scenario, beyond hearing about the topic from the speaker or the panel I was gaining nothing by coming early or staying afterwards to “network”.

I decided to think through what I should really do to conquer this and stop wasting my money and more importantly, my time. First of all there were choices that ranged from just not going to anymore of these events to continuing to attend and with luck, hopefully bumping into a familiar face in the crowd. I’m not a strong proponent of luck plus I would just be repeating the same old behaviors. I usually was attracted to the topic or the speaker and placed it on my calendar, but it went no further. When the day arrived, I made sure that I was there. I didn’t try to make things complicated. But I knew that I was missing a huge opportunity as well as spending money that really yielded me nothing.

Networking is not bad, nor should you ever stop doing it. Attending networking events are not bad either nor should you stop going to them. But as you select what to attend, ask yourself some questions:

1. What am I trying to accomplish?

2. Are my goals truly aligned to my networking actions?

3. Does the event I am planning to attend provide me with an opportunity that I would not get otherwise or elsewhere?

4. What is my plan?

Often the biggest issue is just not having a plan. Thinking about what you should do prior to the networking event, while at the event or after the event as well what you are trying to accomplish or what was is your goal, are all important. I encourage you not only to ask yourself some keys questions, but also consider doing the following to improve upon your plan:

Know who is going to be in the room before you go into the room

Knowing the attendees (even some of them) at an event beyond the speakers can be invaluable. I always try to get a list of attendees which some events and organizations are starting to provide although it is only once you sign up. Knowing this information allows you to do your homework before you walk into the room. It allows you to determine who you want to introduce yourself to versus randomly wondering around. You then have a chance to think about what you want to say to them beyond what the speaker or panel discussed. More importantly if there is someone on the list that you really want to introduce yourself to, you now know that they are planning to be there. By knowing this information, you have the opportunity to leave the right impression when you meet them. Also you are able to engage with them by providing information that may be of value to them or better yet, the both of you. Being able to have given some thought about the potential conversation beforehand can really helped to continue the conversation beyond the event. You should be asking for the list whether it is published or not published to help you prepare.

Focus…Focus…Focus

A great rule of thumb is to decide on a maximum of three people that you plan to introduce yourself to. Hopefully it is those three people that you want to meet from the list. I never truly saw the value in name tags (as you usually forget the names anyway), until I started strategically thinking about whom I needed to meet in the room. It’s simple, seek these people out. Also don’t waste your time standing in the long line of about 35 people deep to introduce yourself to the speaker or panel members. Unless you have something so earth shaking to share, they probably won’t remember you. However if you must meet them by standing in that line, use this as an opportunity to acknowledge the fact that there are many others in the room; its crowded and; you would just like to ask them if it would be possible to follow up at a later juncture. I have not had one person tell me no. They even volunteer what would be the best way to contact them. If they don’t tell you, ask them. But more importantly, spend your time connecting with those in the room you planned to meet in the first place – one of the major reasons again that you are there.

You are only as good as your word

Why do you ask and take a person’s business cards if you have no intention of following up? Why do you give your business card if you don’t want to? Just because everyone is trading cards doesn’t mean you have to as well. It’s easy to be graceful about it, so I’ve stopped handing out my cards to anyone and everyone. I’ve also stopped asking for them as well if I have no intention of following up. If someone really needs your contact information, provide them with your email address. If that person is truly interested in connecting with you again, they will follow-up with you. Most don’t. Once again, if the focus is the three individuals, you want to network with them. Those are the individuals that you want to give your card to and obtain theirs to follow-up with later.

Networking is not hard if you have a plan. But it takes discipline and time. These tips work in all sizes of groups because if you decide to go in with a plan and stick with it until the end, it becomes less about the event and more about being focused on what the your goal. Hopefully your goal is beyond just hearing the speaker. If you are able to find all three people of the people you want to connect with, declare victory. However, if you only find one or two or even none, declare victory as well. You came into the room with a plan in which most people don’t. That is better than just showing up, leaving up to luck, and going home frustrated. Come back next time and put your plan in place again.

Hopefully you are also not just networking but thinking about strategically building your network. Isn’t that one of the reasons you attend these networking events anyway?

Flickr Photo by Galeria Do Vou Comprar

Connect with me: email@francineparham.com

Getting Fortune 500 Business – Real Talk

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At this year’s 2014 National Urban League Conference held in Cincinnati, Ohio Barbara Oliver Publisher of Minority Business Entrepreneur moderated a panel discussion titled, “How to Do Business with a Fortune 500”.

