Inside Networking and the Essential Elements of Success

Gears

There is always an element of serendipity to success. You have to be in the right place at the right time when the right opportunity comes along. However, to be successful in the modern corporate world you need more than just luck. You have to get three things right:

  1. You have to do good work.
  2. You have to be doing the right work.
  3. You have to be visible.

Inside networking is critical in all three areas.

First “no man is an island.” This was never more true in the ever more complex world of the modern workplace. Building relationships across your organization helps you create a network of knowledge that will enhance the work that you do. There will be pockets of information held by key people, that you will need to be successful. Without them, your work would be, at most, mediocre. Knowing who to call and where to find information differentiates you and your team. It will make your best work possible. That is, building a web of relationships inside your organization is essential for doing good work.

Second, you will know who and what is important in the organization. Understanding what people are working on, their drivers, and their constraints, shapes both what you do now and in the future. This helps ensure that you are working on the right things — i.e. the things that the organization needs and values. That is, being well connected helps you do the right work.

Finally, you will be visible. People need know you, and know of you. This doesn’t just happen. It takes persistent and deliberate effort. It’s not uncommon for the marketing budget of a big Hollywood movie to at least as large as the production budget. It is not enough to make a great movie. People also need to know about it. So it is with our work: you must be visible.

On a personal note, being more visible is the one thing I wish I had learned much earlier in my career. In the early days I put all my effort into doing good work. I did not make enough investments in getting to know other people and understanding what they were working on. I remained invisible for far too long.

Next Steps

  • Review my article on Inside Networking. It has the ins and outs of who to network with and what questions to ask.
  • Pull up the company directory, or dig out the org chart, and start networking inside your company.
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Control the Message: What does your boss think that you do?

If you have a job, then I highly recommend that you produce a weekly status report. Not a full ‘status report’ per se, but a brief email with 3 – 6 bullets outlining your recent accomplishments and a preview of what you will be working on next week.

Here’s the logic: If you have a job — working for anyone but yourself — then you have a boss to whom you report. And if you have a boss, then on a regular basis, people will ask that boss, “What is <Your Name Here> working on?” In fact, your boss will occasionally ponder this question himself even without being asked. Do not leave your boss’ answer to chance.

Instead, plant the seeds for what is top-of-mind for your boss. By delivering an easy-to-remember, end-of-the-week, one-email-screen, status report, your boss won’t have to make up an answer when pondering what you are working on. Even better, your boss won’t ever have a moment when they realize that they don’t know what you are working on.

Avoid the temptation to provide a lot of detail — your boss can circle back later if they need more information. This is a talking points memo, not a manifesto. And it’s not a bad idea to distribute your little ‘status report’ to anyone you consider a stakeholder, including anyone who might have an interest in your work and your career.

What do you think? Do you currently produce a regular status report? Has it served you well?

 


This article first appeared in The Week Ahead #47, my weekly newsletter that serves as a metronome for the rhythm of our work lives. Sign up for yourself and you won’t miss another keen insight.

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Announcing the Thinking, Fast and Slow Book Club

Lady’s and gentlemen, we have ourselves a book club.

Beginning the week September 01, a number of smart, curious, and ambitious subscribers to the email list are digging in to read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. You can join too!

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist and behavioral economist who studies the psychology of decision making. He shared the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.

Thinking, Fast and Slow first came to my attention last fall when Tom Peters tweeted,

I believe unequivocally that Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is the most important book of the last 25 years for EVERY professional.

Peters had previously tweeted a similar sentiment:

Re-re-re-read: Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking Fast and Slow.” Get it out of your head that you even vaguely think straight.

How to Participate

  1. Buy the Book! I’ll be reading the Kindle version.
  2. Join the LinkedIn Group where we will be holding our online discussions.
  3. Download the Reading Schedule.
  4. Start reading along with us the week of September 01.
  5. Join in the vibrant online discussion.

How the club works: We’re using a private LinkedIn group to host our online conversations. Every Monday morning I’ll start a new ‘discussion’ with a few questions relating to the latest chapter(s) in progress. Anyone in the group can comment, ask further questions, explore, and discuss using the LinkedIn discussion features.

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What do you do?

NameTagImagine a scenario where you are meeting for someone for the first time. If you live in America, there is a good chance that the conversational exchange will go something like this:

An opening volley of small talk …

A bit more small talk …

Something about the weather …

And then someone will inevitably say — wait for it …

“So, what do you do?”

How do you answer the question, “What do you do?”

I first entered the corporate world in the late ’80‘s. At that time it was common to respond to “What do you do?” with the name of the company you worked for. “I work for MetLife.” or “I work for Cisco.”

