As a natural part of my empowerment consulting practice, I often find myself in discussions with my clients about their jobs and careers. Sometimes we talk about new jobs or job opportunities; sometimes we talk about promotions; sometimes we talk about careers over the long-term.
These are all very different types of conversations. Most of my clients who are in corporations are mid-level to senior-level managers, who are competent and have already proven their value to the company. I also work with clients who are outside the corporate structure or are consultants to corporations, with whom career development conversations are different.
Its common for people to want to have a “career development plan.” Many think that those successful individuals who have preceded them in the corporation had a plan to get where they got. Some did, but quite honestly, its easier for them to claim that they had a plan with the benefit of hindsight and success than to produce the plan they wrote years before.
Theres a whole field of professionals who offer career development resources and consulting. I think their services can be extremely valuable, especially when moving from one company to another. Im more familiar with helping people to advance and develop careers within the same company, as an integral part of my consultations. And so, thats my focus in this article.
In these client conversations about career development within the same company, I usually fairly quickly replace the concept of a “career development plan” with a “career networking plan” or a “career development networking plan.”
Ive been working with a client who has been kicking and screaming about the idea of networking. Shes been doing excellent work and feels she should be promoted based on her work. In one way, shes absolutely correct. However, at her level in the organization, not only are there fewer openings, but a group of disparate persons usually decides about promotions and job changes.
When multiple persons with all different needs are involved in such a decision, there must be agreement that she is the one to promote or accept or move. Such a scenario usually requires more than doing the requisite job skills well. In most cases, the “more” comes down to ongoing activities she must be engaged in: networking and building authentic relationships.
I want to be clear, when I speak about career development networking, I dont mean to start networking to get a job thats now in the interview stage; my view is that this narrow type of networking is more appropriately called “lobbying.” Instead, Im speaking about networking over the years building relationships that are two-way, developing collaborative partnerships, feeling appreciation about interactions, expressing sincere congratulations when others are promoted, and engaging in conversations about a variety of topics.
When many individuals are all well-qualified for a job, something “more” must stand out in the final candidate. This “more” may be related to job accomplishments, but likely, the “more” is related to relationships perhaps the one who is best known, or the one who is most liked, or the one who has consistently good interactions with others.
The candidate who is well-networked is likely to increase the chances that all the decision-makers will agree, “this is the one.” There might sometimes be a thrill about a hotly contested position, but all things considered, the best transitions take place when theres general agreement to select the final candidate.
Career Development Networking a Starting Plan
First of all, its important that you think of networking as two-way! This is essential. The word “networking” has become rather polluted by the way some persons are using this word. Use the word however you want, but please understand that here I am using it to mean an exchange. Be pragmatic, of course, but understand that you are only “networked” if a two-way connection is happening. This is absolutely essential to understand, if you want to make this an empowering practice.
In my empowerment consulting sessions, Im often coaching clients about the best persons to network with, the subjects to speak about, and how to speak about the subjects. Those who are a little shy or reticent about speaking with someone at much higher levels sometimes just need this added encouragement to take the step to network.
Many successful people already understand the need to network within their company. They probably dont need a plan. Some jobs require that individuals know, interact, and partner with others in the company, and so they are usually well-networked naturally. If the company is large, though, there are many persons outside the scope of the current job who are potentials for expanding a network.
Heres a simple approach to getting started. Make two lists of persons in your company. The first is a list of the persons you already know and like. The second is a list of the persons you believe can, at some time, help you in your career you may already know them or not. Its o.k. to have the same person on both lists; in fact, this strategy depends on that!
The intersecting subset of those two lists is the starting place. In other words, start your networking plan with the persons you like, whom you think can help you in your career. Youll have more success by starting where its easiest. You can keep your lists updated over time, so that this is an organic process.
The next step is to decide, person by person, how and how often to network. Again, start where its easiest. If you have regular meetings with someone on your target list, sit near the person, or suggest that you have lunch afterward, or take an interesting article to give to the person. If you consider youre already actively networking with this person, you may not need to adjust any actions. Just be certain to keep the person on your radar screen.
For best results, keep a journal of your networking. In your journal or on your calendar, make a notation for yourself for your next contact. By all means, do not over-commit yourself to starting to build too many new relationships at the same time. As a relationship is in the stage where either you or the other person feels at ease to “call anytime,” you have built a relationship, so continuing it is easier.
Networking is as simple as such examples as Ive just given; a networking plan is also simple. It just requires some, ummmm, planning and paying attention.