After each panelist shared their company’s profile, provided interesting facts about themselves as well as helpful tips with some back and forth dialog and interaction with the audience, John Munson, Manager, Supplier Diversity –Purchasing, Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. (TEMA) leaned toward the microphone. He said, “Can we do real talk here…real talk?” I saw many of us in the audience lean forward including myself.

As entrepreneurs we have little time if any for unnecessary information or someone telling us “what to do”, but always leaving out the “how” to do it. We all get lots of advice, direction and “homework”, but often never anything that will help us truly move our business ahead. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve gotten so much advice, that when I hear the first couple of sentences which often times sound the same, I stop listening and start nodding hoping the conversation ends soon. So when John Munson asked the audience his question, I said to myself, “Let’s see if this is of value or the same old thing”.

The next sentence John stated was, “I need to know you, like you and trust you.” For those of us who wonder why our phenomenal products or service offerings often go nowhere when we approach these Fortune 500 companies, the raw and straightforward truth was finally spoken. John was talking about a skill that we as entrepreneurs don’t always view as important or give little time or attention to – the development and maintenance of our professional network.

For those that were entrepreneurs in the audience who were aspiring to sell our products and services as suppliers, it became really apparent that you can have the best product in the world or your service can pale in comparison to your competitors, BUT if you haven’t worked on establishing and nurturing those potential clients in your professional network, you’ve only done half of the work. It was clear that that you need to take the time to establish and cultivate your relationships with others. If you don’t work on this as well, it yields you nothing but a great product or service that you love but to be blunt no one else cares about or will buy.

John as well as the other panelist chimed in and continued to give the audience more “real talk”. Here are some additional “real talk” highlights that further reinforce the importance of building and maintaining your network.

Know who you are doing business with and where you really fit within the company

Sounds intuitive, but it’s often taken for granted. The panelist stressed the importance of knowing the company beyond just what is on the internet. Donovan Casanave, Support Service Manager, Supplier Diversity and Diversity Outreach, Shell specifically discussed the importance of knowing where you fit within his company’s “pipeline”. Truly understanding his business well enough to know where your product or services fit or complement his company, is key. Frantz Tiffeau, Jr., Director, Supplier Diversity, Nationwide Financial concurred, also stressing the importance of truly knowing who you are doing business with and not just what is on the surface but digging into the organization and its structure, understanding the people, even the products and services that may not be readily known or obvious.

Ensure you are visible to those companies that you want to do business with

The panelists recalled stories of individuals that are now vendors of theirs and how they have grown. Denise Thomas, Director, Corporate Supplier Diversity, the Kroger Company recounted the story of the vendor who is responsible for the mist of water that sprays the vegetables in the produce section of their stores. She fondly talked about her journey with that vendor and where this vendor started with Kroger and where they are today. It was shared that successful vendors such as these take the time to establish those relationships by attending events, joining organizations in which they will have the opportunity to meet with key decision makers or representatives of the companies they seek to do business with. Also increasing your visibility in your specific industry by becoming known as an expert is important. This tip was stressed as being of particular importance if you are an entrepreneur in a service oriented business.

Not only getting inside but working on staying inside is important

Once we get inside, a relationship is often assumed. We feel that we can breathe a sigh of relief. Debra Jennings Johnson, Director, Supplier Diversity, BP America dispelled that myth. She along with the others shared that staying inside of an organization is just as if not more important than initially getting through the door. The group that you initially connect with, for example the procurement function (often where the buyers are) isn’t the only team that you should think about. Oftentimes, this is only the initial group. The savvy entrepreneur knows that there are other stakeholders in other functions that make up the team. Again, this stresses the importance of you knowing the organization and its people. It was even shared that you may never meet the buyer. So it is important to know your other stakeholders and develop those relationships.

What the panelist shared is applicable to any business owner whether they have a small, medium or large company. Having a quality product or service is an absolute given if you want to do business with Fortune 500 Companies. Having the right paperwork, up to date certifications and qualifications is just an initial ticket. But taking for granted the need and the importance of developing and maintaining your network with these organizations can often be the difference between you getting their business or not.

As John Munson and the other panelist concurred, it takes you being patient for them to get to know you; you being persistent in the development of a relationship with them and their company; and most importantly them trusting you – all the things your professional network should be about.

Flickr Photo by Matther Keefe

~ Connect with me – Francine@purposefulconnections.com

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