Most of us don’t feel comfortable setting out to network. Even many PR pros, who are assumed to be extraverted and have competent social skills, admit to feeling awkward in networking events or employee events when they are new. Whether or not you enjoy networking, the fact is it is an essential skill.
I’ve heard many colleagues say they hate having to network, especially if it involves walking into a crowded room as a stranger. New recruits find it stressful to engage in networking. And newly promoted people have to deal with a whole new set of contacts.
However, others will be evaluating you from your earliest days. As a PR person, you are frequently required to work closely with senior decision makers – and they will be judging you from the start. It pays to develop positive relationships with those people by doing your homework and finding out about them and by securing early alerts about important information from your contacts. You can find out about senior executives and their background, work styles, interests, strengths and weaknesses through informal networking.
Networking is even more important for cementing your position in an uncertain financial environment. By establishing a network you will have early information about key corporate decisions and informal feedback about the success of your own role.
Networking is the best way to learn important information about your new position so that you can succeed quickly. It will enable you to find out about key influencers within the organization, some unwritten insights about the organizational culture and ways to avoid mistakes others have made in the past.
Be systematic about networking. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that systematic networking is exploitive; if done well it is two-way sharing of information with others. Decide who is a good source of information for you. Who knows the ropes? Who can help you with answers to your questions? Who can point you in the right direction? Ask who are the unofficial opinion leaders – those who have the most influence apart from people in senior positions. Look externally as well as internally.
Your boss can be a starting point if you are on good terms with him or her. Ask them about good contacts or about setting up introductory meetings and phone calls for you. If you have trustworthy staff, you can ask them about good contacts inside the organization, or at least opinion leaders who are onside to the communication role. These people could also be valuable in an issues monitoring role.
Often, the longstanding support staff and other lower-level employees are the ones who know exactly what’s what in the organization. Make sure you make an effort to develop a positive relationship with them. Offer them small courtesies and make thoughtful gestures to them such as remembering birthdays etc. This may seem a bit corny, but people appreciate when you remember them.
One very successful industrial relations manager I worked with made a point of remembering the birthdays and sending flowers and chocolates to the receptionist and personal assistant in the State branch of the national construction union. These courtesies gave him automatic access the union head at all times when vital staffing issues needed to be resolved urgently. Perhaps this was opportunistic, but it made him friends with people.
The CEO of an international management consultancy says people are more cooperative than you would expect. He says you can phone others and say, “I’m new in my job and I would like to get to know people who are good at…” This will invariably work.
And when you know someone appointed to a key position in your profession, send them a congratulatory note, suggesting you drop in for a few minutes for an introductory chat. The management consultant does it and says he has never been knocked back (although I would think he and you should offer, or hint at offering, useful information to help persuade them to spare some of their busy time for a chat).
Many people think networking is talking with others in order to extract information useful to your job or your career. This is a short-sighted and selfish approach. Networking is a two-way street – and isn’t that the best sort of communication? Share information you know will be useful to someone. Send them relevant industry articles. Congratulate them on a job change. Some successful executives say they spend a minimum of an hour a week developing their contacts.
When you meet someone new at a function, think of ways you can help them in their role rather than thinking of what you can get out of them. If you enter conversations with this positive approach you will form successful relationships.
Networking gives you access to invaluable information that may never become available to you through formal channels. Eventually this type of information may make the difference between being perceived to be effective and finding out too late what you should have known earlier. Sometimes it can mean the difference between keeping your job and losing it.
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