In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy comes to a fork in the yellow brick road and doesn't know which way to go. The Scarecrow tells her to go one way and then the other. Dorothy scolds him for not helping her, and the Scarecrow blames his lack of brain. But it wasn't the Scarecrow's fault.
Dorothy didn't tell him where she had been or where she was going? How could he help her?
People often take the same approach to networking. They aren't intentional.
People ask where they should network and miss the first fundamental question: What are you trying to accomplish with networking?
- Trying to make partner or go up the corporate ladder?
- Looking for a new opportunity or career change?
- Trying to be a thought leader?
Some may be networking for several reasons, and that is fine. Knowing what you are trying to accomplish allows you to determine where you should be spending your networking time. Remember, networking is not just about meeting someone at an event; it is how you create and strengthen connections with people.
Next, you should assess your current network and networking opportunities. Can they provide what you need?
For example, if you are hoping to make partner or be promoted, who are the key decision-makers at your organization? How strong is your relationship with them? And how well do they know what you do? If a decision-maker is someone you know but have never had a conversation with, you need to work on deepening that relationship.
Suppose your senior management has told you to advance; you need to handle specific projects or develop certain skills. In that case, the question is if who are people in the organization who can help you identify and build the skills necessary to get to that next level. The next questions is... Is your relationship strong enough with those people that they will help you?
If your goal is to develop more business and your current network includes a few folks at an industry organization you belong to, you should assess the stickiness of your relationships.
If the relationships need to be bolstered. You may need to look at how you approach the organization. Are you active in the organization? Do you work on a committee and attend events?
If you don’t work on a committee, consider reviewing the organization’s committees see which ones interest you and who else on those committees.
- Are there people who could help you develop business? Notice I said, "people who could help you develop business," not hand you business.
- Are these people of influence who network who could connect you with others or speak on your behalf?
Also ask yourself, “am I willing to work hard on this committee to impress people on this committee?” By working hard on this committee, you may catch the eye of people at the organization who may give you opportunities to speak, write or lead initiatives — all of which could raise your profile and increase your circle.
If you are not attending events or talking to the same people at every event, do you need to attend more events and introduce yourself to new people? Develop a plan and then execute on it.
Remember, this is step one, and building an authentic, trusting relationship takes time — but you cannot get to the end game without making the first step.
Sometimes when you assess your current network and networking possibilities, you realize that they do not meet your needs. Earlier in my career, I joined a broad women's networking organization. It was fabulous. Since the focus was on networking, it allowed me to develop those skills in an extremely safe environment. I also was exposed to a ton of thought leadership on various issues and career-building skills.
Over time, the organization's value to me diminished. I realized other organizations better aligned with my current goals. So I left that group and joined others. Therefore, while you assess your network, think about the organizations you belong to, and make sure that there is alignment.
If you are an associate at a law firm and thinking of joining an in-house law department, do the organizations you are a member of have in-house members with whom you can develop relationships? They can share with you their experiences, advice, and perhaps opportunities.
If you are an outside counsel, are you on committees with only law firm members? Does that further your goals? It could be if you are also trying to develop thought leadership.
Strategic and targeted networking does not mean that you ignore people or are not open to relationships with people who don't quite fit the mold you are looking for. It merely means that you are trying to increase the probability that your networking is successful and use your time most strategically. So be open to people, and don't start looking around the room for who else you can talk to if the person in front of you is someone you don't think can help you.
Two women who I met at events in no way fit the mold of individuals that I thought would help me achieve my goals. But guess what? They became two of my most powerful connections and advocates. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, many times, opportunities come from having a broad network.
If you need to find new people or places to network, guess where the first place is to figure that out. You got it — your current network. Be very specific about what you are thinking about and why and the results you want and reach out to your existing network for their thoughts. Your contacts may put you in touch with others who can help or suggest organizations or events that may help you reach your goal. Remember to thank your network for their generosity and act on it.
After you have done all of this, map out your networking game plan, which should be part of a career or business development plan. Finally, you must execute your strategy because you need to do something differently if you want something to change.
Part of execution is calendaring checkpoints at which you honestly ask yourself if you have followed the plan and if it has been impactful. If it has not been impactful, think about what changes could move you closer to your goal. If it is not working, you may need to adjust it — but remember, building relationships takes time. It took me a few years of attending the same conference to develop strong relationships, so try to be patient. Although if I am honest, I could have sped up the relationship building by doing more follow-up.
Where you end game is the Emerald City, partnership or promotion, understanding where you are going and your networking goals- will put you on your yellow brick road to success.