But over the last 20 years the nature of the employer / employee contract has changed. Companies stopped making long-term promises and employees — wisely — stopped making long-term commitments. As a result what you do has been decoupled from who pays you to do it. This is a good thing.

You are now a company of one — a startup of you. ‘What you do’ comes from you expertise, your experience, and even your aspirations, delivered through the grace and power of your professionalism. You get to define what you do. It has nothing to do with who is paying you to do it (if anyone) right now.

It no longer makes any sense to try and explain to someone what you do by first telling them the name of your employer. The next time someone asks you what you do, try starting your sentences with:

“I’m an expert at …”

“I’m working on …”

“I’m on a mission to …”

“I help people …”

“I create …”

“I lead …”

So, what do you do?

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Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance

Knowledge is an important element of productivity. If follows that the acquisition of knowledge is equally important to your long-term success. But how do you learn? And how do you find time?

A new research paper called Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance offers some keen insights. Basically, there are two types of learning: learn by doing (‘experience’), and learn by thinking (‘reflection’). Based on the UNC and Harvard professor’s research, it turns out that the most powerful way to learn is a combination of both.

The authors define ‘reflection’ as an intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience. Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive. Here are a few highlights from the paper.

  • The automatic, unconscious process of learning generated by “doing” becomes more effective if deliberately coupled with the controlled, conscious attempt at learning by “thinking.”
  • A person learns through developing different interpretations of new or existing information, that is, through developing (consciously or unconsciously) a new understanding of surrounding events.
  • Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal, which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.

Maybe we’re on to something with this Weekly Wrap thing. What do you think? Does reflection help you learn? Does learning from your experiences make you more self confident?

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Conflict At The Office? A Simple Start to Fixing It.

Distrusting RivalsConflict is a part of life.

It’s brought on by human nature. We each have different goals and dreams, and we each see the world just a little differently.

When you put us in a work environment, these natural forces become amplified — mostly by our ambitions — until they create inordinate amounts of tension, dysfunction, and stress.

For some reason, we are reluctant to address the conflict. Strange. It doesn’t have to be that way.

A quick Google search on ‘resolving conflict’ reveals no end to complicated advice: 5 steps — or 10 Tips — or 12 Steps – with pictures, no less! What if we’re making this waaaay to hard?

Granted, some conflict resolution IS hard — say, resolving conflict in the Middle East. But in our personal and work lives, there’s an easy place to start. All you have to do is embrace three basic imperatives.

1. Communicate

You have to talk about things. You can’t just let stuff ride. You can’t deal with issues that you are not talking about. Discussing things neutralizes them while not talking about things causes them to become toxic.

2. No Judgement

People are who they are. They believe what they believe, and they feel what they feel. Don’t take it personal, and don’t let yourself feel attacked. Their feelings are legitimate.

When you open the door to communication, people will say the strangest things. They will articulate ideas and feelings that are in stark contrast to your understanding or to your way of seeing the world. That’s okay. Remember, your understanding or belief may be just as odd and incomprehensible to them.

Just let everything come out without judgment. People are who they are. They believe what they believe.

It’s also important to not hold the person to what they say. Our minds are often muddle and our thoughts confusing, especially when it comes to areas in conflict. They will most likely have a different — and hopefully deeper — understanding tomorrow. That’s okay, too. Don’t hold them to what they say today.

3. Find Common Ground

Do you want to work together? Do you want to be together? If you do, then the path to understanding and compromise will be clear.

Once you have issues on the table you’ll soon be able to see a way forward, to common ground.

The 3 Imperatives of Conflict Resolution: All or Nothing

These three imperatives must be taken in their entirety. If you endeavor to communicate — with no judgment — and seek common ground — you will have less conflict and tension in your life. Guaranteed.

Be forewarned, however, that if you leave out even one of the three imperatives you will make matters worse, not better. If you pick only two of the three, you are certain to stir up a hornet’s nest.


Try using the three imperatives with someone in your life with whom you are experiencing tension or conflict. Let me know how it goes. My guess is that it will make a huge difference in both of your lives.

Along the way, you will make your lives a little better, and your office environments a slightly better place to work. This will make me very happy.

Need help settling a conflict in the office? Get in touch — as an official consultant and mediator, I can often help resolve problems that involve more than just a few members of the team. 

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Inside Networking: How and Why to Build a Network Inside Your Organization


Networking recap: ‘Networking’ is the deliberate activity of creating, freshening, and strengthening links between you and other people. It’s relationship building with the intent of leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful. Strengthening links — i.e. turning a select subset of network links from weak connections to strong bonds — is an art that involves the constant exchange of favors and information.


