Networking Redefined: Part One

Do you ever get tired of hearing the word ‘networking’?

There is no question that networking continues to be the most important skill in today’s world, as long its definition is building reciprocal relationships.

Yet maybe it’s time to look at it in new ways.

We’ve all proselytized about the necessities of networking in order to make a successful career transition or earn career success. And for sure this is true. I do believe that networking is the way.

I wish we could come up with another word without some of the inherent negative implications. Any ideas?

I’d like to throw out a couple of simple thoughts about networking. Please share your comments so I can hear your take. By all means share new ideas too.

  • THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES TO “WORKING A ROOM”.

The phrase itself implies manipulation, it’s no wonder some people are turned off by it. You can indeed attend a conference and make it worthwhile without introducing yourself to every person in the room or being the outspoken conversationalist during lunch.

How?

Listen to what the speakers are saying and take notes on interesting points. The speakers will most likely have people waiting to talk with them afterwards and it might be hard to push your way in. Don’t beat yourself up even if you had hoped to introduce yourself.

Contact the speaker afterwards and say you heard them at the conference but didn’t get a chance to talk with them and you are wondering about something she/he said that intrigued you.

Do the same with people eating lunch at your table. Attendees will often get up to ask a question of keynote and other speakers. Savvy people will introduce themselves prior to asking their question. Take note of their name and company and what they ask.

Follow up with them a day or two after the conference. Mention something about their question and invite them to talk more about it over coffee. Better yet, suggest that you might be able to help (if that’s true).

  • YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PREPARED WITH THE PERFECT STATEMENT TO APPROACH A STRANGER.

Most of you probably know Keith Ferrazzi. I highly recommend his book “Never Eat Alone”. Keith brings up several insightful points that I rarely see mentioned in other networking books. Here are a few of his words of wisdom.

* There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself.

* Too many of us believe that ‘breaking the ice’ means coming up with a brilliant or witty remark. The best icebreaker is a few words from the heart.

The key here is to stop worrying about saying the ‘right’ thing, take a risk and allow a piece of your humanity to show. If you can make a connection in this way, it could be the beginning of a relationship.

This is one of many blogs to come with a different twist on networking.

How have you approached networking that might be of value to others?

Work Stress: The Elephant in the Room

As the New Year begins, I am hoping for a renewed emphasis on addressing work-related stress.

In this post, I both applaud and raise questions about how organizations are taking steps to reduce stress and the negative impact it is having on American workers and their families.

I admire the work that the Center for Work Life Policy does.  Sylvia Ann Hewlett is an economist and the founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit think tank, where she leads the “Hidden Brain Drain” Task Force.

In a recent online article she wrote for Forbes.com, Sylvia mentions that the pressures of the recession are having a measurable effect on the physical health and mental well being of many workers.

I don’t think this is shocking news to anyone; but it is important to keep talking about it. Work related stress is a problem of epidemic proportions.

Although Sylvia tends to focus on data that comes from vice presidents and managing directors (what she calls the “Cream of the Crop”), I believe that these stress-related trends impact all workers.

After all, workers at every level are getting hit with pressure to do more with less and to work so many hours that their personal lives are imposed upon. I hear this from my clients every day and my clients represent a broad range of people from executives to project managers to technical writers to health care workers.

The Forbes.com article gives examples of the how stress is not only causing illness, but likely causing negative dynamics within families,

…as they [workers] deal with brutal hours in tension-filled offices, many high performers can’t prevent the strains at work from spilling over into their home lives causing ill temper and spawning squabbles.

Sylvia mentions what some smart companies are doing to try to break the vicious cycle of stress. Indeed, these ideas are not earth shattering, yet they are worth repeating.

One interesting example came from an EVP & Corporate Comptroller at American Express (AXP). Her name is Joan.

In the spirit of getting at the real issues, I’d like to challenge a few of the ideas. Read on.

Joan’s AMX group developed a four-part initiative to reduce stress (listed below). I’ve added my take to each. See what you think and let me know your thoughts.

Step One: Everyone had to be on their way home by 6:30 pm

My take: This seems reasonable enough – I like the idea of an expectation that everyone will go home at a reasonable hour. Yet I wonder about those people who have children or family members that need care. Do they have flexibility to leave earlier on some days or work from home sometimes? Is there an unspoken “rule” of staying until 6:30 pm?

Step Two: No emails after 8 pm

My take: At first glance, I applaud this idea. I know too many people (including myself) who work on email until the wee hours of the morning.  But WAIT – 8pm?  Is there an unspoken assumption here that one must be accessible until 8 pm every night?  So I should leave the office by 6:30 p.m. but I also will be on email until 8 p.m. When does the family have dinner? When do I talk with my kids and hug my partner?

Hmmm…just wondering about the unspoken messages here.

Step Three: No email on weekends or vacations.

My take: Sounds good. Vacation time is crucial for rejuvenation and accessing new and creative ideas.

Step Four: When you take vacation or personal time, you have to delegate authority.

My take: Makes sense. Of course this is important, but I also need to have the resources to be able to delegate to.  If my staff is completely stretched like taffy already, my delegating to them may create an unreasonable workload for them to manage. This “delegation” idea is smart on the surface, but it may not be achievable in reality.  Remember, everyone is supposed to go home by 6:30pm and stop emails at 8:00pm too.

And what about those people who don’t have anyone to delegate to? There are plenty of people who manage projects but don’t have a staff. What is the protocol for them? How do they delegate?

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Let’s keep generating good ideas about managing work-related stress. It’s a big step to talk about it and generate new ways of handling the negative consequences.

However, we must also be open to looking at our approach with an open mind.  Are we still perpetuating the vicious cycle with unspoken messages? Are we asking the right questions? Is it “safe” for anyone to raise these issues or is it taboo?  Will the worker who says “this isn’t working” be frowned upon?  How much freedom is given to each employee to determine and live by their own boundaries?

Can we acknowledge the elephants in the room?

After all, if you want great employees to stick around when the economy starts moving forward again, it’s wise to think about this. Otherwise, they will be out the door quicker than you can turn on your blackberry once more jobs are available.