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6 Reasons why networking is important

6 reasons why networking is importantEver wondered why you should be going to that seminar on risk management or that evening social event with a guest speaker? It’s because networking is an essential part of your job, whether you know it or not.

Business Networking book coverWill Kintish expands on this in his book Business Networking: The Survival Guide. He explains the 6 reasons why you should invest time and effort into getting networking right.

1. Networking is not selling

Put that thought out of your head. In fact, it’s the opposite. Networking is about spotting opportunities, so you want to spend time asking questions about the person you are talking to and their business, to try to see whether they have any problems that you can help with.

In fact, in a prime example of networking gone wrong I was on the receiving end of a ‘sell’. It was at a PMI conference and I was chatting to Clark A. Campbell, author of The One Page Project Manager. Another man came over. He talked about himself and his work for what felt like a long time. Then when he excused himself Clark said to me, “That was a missed opportunity for him.” He had had the opportunity to talk to Clark – an expert on project communication and reporting, and me – an expert on social media for project managers and although he knew who we were and what we had done he asked us nothing beyond that. He didn’t get anything out of the conversation (and neither did we).

2. Networking builds relationships

And there is nothing project managers need more than good relationships with others at work. “Spending time on building a relationship could deliver results in the future,” Kintish writes. If you have been project managing for a while you’ll know how important it is to cultivate relationships with stakeholders past and present, and my own research for Customer-Centric Project Management shows that good working relationships improves the perception of project success as well.

3. Networking is expected

This is my favourite reason. “Even if your role isn’t explicitly to bring in new business or to market the company,” Kintish writes, “you are probably expected, as most people are, to meet new people and understand the market place as part of your role.”

This is definitely the case for project managers. You need to quickly pick up information about the new project and how do you do this? Through talking to people.

4. Networking is good for you

Kintish says that it’s a way to learn more about the business, understand the industry better and hear about the challenges faced by your contacts. If you’re managing project stakeholders, this is important as you have to deal with the ‘what’s in it for me’ approach that many of them will take.

5. Networking can further your career

Many, many jobs aren’t advertised, so if you want to be in with a chance of getting that internal promotion or taking a role outside your company as a step up, you have to network to find out about them. People recommend people they like, so while you might not have met the person you will be working for in the future you might have met one of their contacts who could put you forward for that dream job.

6. Networking is a virtuous circle

“If done right, meeting more people leads to more business and career opportunities, which leads to meeting more people and more business, and so on,” he writes. It might not feel like it now, but you never know what doors are going to open in the future, so it’s worth operating as if that next useful contact is round the corner, as they probably are.

What are your experiences of networking? Let me know in the comments.

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Will Kintish

Will Kintish

Is your summer stretching ahead with one cocktail networking event after another? No? Mine neither. However, there is always some kind of requirement to met new people as a project manager, even if it’s just your next project team. And as author Will Kintish says, networking is simply about building relationships. I asked him for some more tips on getting started confidently.

Will, let’s start at the beginning. How would you define networking?

Networking is something everyone on the planet does every day. It is simply building relationships. Every day we either reinforce existing relationships or we make new ones when we attend business and social events. There are 3 key steps to building long-term meaningful new relationships: know, like and trust.

  1. Get to know someone when you attend events. Every relationship has to start somewhere often with a smile, a handshake and the swopping of names and initial information.
  2. You have to build rapport early in any new relationship and get people to like you otherwise the relationship will never get off the ground. Find common ground, ask good questions, listen carefully and be genuinely interested.
  3. To create long-term meaningful relationships you and I need to build trust. This can be done quickly if after meeting someone new you offer to send them something useful to them you actually do it and do it quickly. Speed stuns. If you agree to call, email or broker an introduction again do it within 24 hours or when both parties agree a time which is suitable for both.

Why is now the right time for project managers to be thinking about networking?

As business activities are beginning to grow again, more opportunities are bound to occur. Project managers should be thinking about their career and business development prospects with an approach which is proactive rather than reactive.

In today’s highly competitive world, being a confident and effective networker sets you apart from the crowd. You become more visible, always feel in control and will always create more business opportunities than the average.

However technically capable one is at one’s job in today’s crowded marketplace, each person is generally a secret — particularly early on in one’s career. When you attend events people get to know who you are and what you do. Conversely, you find out what others do and how you can create mutually-beneficial business relationships. People buy people before they buy your service and when you build rapport easily people will want to do business with you rather than your competition.

