A year ago, an email hit my account, which was also sent to a small group of trusted colleagues. All it said was "Just had a resignation from a mission-critical person. Need a sharp business development manager who can negotiate. Know anyone?" I sure did. I responded instantly with three bullet points: I have your person. She's the most commercial woman in this market, generating $32 million last year, and a national award winning young business leader. Will connect if you’re happy to proceed. This young woman ended up in the job, a chief commercial officer role in a rapidly growing national start-up.
It was such a simple moment, but a signal for what we can expect to happen with far greater frequency. For businesses on the move, finding and keeping great talent is hard, and so leaders are turning inward, to their own well-established and qualified networks to land the right people. As we fight for job security and we shift into a far looser and less structured work arena, there's a breakthrough tactic here that will disproportionately advantage us through the 2020's.
We're losing our networks
One of the many downsides to working remotely is our ability to network. Yale research shows that our personal network will reduce by 200 people, or 16 per cent, during the pandemic. Network shrinkage has serious consequences, especially for women who are already caving under the pressure of working and homeschooling. Weakening networks can make it hard to find a job and get promoted. As the Yale study says, it also has huge implications for organisations, leading to less creativity and more groupthink.
The new networking
The ‘new networking’ will not be merely transactional or simply functional. It'll be about working within our existing network to establish more meaningful connections and about reconnecting with ‘dormant ties’ – such as people with whom we went to school, but perhaps haven't spoken to for years, long-lost university mates or our early-career colleagues. It'll involve cultivating a tribe that's connected, competent and whose members we consider to be ‘active supporters’ of each other. “Show me your friend-of-a-friend – and I’ll show you your future,” says networking expert David Burkus. And he's right, this is a rule for networking that women need to pay close attention to.
So how do we network in this increasingly digital age, where we may only be showing up to a few face-to-face events a year, instead of weekly? I have three ideas for you:
1. Four by four – Every week in every month, call four people in your network. They may be close, they may have slipped off the radar a few years ago – but dial their number and have a good old-school chat with them on the phone. If you hear about someone landing a new job on LinkedIn, or being promoted – call and congratulate them. The same goes for news that isn’t so good. If you’ve ever lost your job, I bet you can sharply recall the people who called you to discuss it. Even if that person was fortunate enough to negotiate a redundancy, it rarely compensates for the loss of a gig they really liked. Making four calls a week won’t take long – but it'll keep you linked in to your first-, second- and third-degree connections. You never know what will come up in those unscheduled, no-agenda discussions.
2. If you’re in a room, work the room, meaningfully – For many companies, the hybrid working model means rotating staff into the office a few days a month, or even less, for team discussions and collaborating. See this as sacred time, sacred to both you and the people who are there. Value your time and theirs. Be ‘normal’ but strategic. Find out who’s going to be at work and seek out the RSVP list if possible. This is your opportunity to spark conversations, move projects along and enhance trust. It’s also a window where you can establish relationships with new mentors and sponsors – so while we need to be our candid selves, we also need to have devised some kind of sensible plan to enable us to make the very most of being with peers and managers face-to-face. We’re already seeing new waves of the pandemic disrupting plans to return to the office, and we can expect this to continue. So yes, have a great time reconnecting with colleagues, but be highly aware that this time is finite – it may be months before we have the opportunity to have our temperature taken and we can 'check-in' again.
3. Connect versus follow – How we go about things matters, it’s all part of how we establish and accelerate trust. Don't connect with someone new, unless you have a reason. If you can’t find a reason to connect with someone, then the alternative is to ‘follow,’ – a perfectly good way to stay up-to-date with their news. This social-media-minutiae has a key lesson for the 2020s: have purpose to your exchanges. When you weigh into a conversation with thoughtful curiosity, chances are you may generate a meaningful connection. It’s the quality over quantity rule.
Regardless of whether you're working or not, I challenge you to examine your existing circle and network with intention. Pick up the phone to a former colleague or ask a workmate for an introduction to someone you haven't met. You've no idea how much power, influence and support you already have.
Who is Andrea Clarke?
Andrea is a former Washington DC news journalist who encourages people to be 'future fit' through writing, speaking and delivering digital programs. She's the author of Future fit: how to stay relevant and competitive in the future of work – a finalist in the Australian Career Book Award 2019, winner of the Australian Business Book of the Year 2019, and finalist in the UK Business Book Awards 2020.
– The Coach Place Global
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