“It’s a great opportunity to network” we’re constantly told. “I’m hoping to network with her,” a colleague may whisper to you as the breakout group moderator settles into her chair. “I’d like to add you to my professional network,” an automated email informs us on behalf of someone we haven’t seen since our ten-year reunion.
Keeping it Local
We hear a lot about networks and that they are important. What we don’t hear is why they’re useful and how to build them. The internet and app stores are laden with sites and apps that claim to boost your networking, but many are like the latest diet fads – a little success for now and then we fall back into our same old habits. And just like the answer to finding the right food to eat, one of the best things we can do to build our networks is to think and act local. To grow a vibrant, useable network, start with where you go every day: the workplace.
Sure, your workplace network can help you later in your career, but more importantly, cultivating your workplace network helps you with your current job. Now, more than ever, work gets done through the relationships you have in your workplace. The product you create on the design team relies on the sales team to take it to the market and make it successful. Clear communication at that edge, where the handoff happens from your team to theirs, is important for your product and your success. By creating a relationship with Sarah in sales you can make that transition smooth, and give Sarah the tools and information to help her push your product.
The Inside Scoop
Strong workplace networks are like office information superhighways. The best way to find out why a decision was made – a new hire, a new task force, a pivot in priorities, often times before it is even put into action – is through your workplace network. Everyone will get the department-wide email about the staff meeting at 3:00pm, but your relationship with Darren in HR will give you context for why it is happening and what the discussion will focus on. Knowing what will happen at the 3:00pm meeting puts you in the best position to react when it does happen.
In stressful situations, a strong workplace network can save you time and anxiety. A friend in the IT department can prove key when you can’t access the server and need that document for a meeting in 10 minutes. And being someone with a line to the IT department can make you valuable to your own team when they have the same problem and know that you know how to fix it. Calling “the IT department” is very different than calling “John in IT.”
Connections for a Lifetime
A strong workplace network, which holds an often-untapped value, now can mold into a strong lifetime network. Research shows that employees entering the work force now may hold over 15 jobs in their lifetime. That means your five closest contacts in your current workplace could be in five different workplaces in the next few years. The connections you build now will help you later.