Network DiagramHow visible are you at work? Chances are good that you’re making one of most common career mistakes there is — pouring a disproportionate about of effort into doing good work and not taking enough time to get to know other people.

I frequently give talks on careers and networking, and I’ve found many people fail to recognize one of the most powerful opportunities for networking that exists: networking within their own companies.

Stop wearing a cloak of invisibility!

Networking inside your company is some of the most important groundwork that you can do — and not just for yourself. Building a web of strong relationships up, down, and across your organization is invaluable for any projects and tasks that you could hope to accomplish, especially inside large organizations.

A broad web of relationships provides a wealth of information and serves as a lubricant that enables you to get stuff done. Full stop.

The key thing to remember is that networking is not about you. And networking is definitely not about finding a job (I call that ‘net groveling’). Networking is about leveraging who and what you know to help other people be successful.

Not only is this okay to do inside a company, it’s darn near an imperative. If you apply the how-can-I-be-helpful approach to networking inside an organization, you have an almost textbook definition of collaboration.

Who Should I Network With?

Look for key players anywhere you can find them in your organization.

  • Start with your peers. Network horizontally across your team.
  • Connect with stakeholders. Look at your responsibilities and projects. Who are the people who have interests or concerns for the work that you are doing? Network with them.
  • Look for people in cross-functional organizations. Build relationships with people in sales, finance, HR, IT, etc.
  • Your boss’ peers. Get to know the people who work at your boss’ level and report to the same manager.
  • Your boss’ boss — and his/her peers.
  • Any movers and/or shakers inside your company.

Conversation Starters: What Should I Say?

My go-to networking question is always a good place to start when networking inside a company. Simply ask, “What are you working on?”

That question is usually pretty easy to answer in a work context. As you are listening to the answer, continue asking yourself, “Who do I know, and what do I know that might be helpful to this person?”

But networking inside a company offers the opportunity for even deeper and richer bonds. To get at those connections you need to ask a few additional, more powerful questions. My favorites are:

  1. What are your drivers?
  2. What are you constraints?
  3. What are your challenges?
  4. Who are some of your best people? What makes them great?

A Word About Drivers and Constraints

Drivers are those things upon which you are measured. Senior leaders are often driven by revenue or market growth. In my days of old in IT, we were driven by system availability and server up-time. Recruiters might be driven by the number of candidates in the hiring pipeline and the digital marketing people might be driven by things like website hits or the number of retweets.

Understanding other people’s drivers helps you understand how they see their world. Their drivers shape how they make decisions. Often times, internal politics come about, not because people are malicious and don’t like each other, but because they have competing or conflicting drivers.


Insider’s Tip #1: Whatever you do, don’t get in the way of someone else’s drivers.


Constraints are those things that limit growth. Often it is money — aka budget, or funding. People constraints are common — some organizations can’t hire the right people fast enough. Time is almost always a constraint — is there is ever enough time? Growth and scale can be constraints. Most leaders, wisely, meter and control their growth. Everybody has constraints.


Insider’s Tip #2: Do what you can to help colleagues minimize their constraints … and never do anything to exacerbate them.


There is nothing magic about a great career. You just have to work at it. If you want to increase your odds of success, ramp up your inside networking. You won’t be the same … and neither will your organization. What are you waiting for?

Next Steps

  1. Create a plan to systematically broaden your network inside your company. Start with your peers and stakeholders. Then connect with your boss’s peers. Keep going until you run out of people. Then start over. Create – freshen – strengthen, repeat.
  2. Start holding at least one networking meeting a week. Ask for 30 minutes. Tell them that you just want to get a better understanding of what they do and how things work around here. Learn about their drivers and constraints.
  3. Refresh your memory on how to do informational interviews. They are particularly useful when networking inside an organization. My Quick Guide to Informational Interviews will be helpful here.

I wish you success.

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5 Reasons To Stop Clicking on List Posts

It’s tough to be productive these days. Focus is hard. As if the Internet wasn’t distracting enough, along comes one of the most insidious wastes of personal attention since the invention of the chat room. We’ve all clicked on them — the alluring list post, or ‘listicles’ as professional bloggers and content marketers like to call them.

Instant productivity tip: STOP CLICKING ON LISTICLES. Just stop. If you want to feel more focus and be more productive stop clicking on any article that has a number in the title.

You know the articles I am talking about. Listicles are those articles written with seductive headlines like:

It’s almost impossible to not click through. I mean, who doesn’t want to know if they share traits with the world’s super lucky people? Bloggers — and people who make money based on how many “page views” they get — know this. They love list posts because they get tons of clicks.  (I’m looking at you HuffPo.) Content marketers call this ‘engagement.”

