Did you ever go out on the town with a better-looking mate and feel the benefit of their inferred glow? Maybe you were the better-looking mate and felt others riding in your wake?
The same thing applies to your network. Your network is not simply for job-hunting. It adds an extra-mile kind of dimension to how you perform on the job. Bouncing an idea off a credible colleague is more reliable and cost effective than outsourcing the advice. Indeed your network should make up a core part of your development plans.
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Who Are Your Network Must-Haves?
Your advisory board of 8 (or so)
Mentors and potential mentors should be your top network priority. Formality isn’t essential, they can simply be connections you can pose a professional question every to now and then. They may indeed equally benefit from your skill set in some way. For broad based development you should be able to name a handful of people you consider to be mentors in different areas. These are the must-have skill areas that most frequently come up as gaps for people in my Exec Coaching work:
1. A stellar communicator. Not just a person who can (as my Irish father-in-law says of my 3 year old) ‘buy and sell the lot of us’, but someone who is able to understand and be understood. A person you can put a particular problem to and hear what their approach might be.
2. A brilliant people manager. Someone who inspired individual performance from the least motivated of team members–perhaps a past boss you reported to or worked with.
3. Someone who lives diversity. These are the people who effortlessly but proactively engage a diverse stakeholder group that embodies participation and inclusion in a non-patronising way. I’d want them in my network!
4. Someone with financial skills. Whether numbers are your strong point or not, it’s likely that there’s at least an area within the financials that you could do with greater insight- it’s worth having someone whose finance skill you trust in your network. Someone who can tell you what questions you need to ask, in order not to fall prey to a skills gap.
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5. Someone who can provide strategic orientation. Whatever role you’re in, or heading for, it’s useful-to-critical that you have a strategic orientation. If you haven’t got one, you need a buddy who can provide you with insight on occasion. Worked with anyone who you would say has that? Have a chat with them. Connect. Ask them for some pointers.
6. Someone innovative. To succeed these days, you need new ways to be faster, more productive, more web centric, finding fresh solutions, capturing new markets, retaining loyalty in changing market. Connecting with colleagues past or present who are creative thinkers or great problem solvers is a game-changer. Networking is all about establishing enough of a relationship that if you or they have a quick question to ask, then they / you can offer an idea.
7. Someone who does what you do and does it well. When you’re entrenched in doing,you can do with someone who will give you the advice you would give yourself if you had the time and distance to be objective. Okay, so you might need more than one of these to avoid burning them out!
8. Past and current colleagues. Most of us have a network made up either of friends, or of our LinkedIn-prompted past and current colleagues. They’re fantastic for keeping up to date with what’s happening elsewhere in your industry, so you can hear about trends and innovations. Don’t have time to search through industry papers and articles? Perhaps a colleague had 5 minutes today to read and share something brilliant. Your network is less costly than consultants and less time consuming than industry events.
In addition to being a far more trusted, relevant, up to date source of answers than Wikipedia, your network can of course be a great source of referrals when job opportunities open up. Up to 80% of new hires are sourced through word of mouth after all. Speaking of which, if you come across a good head hunter or recruiter, connect and be good to them – they are your ticket to the roles that don’t go through word of mouth!
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Catherine is an Executive Coach and Director of CN Consulting. Catherine works with business, with individuals and through keynote speaking engagements and workshops to help improve business capability. She has over 15 years’ experience in helping people at all levels and regions globally to supercharge their development and advance their careers.