So you advocate face-to-face as the best way of networking?

Of all the different ways to communicate, the original face-to-face method has to be, and always will be, the best way to build true relationships.  The electronic channels of communication are here to stay but will never replace the smile, the handshake, the eye contact and the genuine interest, asking intelligent and searching questions for starting a true relationship.

Why do you think people don’t like or fear networking? It’s not that hard, is it?

From my experience the vast majority do not like or fear networking and yes, it isn’t that hard. As I said at the start, it is simply building relationships. When I started out as a trainee accountant no-one used the word: it was called talking in those days!

My extensive research tells me people have 3 key fears:

1. Fear of Rejection

“Will anyone talk to me?” “Will I be included?” “Have I got the right to be in this room full of more experienced people?”

I share my experience and suggest when you are welcoming and warm to others the chances of rejection are slight. The tiny percentage of rude ignorant people should be dismissed and left alone.

2. Fear of the Unknown

“They are all strangers; what can I say to them?” “How do I know who to approach?” “What is going to happen at this event?”

I explain that even starting a conversation with a stranger you will find something in common. It is to do with the event itself. ‘Who do you know here?’ ‘What are you hoping to learn from this conference?’ ‘Where have you travelled from?’

Every room has open-formatted and closed-formatted groups. Look for the person alone or groups in open format and approach with a courteous, ‘Please may I join you?’ ‘May I introduce myself?’

3. Fear of failure and embarrassment

Many less-experienced professionals feel that these fears are caused by getting involved in conversations where they believe or realise that the other person knows more about a topic than they do. I simply suggest you use the 3 letter acronym TED to find out more:

Tell me what you mean…

Explain how….

Describe exactly where….

OK, it’s proof time. Do you have an example of where you or a connection have benefited directly from networking. Otherwise it’s just idle chit chat over cheap wine isn’t it?

I have literally hundreds of examples. People looking for their next career move have been on my open courses and mentioned this fact. A fellow delegate has said ‘I’m looking for someone like you’. New positions have been filled.

I attended a charity event where I presented. I met Nigel. We have become firm business associates.

I belong to a breakfast networking club where I use most of my fellow breakfasters for my services. Finding reliable suppliers is as important as gaining new clients.

Business Networking book coverThanks for those examples – you probably don’t get cheap wine at your breakfast club! Any closing comments?

Networking is a fundamental business skill. If you don’t network, or do it unwillingly or badly, it won’t stop you being successful.

BUT when you are known for being good at what you do, and you are an effective and confident networker, I believe any goal you set yourself will be achieved.

 

Business Networking – The Survival Guide by Will Kintish (Pearson) is out now, priced £12.99, from Amazon and all good book shops.

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Conrado Morlan

Conrado Morlan

This is a guest post by Conrado Morlan, the Smart PM.

Dear Smart PM…

I am a new hire at the project management office of a large corporation. I had been working in project management for several years as a freelancer. Although I consider myself to be a good networker, I found difficulties networking within the organization. What can I do to build long lasting relationships with the project stakeholders? – PM Lost in Corporate World.

Dear Lost in Corporate World…

Your networking skills as a freelancer should be transferable to the new permanent workplace. In your new position it is important for you to learn what your company does. Speak with the experts. For example, if you work for an accounting firm, talk with accountants. Knowledge about your company will also be helpful while networking within your personal network.

As a project manager it is important for you to have a solid network and build strong relationships with stakeholders. With the help of your manager and peers, identify the strategic functional areas and select a couple. Understand their role in the organization and select two or three people in each one. Focus on people at various levels of responsibility.

Networking within the organization doesn’t have to be a complex process. At a coffee break, go to different break rooms, bring your favorite mug, and introduce yourself. It is always a good idea to leave your desk and scout the building.

Company events may be a great opportunity for you to meet other employees. The environment is usually relaxed and fosters camaraderie. Since you are a new hire, this may be the best “ice-breaker” and would help you to be welcome by other employees and learn more about what the company does. Check for other available activities that will help you to expand your internal network.

Consider including administrative assistants in your internal network. They usually are the “gate-keepers” and having them on your side may be a good strategy to get access to project stakeholders when you need it most. Keep close contact with them and make sure you send birthday and greeting cards for special occasions.

