Regardless of your age or the nature of the work that you do, the world of work is changing at an exponential rate. Head-spinning advances in technology, endless bottom-line financial pressures, growing networks of global economies, and changing workplace demographics are significantly impacting how we look for our next opportunity.
Consider the following:
- Twenty years ago most companies “right-sized” annually, if at all. Today, companies realign workgroups on a weekly basis.
- Ten years ago it was considered unnecessary to include your picture with your resume. Today, it seems odd to some individuals if you do not have your picture on your LinkedIn profile.
- Two years ago, your high-tech, web-based company opened. Today, it is a multi-million dollar industry leader!
We move from role to role and from company to company with greater comfort, ease, and fluidity than any previous period in modern management history. Mergers and acquisitions change organization dynamics overnight. Yesterday’s technology upgrade is outdated today. Jobs and colleagues come and go.
What is a modern, busy business professional to do to stay visible within his/her company or market segment? For many individuals, one answer is networking. In today’s changing world of work, networking is rampant. As you leave your house, you can see a landscape full of networking workshops, networking books, networking events, and yes, networking articles. You don’t even need to open your front door – just open your computer and you will quickly find networking teleclasses, networking webinars, networking podcasts, and yes, networking articles. There are so many tips and strategies to network effectively; sometimes it feels as though you are spending more time trying to remember how to network than networking.
Most of the networking workshops, podcasts, webinars, and articles tend to focus on the tactical side of networking and often answer questions like:
- What do I wear?
- How do I introduce myself?
- What is the best way to shake a hand?
- In which pocket should I put my business cards?
- How do I follow-up and how often? And when does follow-up become stalking?
All of this tactical information is invaluable to an individual who is networking. Having solid knowledge of networking best practices builds a good networking framework. Yet, a good framework needs a strong foundation upon which to build, and there is an important difference between a foundation and a framework.
One example is right under your feet. The foundation of your house was poured years ago. The frame built upon the foundation, however, evolves on a recurring basis. Carpeting is added. Windows and doors are replaced. Paint colors change. Another example is up the street at your local school. The foundation of education is a transfer of knowledge from one person to another. The framework for education is constantly evolving – from one-room schoolhouses to virtual classrooms; from textbooks to laptops; from a #2 pencil to a stylus.
Consider the following:
- A foundation provides a permanent basis to a set of evolving ideas and activities. A foundation does not change as the framework evolves.
- A framework provides a temporary structure to a set of ideas and activities. A framework will change as ideas and activities evolve.
Strengths are defined as positive characteristics for which you are known. Your strengths are inherent qualities that do not change over time. Your unique combination of personal strengths reflects a place where you are most comfortable, clear, and confident. Your strengths represent you at your best - they are the foundation of the real you.
Most networkers, in their rush to make progress networking, start with the framework. They spend their time practicing their 30-second commercial, scanning rooms for familiar faces, and thinking of witty and funny things to say to folks they met just moments ago. These individuals become frustrated as their networking activities don’t feel natural. They cannot remember everything they are supposed to remember, and they forget more than they can recall. Their effort to connect with others feels stilted, insincere, uncomfortable, and unclear.
A better place to start is with your foundation – your strengths. By starting with your strengths, you speak and interact with greater clarity; you feel more comfortable and act with more confidence; and you feel sincere – after all, it is the real you! To begin the process of building a networking strategy, follow these five steps:
- Identify your strengths. Many of us – and probably most of us – do not know what our strengths are. We have not taken the time to think about our top strengths. It may sound easier to do than it is. Take a sheet of paper and pen. Using words like “reliable,” “detailed,” and “humorous,” write down your top three to five strengths.
- Ask for feedback. You may have hidden strengths of which you are unaware. Or, you may be too modest to declare “confidence” or “wise” as one of your strengths. Ask individuals within your inner circle to take a few moments to identify your three to five top strengths. Since networking is focused on connecting with others, obtaining feedback from others is critical.
- Calibrate your strengths. Now that you have your own insights and feedback from your inner circle, narrow the list down to your top three to five strengths. Regardless of how you calibrate information regarding your strengths, ensure the final list reflects you at your best.
- Create a strength-based networking foundation. Once you have clarified your top strengths, begin to identify behaviors, within the context of networking, that use your strengths. For example, an individual who identifies “flexibility” as a top strength, might consequently identify the following behaviors to help his/her make an impact while networking:
- Don’t overuse your strengths. While strengths are good, it is also possible to have too much of a good thing. Sunshine is great, but too much sunshine can lead to cancer! For the flexible individual above, being too flexible may cause them to be the victim of someone else’s poor planning – again, and again, and again.
About the Author:
Ed Evarts is the practice leader at Evarts Coaching, an organization focused on coaching mid- to senior-level executives, and their teams in corporate environments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.