“Networking isn’t about connecting people; it’s about connecting people with ideas and people with opportunities."
– Michelle Jennae
In working through a pandemic, every day teaches us a different lesson. One of the most valuable lessons is also the simplest – our network is our professional lifeline.
It is impossible to ignore that your organization is changing, hour by hour. Leaders everywhere are operating in a new and shifting reality without a playbook. They are doing their best to keep the business running while responding to news reports and government guidelines, sustaining what seems to work, setting new priorities, rewriting the rules, and implementing a slew of changes. Like it or not, now is the time to do more than just produce great work. It’s the time to broaden your impact and your network.
In today’s climate, remember to be realistic and respect others’ time. It’s likely that your connections, both new and seasoned, are concerned about their future and under pandemic-induced stress. They are juggling work, home, and family responsibilities. Because none of us can control what others believe, think, say, or do, you should be curious and stay optimistic.
Start with people you know. Invite a close work colleague to join you for a virtual coffee break and offer the choice of a phone call instead of a video call for a change of pace. Show up curious and ready to listen when you ask how they’re doing. Inquire about the changes they see in their department and across the organization. What rumors are circulating? Who is influencing decisions? What opportunities are popping up? Offer your help and if you want an introduction to someone or something else, ask for it. Use what you discover to reset your priorities and stretch your imagination. Explore the different ways you can contribute your skills to support the change initiatives and make an impact alone or in collaboration with your colleagues.
Next, move on to a new connection. Calendars don’t lie. If you are spending more time with your direct reports than with your colleagues, your boss, your boss’ boss, or other influencers in the organization, switch things up. Consider everyone who has participated in a video or conference call to be a potential member of your network, including the CEO, other executives, and your colleagues in different places and positions throughout the organization.
It’s important to stay true to your personality when you reach out to people via email, whether you identify as an extrovert, ambivert, or introvert. If you have an approach that works, use it. If not, adapt this simple 4-step plan and connect with anyone.
Now it’s time to target someone and create your email. Keep your emails short and specific. When you get a positive response, consider it a win. When you don’t, move on without taking it personally. Need more? Here is a sample email:
Subject Line: Here to Help! [Grabs attention & sparks curiosity]
Hi Adam, these days, you are leading the Reopen GlobalX/Austin Task Force. [this simple acknowledgement singles him out and gets his attention]
Forbes published this article last week (hyperlinked) on navigating a safe reentry to work. Check out the section on lab safety. [Adds value]
Before heading up our channel marketing team, I was a facilities lead and oversaw the redesign and installation of 6 floors of offices and labs in a space similar to ours. I am curious to hear about the challenges you are facing and, once I understand them, I’ll know how I can help you succeed. [Specific ask]
Any chance you can free up time for a brief phone or video call? What’s better, tomorrow or Monday? Morning or afternoon? [This simple ask is assertive and offers Adam flexibility which makes his saying yes easy]
Thank you. I am really looking forward to talking with you.
Name and contact info [Make it easy for him to call you or forward your request.]
You network is your lifeline. Give to get by being the colleague you want other people to be. Be approachable and as generous as possible with your time and expertise. Answer emails and whenever possible, comment on blogs and social media posts and share interesting articles and videos. When someone reaches out, say yes to an informational interview, make an introduction, and forward a resume without expecting anything in return. When the tables turn, and they will, the people in your network will be there to support you and happy to help.