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A Tool for Building Your Professional Network

written by Kathryn Britton August 10, 2018

Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.



A significant number of my coaching clients want to build their professional networks. To capture some of their reasons, let me start with the stories of Roger and Susannah, a hypothetical married couple.

Brainstorming about networking

Roger just got promoted to the next level on the technical ladder, which involves a substantial pay raise and a move to Albuquerque, NM. When his boss decided to nominate him for the promotion, she asked him for a list of 10 people from across the company who would support his promotion. Roger had the list ready for her within a day.

When they got to Albuquerque, Susannah wanted a job in a biotech lab. She put out the word to her network and heard back in a few days that a friend of a friend could introduce her to a director in a good lab.

How did Roger and Susannah build the networks that supported their career goals? Did this come naturally to them or is this a skill that can be learned? If your manager said to you, “Build your network,” would your heart sink, or would you know just what to do?

For some people networking comes easily. They gravitate towards meeting new people at conferences and work events. They collect cards and then actually do something with them. They are curious, so they ask questions. Afterwards, they remember what matters to the people they meet. But for the rest of us, building a strong network is a daunting prospect.

The “Build Your Network” Experiment

I’m a strong believer in experimentation. So, let me suggest an experiment to try if you decide you want to build your network to help you to expand your opportunities or have more influence in the job you already have.

I learned this technique from a human resources VP at IBM whose name I don’t remember. Yes, I know I lose networking points here. I wish I did remember her name because I’d like to thank her for an idea that has helped many of our clients at Silicon Valley Change make progress toward their career goals. My fellow coaches and I have suggested this approach to many clients. Our clients find that it breaks the daunting job of building a network into two much less intimidating activities.

The “Build Your Network” Tool
Step 1. Take Inventory
Set up three columns on a piece of paper or spreadsheet.

In the first column, list people that would greet you by name, for example in a meeting, or on your walk for a morning coffee.

In the second column, list people who know something substantial about the way you work. These could be people that you’ve worked for or that have worked for you, people from teams or task forces you’ve been on, or executives you’ve presented to. Think about all aspects of your work life to date. Include people outside the company such as clients you’ve helped or suppliers where you’ve managed the external relationship.

In the third column, list people who would be happy to be your champion. These are the ones that would already be ready to write you a glowing recommendation or speak out on your behalf. Your third column may be empty. That’s ok.

It’s a very simple spreadsheet, and pencil and paper works fine too. Here’s a blank copy you could download to get started. The image below shows the first start on an inventory made by someone working in a company of Smiths.

(Click to see larger view.)

Step 2. Take Action
Every 3 to 6 months, pull out your list and take the following actions.

  • Add new names as needed.
  • Figure out ways to move a few people from column 1 to column 2.
  • Figure out ways to move 1 or 2 people from column 2 to column 3.
  • Think about ways to keep people in column 3. Even your champions need an occasional touch to maintain the relationship.

Usually moving a person to a new column involves doing something that will contribute to that person’s success. It might involve making an introduction, sending information that person would find useful, volunteering to do something that would move that person’s project forward.

For further information, Give and Take by Wharton professor Adam Grant has many ideas about ways to be a smart giver. In a future article, I’ll explore more ways to move people from one column to the next.

This approach will help you keep track of your network and build it further, one person at a time. When it is time to ask for recommendations or job opportunities or any kind of help, you know the people to ask, and they are likely to remember you favorably.

Web of connections

How One Client Used This Tool

One client who is already very good at networking told me that every month he arranges a one-on-one with a peer in another part of the organization. He finds it harder to build and maintain relationships with people outside his reporting structure, so he makes a point of making contacts with people outside his group. During his one-on-one conversations, he keeps his ears open for the other person’s priorities. That enables him to recognize opportunities to contribute to the other person’s success.

You may find when you take inventory that your network is already richer than you thought it would be. You are also likely to find some relationships that need care and feeding.

I would be glad to hear what you think about these two steps and how you imagine using the Build Your Network tool.  Please share your thoughts and plans in the comments below.

 


References:
Britton, K. H. (2014). Think of it as an experiment. Positive Psychology News.

Grant, Adam. (2013). Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. Viking Press.

 

 

Photo credits from Unspash
First networking photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Spider web network photo by michael podger on Unsplash

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2 comments

Margaret Greenberg August 13, 2018 - 7:36 am

A wonderfully, actionable tool – thank you Kathryn. Many of the people I coach dislike and even avoid networking. Coaching them reframe networking into simply building relationships has helped and now your tool will help move them to action.

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Kathryn August 13, 2018 - 2:59 pm

Thanks, Margaret. Building relationships is key, but I think sometimes people forget how many relationships they already have.

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