Here’s the thing: everybody clicks on list posts — but does anybody read them? I mean really read them?

red squirrel

Try this: for the next two days, pay careful attention to what is going on inside your head as you click through to a listicle.

Here’s my prediction: your eyes dart over the article looking for the main items in the list (god forbid if the main items aren’t in bold).

Most of the time you are looking to validate some preconceived notion that you already have on the subject. You stop and read a couple of sentences in a few of the sections and then you click away. On average, you spend less than 60 seconds “reading” a list post.

You haven’t really read the article, and you haven’t really learned anything.

The problem with listicles is that they offer the illusion of reading without offering much substance. They’re sugar bombs: you get a mild jolt of satisfaction during the few seconds you are scanning the list but the experience is over as soon as you click away.

So, I offer this as, hopefully, the last listicle you will ever feel compelled to read:

The 5 Reasons You Should Stop Clicking on List Posts

  1. You’re just scanning — you read little or none of the content in the list.
  2. You retain almost nothing from the article. After 5 minutes you cannot remember reading the article, let alone the concepts it contained.
  3. Listicles are little more than a distraction.
  4. You are giving false hope to bloggers who think that people are actually reading their posts.
  5. In the grand scheme of things, list posts do not help you be smarter or more productive. Mostly they are a waste of time.

Join me in avoiding lists posts. Your productivity will thank you.

Now go read something of more substance.

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Forget ‘Lean In.’ Maybe we should lean back! — Reclaiming time to be creative.

Creative people’s most important resource is their time—particularly big chunks of uninterrupted time—and their biggest enemies are those who try to nibble away at it with e-mails or meetings. Indeed, creative people may be at their most productive when, to the manager’s untutored eye, they appear to be doing nothing.

From The Economist: In Praise of Laziness — Businesspeople would be better off if they did less and thought more

Read the full article if you can spare a few minutes. It features Teresa Amabile, the author of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.

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Diversity in Counsel … Unity in Command

Alfred Sloan, when he ran General Motors in the 1920s and 1930s, would refuse to make a decision at a meeting if no one could argue a strong case against what was being proposed. He felt that if no one had any objections to what was being decided, it was because they had not thought long and hard enough about the question under consideration.

— Jeffrey Pfeffer. Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations (p. 323)

Diversity in Counsel*

Alfred Sloan understood that the best ideas — along with the best decisions — are forged in the crucibles of healthy conflict. If there are no objections leading up to a decision, then either people just aren’t trying hard enough or your team isn’t working on hard enough problems. Clear thinking, innovation, and good decisions depend on diverse perspectives and opposing points of view.

Healthy conflict can be a tense arena. It takes bold leaders to create a safe space where everyone can be heard. And it takes confident followers to speak their mind even when they hold a minority point of view.

Healthy conflict works best when the team is built on a foundation of trust — and the best way to build trust is to survive a few rounds of healthy conflict. Circular, I know. Go figure! Remember to play hard, and play fair and you’ll begin to see the power of bringing out everyone’s best thinking.

Unity in Command

Healthy conflict is just a means to an end. The goal is to make good decisions and move on.

Business People With Their Hands TogetherThis is where the leadership part really comes in. After ensuring that everyone feels heard, you as the leader, have to choose a way forward. This is not easy — especially after an engaging round of conversation. By design, you have just created a hornet’s nest of healthy conflict. The next step in the decision making process is to tame that nest and make sure that everyone can get behind a single decision moving forward.

That is, the next step is “unity in command.” Get confirmation from everyone on your team that they will support a single decision. Consensus is not the goal — at least not initially. People can get behind decisions — despite their objections — as long as they feel heard. If you can’t reach this point then you have not yet reached a decision.

What is a Decision?

It’s tempting to think that because you have made up your mind then the decision is made. However, if certain members of your team continue to pursue alternate paths or espouse alternate directions, then the decision has not yet been made! You may have thought that you made the decision because in your mind it is clear, but you may just have a false start. Back to the round table until everyone can get behind you. That is, until you have unity in command, you do not have a decision.

What’s Next?

Practice drawing out other people’s points of view. If no one on your team or in your meeting has contrasting opinions then appoint someone to be the designated ‘devil’s advocate.’ Remember Alfred Sloan: If there are no objections then you are not thinking hard enough about the problem or you are not working on hard enough problems.


*The phrase “Diversity in counsel, unity in command” is attributed to Cyrus the Great — self-declared King of the World as far back as 600 BC. Cyrus conquered most of the known world at that time but did not impose his religion onto his conquered lands and did not kill their leaders. He understood the power of listening to, and integrating, many great ideas.

 

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