Last but not least, it is never too early to think about your future. Take notice of your manager’s peers. If you are a high potential resource, your manager will already support you. Become visible in the eyes of your manager’s peers and build rapport with them, and identify those who may endorse you as they climb the organizational ladder.

Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP, has more than 15 years of experience managing programs and projects in the Americas, Europe and Asia leading multigenerational and multicultural project teams. Conrado was one of the first people to attain the PMI PgMP® credential in Latin America and the first one in Mexico. Conrado is a frequent guest speaker at Project Management congresses in America and Latin America, an avid volunteer with several PMI chapters, a contributor for PMI Community Post and INyES Latino and a blogger at http://thesmartpms.posterous.com.  For questions, comments, or feedback, please contact Conrado.

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Book review: Fast Track Networking

Fast Track Networking cover

The Summer of Books 2010 continues with this review of Fast Track Networking.

Lots of books talk about how to ‘do’ networking, and I’ve written about it in the past.  The thing I liked best about Lucy Rosen’s Fast Track Networking: Turning Conversations Into Contacts book is that it does actually tell you the answers to the things that really matter like:

  • Where to stand in a room (near the door to greet newcomers)
  • Who to talk to (get the attendee list in advance and target people)
  • How to start a conversation (with a compliment or any one of five other conversation starters)
  • When to hand out business cards (only if asked)

It’s very practical – and I like practical.  It also goes beyond what you’d expect in an article and manages to fill a whole book on the subject by including topics like setting up your own networking group if you can’t find one that suits your needs.

Rosen hasn’t aimed her book solely at women, and she quotes the experiences of many men.  She has tried hard to be inclusive but as she is founder and president of Women on the Fast Track, a women’s networking group, there is a bias in the text (almost by default) towards helping women network more effectively.

As women, we also tend to downplay our abilities and we’re not quite as comfortable as men in talking about our skills.  We may be uneasy about highlighting our talents and when first starting the networking process, we may undermine what we have to give, thinking we aren’t valuable enough, we don’t know enough, and we just aren’t enough.  That’s far from the truth, of course.  But because women often operation on an emotional level, this is how we often feel about our capabilities and skills.

It’s fine by me that Rosen’s implied reader is female.  I’m female, after all.  Male readers will get a lot out of the book, but their experience of reading it will be different to mine.

There are lots of topics in here that both sexes will find of use, like networking when unemployed, a short bit on social media and online profiles, and how to organise all your contacts and business cards.  Importantly, there is also a section on what to do once you’ve met a really great person that you want to follow up with.  Too often people focus on the initial contact and forget about the long term goal which is to find people with whom you can work.  This book explains what makes a successful follow up and how to make sure you choose to develop relationships with only the people who are good choices for you.

Finally, there’s a good resources section at the back.  Many of the websites have global reach, but as you would expect with a U.S. published book, there’s a heavy focus on U.S. sites and groups.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk
Buy on Amazon.com

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The business value of social media

Earlier in the month I attended a womenintechnology event about the business value of social media – something I’m particularly interested in, given the topic of my forthcoming book.

The evening was held at the Intellect offices on Russell Square, and the room was packed.  It was a pretty small room, in comparison to some of the WiT events, but there were still a couple of hundred people there, all feasting on wine and cheese before the speakers.

Eileen Brown (@eileenb) gave a general introduction to social media and some of the dangers of participating on Facebook and Twitter without understanding the community rules (and getting fired in the process).  I realised how much I knew about social media when she finished her talk and I hadn’t learned anything.

Euan Semple (@euan), on the other hand, spoke about how he felt that the terms social media, enterprise 2.0 and web 2.0 gave the impression that this movement was different, discrete and expensive when really it is an extension of the changing workplace.  Again, all concepts I have researched for my book, but he was a very engaging and interesting speaker.

“I think there is something ‘female’ going on,” he said, describing the move away from the ‘male’ approach to hierarchy and status.  Semple explained that the evolution of the workplace gives us more choices about where and how we want to work.  “I have to decide not to work 24/7,” he said.  The evolution of technology helps this – Semple said that it was naïve of companies to ban access to Facebook when many employees carry a phone capable of accessing the site anyway.  Managers who worry about people wasting time on social media sites should worry less.  Relationships are based on trust and “that is why inanity matters,” Semple explained.  Sharing small, non-work, confidences and comments is how relationships grow.  And everyone needs successful, strong relationships in the workplace.

