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Activating your network in 2021

Our last few issues of Tuesdays have featured articles about Remote Working during the pandemic. This is an important endeavor to keep your communications network thriving and one area where you can take control to shore up contacts during this period of uncertainty. In some ways, despite the pandemic’s foothold, it is amplifying how change at any turn can be managed. During the holiday season, we tend to pull back on our professional networking and relationships and focus on family – as we should! However, do not stray too far from your profession network – it is, after all, vital to your work and to your career. Make the effort! And
reap the rewards!

In the scheme of career success and your own trajectory to accomplishing projects, internal and external networking are critical. True, logistically, internal networking has become more difficult – no more casual meetings in the office, no quick one-on-ones, no breakfast-lunch dinner-coffee tête-à-têtes! This is why remote networking is so vital and we realize its
challenges, as well.

So here is the key – the key to both internal and external networking is being intentional. Think about your purpose in networking. What are you trying to learn? Why is it important that you be on the radar screen of a particular person or persons? And remembering that networking is
both giving and receiving, be sure to think about what you bring to the party and to the person you are networking with.

Growing your network in 2021

Ask yourself: Have you thought about how will you nurture and your network in 2021? This year, I am asking folks to consider the importance of networking for a reason. A specific reason. What do you want to happen on 2021 that did not happen in 2020? How can a robust and targeted network help you achieve your goal?

Here are some ideas to help you grow your network in 2021. Start with PURPOSE and answer these statements:

  1. In 2021, I want to connect to X (category of individuals) so I can?
  2. My ideal number of new relationships per month is?
    Be honest here. Relationships require nurturing.
  3. My plan to renew and cultivate my existing network is by connecting with how many people per month?
  4. For these interactions, my give is?
    My ask is?
    In other words, how can you help them?
    How can they help you?
    People like to help if the ask is clear, concise, and easy to execute.
  5. How will I hold myself accountable?
    What metrics will I use to judge success over and above the actual number of contacts?
  6. What is my follow-up plan and my plan for thanking those with whom I connect?

GET SPECIFIC and then hold yourself ACCOUNTABLE!

LinkedIn

There is no more important tool to support you in expanding and retaining your network than LinkedIn. It is your number one research tool to find individuals that you want to connect with as well as help you to identify who knows who. This is especially helpful when you find individuals in your network who can provide introductions. Nothing beats a “warm” introduction to increase the likelihood that someone is willing to connect. I experience this frequently.

Actively engage on LinkedIn. Read your feed regularly (weekly at a minimum) to understand and stay current on what is happening with the people in your network. Commenting or forwarding a post is a great way to reconnect with your existing network and at the same time help them with their networking. This will increase your “views” and theirs, while providing you with greater exposure. Plus, you can use LinkedIn Inmails to send private messages for more indepth contact and connection.

Organize your network

How organized are you when it comes to your own professional network? Sometimes, a simple Excel spreadsheet will do to capture date, name, a few key notes on a conversation, any requests to follow-up on and most important, a date to follow-up. Keep your spreadsheet sorted by follow-up date and check it at the end of each week to see what needs to be done the following week. Some find using more sophisticated CRM software to be super helpful, especially when tracking metrics. Which of these do you use? Or do you have another way that you would like to share?

Networking 2021 FAQs

Over the last few months I have been asked numerous questions about networking so I thought I would share these FAQS with you in hopes they may help you as well.

Q. How do I reach out to someone I don’t know and don’t have any mutual contacts?
A. Send them a LinkedIn invite. Be sure you send a note introducing yourself and why you would like to connect. Give them a reason for wanting to connect with you. This is going to substantially increase the chances of your invitation being accepted. Don’t stop there. Once the invitation is accepted, reach out to them, and invite them to an introductory call or Zoom. You should not really count someone as a “connection” until you have officially connected with them!

Q. When I get a LinkedIn invitation from a stranger, should I always accept it to expand my network?
A. Only accept a LinkedIn invitation if it makes sense. Read their profile and decide. If you were at a live networking event (back when we had those!), would they be someone with whom you would want to have a conversation? Is yes, accept the invitation and reach out to them to connect and get to know them.

Q. There is someone I have not spoken with in a couple of years, should I contact them?
A. Yes, don’t be shy. We all have busy lives and people understand how careers go in many directions. Especially with the pandemic, you have a built-in reason for reaching out to see how people are doing. For the most part, everyone is craving more interaction right now so take advantage of that. And wishing someone happy holidays or a happy new year is a great way to kick off your networking at the beginning of 2021!

Q. What if I am an introvert, how can I possibly network?
A. No time like the present and now is a better time than ever. It is much easier to do a one-to-one call or Zoom call than to navigate a large networking event in a ballroom somewhere! I have a recruiter friend who says she thinks introverts are ultimately better networkers. They do a better job staying focused on their goal for the conversation while extroverts often get so energized by the conversation itself that they forget their purpose!

Q. How do I prepare for a networking meeting?
A. Focus on your purpose: What do you want to learn from this individual and how can you help them? Being clear on what you want to get out of the conversation keeps you focused and ensures that the conversation is valuable to both parties. Unless you are catching up with an old friend, keep these meetings to 20 minutes.

Q. Why is internal networking so important?
A. Strong internal networks allow you to get work done. And quite frankly, internal networks often are the source of new assignments and promotions. Be intentional and authentic. How do you want to be known inside the company and why? With so many of us working remotely, this a good year to scan your current work environment and create a list of people inside your company who can help you succeed now and in the future. Call them up. Share that you want to create a stronger relationship. Talk about partnering. Every leader requires mentors, coaches, and a couple of sponsors. Make 2021 the year you work a robust list of these people inside your company insiders who will help you succeed. And don’t forget to create the intention of being that person for others as well.

Q. How do I think strategically about building my internal network?
A. Use your project management skills to build your internal network! A stakeholder map can easily be adapted to a project called, “My career goals for ‘X’ 2021.” List the people who can influence your opportunities. Think about previous performance feedback; where and what can you improve? Prioritize your list and establish your pace. If you take the time to physically draw out a map (using concentric circles of influence) you will be far more successful than simply considering the idea. Action begets action.

Q. I know I should be expanding my network in my field but don’t know how to go about it?
A. Always go back to purpose. What do you want to achieve? Perhaps you are an HR professional who has recently been tapped to help craft a Diversity and Inclusion strategy for your company. This is a new area for you so knowing people who have gone down this path before would be helpful. Go to LinkedIn and type in the name of a specific company and the word “diversity” and see who in that organization leads or works in Diversity and reach out to them. Be sure to send a message explaining why you would like to connect. Also, Google and read about thought-leaders in the field. Start to follow them on LinkedIn, read and respond to their posts and start a dialog. Just remember to make your interactions brief and targeted! You will be amazed by the results you can obtain by taking a brave step forward.

In closing, make your Networking Plan now so you are ready to hit the ground running in 2021! Decide on your 2-3 business/career/personal goals and how your networking can help you to achieve those goals. Complete the bulleted list above and get very specific about what to do. Your ACTION PLAN! Not actively networking can stunt your career development and can stunt the contributions and gifts you have to offer others. Sharing your knowledge and expertise helps others grow, too!

I hope this helps. We are big fans of YOU and we want 2021 to be the year you take that next big step in achieving your goals by creating strong, interesting, and easy relationships!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nancy Vepraskas
Nancy Vepraskas

I’m a leadership performance consultant and founder of P2Excellence. My passion is helping CEOs and HR leaders make critical shifts to transform their businesses. With 25+ years experience in the people side of business, I help leaders perform by activating change, optimizing talent and improving people processes and strategies.

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