-By Nancy Settle-Murphy, Guided Insights and Patti Anklam, Hutchinson Associates
Finding the right connections to help you do your job, or to grow into the next one, requires a significant investment of time and effort even when you know all of the right players. But when you’re part of virtual organization, effective networking can be considerably more challenging.
While you may be able to see who’s who from the org chart, the real influencers, potential mentors and key contributors tend to be less obvious. When you are physically surrounded by many of the key players, you can make connections fairly easily with a bit of planning. But when you’re part of a virtual team, you have far fewer opportunities to make the kind of deep connections so important for networking.
This edition of Communiqué provides practical guidelines for productive networking in a virtual world, focusing on finding the right people who can be part of your personal network. Such a network has great intrinsic value, providing a venue for mutual support and enrichment. A thoughtfully-developed network can also help you achieve job and career objectives, both near- and long-term.
Building and sustaining a network consists of four cyclical elements: defining your goal; researching the network; creating conversations; and reciprocating and following up. We will cover the first two elements in this edition. Subsequent issues will cover the final two.
- Define your goals: You need to be clear about what you want to achieve by becoming better networked. For example, are you interested in a new job elsewhere in the company? Would you like to improve how you do your current job? Would extending the boundaries of your local network help your team accomplish more? Do you have ideas that you are passionate about sharing with others? While many people thrive on the very act of networking, having a goal can keep you focused on the hard work of getting introductions and braving those “get acquainted” conversations.
- Research the network: Networking is very much a task of ferreting out the informal networks in an organization, discovering how work really gets done. However, familiarizing yourself with the formal power base is also important. Learn about reporting relationships, both direct and indirect. Review organizational charts, newsletters, emails and web postings to determine which leaders tend to make important announcements. These may not be the people who actually make the decisions, but you’ll get a good sense for the figureheads in your organization.
- Scrutinize company websites for clues. Very often, the real movers and shakers work under the radar, making them more difficult to discern. Scan chat forums to see who responds to important questions. Read blogs to discover who some of the most creative thinkers are. Find out who’s really behind some of the most important and illuminating content on relevant websites.
- Identify the boundary spanners. Which people tend to work as part of cross-functional or organization-wide teams? The people who act as bridge-builders are very often those who are regarded as the most trusted, credible and effective by their peers. In addition, they tend to carry a more holistic view of the overall organization than their colleagues who may take a more myopic view as they work primarily with colleagues from their own organizations.
- Look for the real thought leaders. Who’s speaking at industry association meetings? Who’s quoted in the press? Who meets regularly with key clients? The real thought leaders are not always those with the loftiest titles. Scour your company’s intranet site as well as the internet to find references that hold clues. Search industry association websites, events calendars and press releases, among other places.
- Make friends with people in the know. Pick up the phone and introduce yourself to those who might be able to help you identify key influencers. The people who work in organizations that span the organization may be able to offer the most help. Try asking administrative assistants, chiefs of staff, communication managers, strategic planners, and financial analysts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in gaining entrŽe to important people.
- Spend time with people who get things done. People who consistently deliver quality results and meet important commitments are very likely the ones you’ll benefit by working with in the future. Find opportunities to work with them on future projects, or seek their advice when direct collaboration is not possible.
- Make connections with people actively involved in Knowledge Management (KM) activities. People who participate in some kind of KM network, including communities of practice, tend to value the moving and sharing of information as a means to successful collaboration. Introduce yourself to some of the KM leaders and see how you can get involved.
Finding the gatekeepers and influencers within a geographically dispersed organization can take dozens of calls, scores of emails, and hundreds of web searches. But if you want to thrive as part of a virtual organization, you need to invest the efforts required to form vital connections that will enrich your personal and professional life. In a future issue, we’ll explore how norms, trust and reciprocity come into play as you start to create the conversations that will build your network ties.