The value of social media in a workplace setting was highlighted by how Semple explained organised networks.  We all know the official networks in the company – groups of interested professionals, or perhaps ‘the women’s network’, and the corporate hierarchy.  But we all know that there are other networks in organisations too – people who lunch together, play golf, have their children at the same schools.   Social media allows individuals to connect into those “viral networks”.

“Management is about tidying up,” Semple said, and making things look organised is not one of the spin-offs of a social media initiative, so the two approaches can seem at odds.  “Much of the organisational function of management is becoming less and less needed,” he said.  Instead, organisations will want middle managers who can see patterns in perceived disorder and help other see those patterns.

Social media initiatives at work may not be easy to get off the ground.  Semple advocates the Trojan Mice approach – small steps and an incremental deployment, convincing users through word of mouth and by making the tools intuitive.

Much of the resistance to corporate social media deployments is about the fear of losing control of the information channels.  “Did you have it anyway?” asked Semple.  Just because you think you had control of the communication channels doesn’t mean you actually did – social media tools make it easier to notice that you don’t.  However, embracing the social media approach to working gives management (and individuals) greater influence.  And influence is far more practical today than control.

You can download the slides from the event from the womenintechnology page about it.

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The future of knowledge technologies

I have been almost permanently hungry since Saturday and I have no idea why, but it’s not one of the symptoms of swine flu so I’m not too worried.  I knew that I wouldn’t be getting dinner until late last night as I was going to the Gurteen Knowledge Café, hosted by the BCS as part of Alan Pollard’s “BCS in the Community” programme which forms the theme for his Presidential year.  BCS events normally have refreshments but on arrival it’s tea and biscuits: you have to wait until the thing is over before they bring out the sandwiches and cakes.

A Gurteen Knowledge Café is the opportunity to sit around and discuss ideas with other people: kind of a facilitated coffee morning.  There was no capturing of notes, no action plans, no outputs, which for a project manager was very unsettling.  There was also ‘speed networking’: David Gurteen, the knowledge management consultant who set up the Cafés, blew a whistle, we had to find someone to talk to, and then we moved on to another person when the whistle blew again.  By my third person I was getting bored of hearing myself explain my job but I did end up paired with an interesting lecturer from London University in very green trousers and a bow tie.

The theme of the evening was ‘imagining the knowledge technologies of the future’.  Knowledge management is all-important to project managers: we create a shed load of artefacts during a project which then all have to be handed over to operational people at the end of the project.  On top of that, there is all the project management information, plans, reports, etc etc that we need to organise and be able to lay our hand on instantly (and in my team we’ve been having discussions just this week about sorting out our our project management information system).  So I was interested to hear the views of the speakers and what the other attendees would say.

Alan Pollard wasn’t able to attend as he is at HC2009 so he had recorded a message saying his view of the way technology should be going is towards minimising the devices and software required to run our lives.  He also pointed out that at some point we are going to have to ask the question: “Do we want to be always available?”

Conrad Taylor, who manages the informal discussion network on Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management (KIDMM), also spoke for a couple of minutes.  He broke down approaches to future knowledge technologies into three categories: science-fiction (embedding a chip in your neck), the future of the home PC (like a roll-up display screen to increase the amount of stuff you can see at a time) and magic versions of current processes (automatically interfacing one set of inputs with another through technology).

Chris Yapp, an Executive Technology Strategy Consultant with Capgemini UK, was the final speaker.  He said that social networking sites don’t give you collaboration.  While I agree that I don’t collaborate on Facebook or LinkedIn,  I don’t agree with that as a statement: within project management there are many people making a success out of collaboration by using social networking-type techniques (like LiquidPlanner).  He presented for his five minutes very passionately and put forward the argument that it’s not software per se that is the challenge for the future but search algorithms, which are especially poor at the moment for video and music content.

After the three chaps had spoken we sat on our tables and discussed our ideas, wandering from accessibility, one hard-drive type device that could plug into multiple interfaces, the backlash against being ‘always on’ and whether children should be out making mud pies instead of playing computer games.

As something to do it was an interesting evening and I came away thinking of other things I should have said or points I didn’t get a chance to raise.  The concept of forced networking in a loosely structured environment hasn’t won me over yet.  However, I think it is one of those things that I will start to see the value of once I have had a chance to mull over the experience some more.  So I might go along to another Knowledge Café if I get the chance.
Read more about the evening and some of the other discussions on Matthew Rees’ blog.

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