Articles and news about networking are an almost daily (maybe hourly?) occurrence, with the many things written about the growth and proliferation of online social networks, as well as the value of professional networking.
A recent article from Women 2.0 titled “Women Make Friends, Men Make Business” suggests that networking is one of the real barriers for a woman’s success professionally. Most of the times the networking that women do is either not enough, not of the right type, or doesn’t create the right access to the people they need to meet. They say that women are more into socializing, building new relationships and connecting with people in a personal way when attending business events, rather than taking the opportunity to promote their business or get into new ones. On the other hand, men are much more focused on establishing business and coming up with new ways to generate more income.
I know that when I meet someone I often end up talking about things in their personal life, which I’ve found can be a good way to really remember something specific about that person. People respond really well to this – I suppose who doesn’t want to share details about themselves – but I am probably hurting myself by being too focused on personal information. I could (and should) approach conversations with the same level of interest and questions about what they do professionally. I do think that you need to build relationships first before building businesses together. But there is no reason to not get in to the topic of business in an information gathering mode when first meeting someone.
Building on the topic of professional networking, being able to do it well over a sustained period of time, as well as being able to identify and articulate your skills and experiences, is critical to finding your way to a leadership role within a company, as well as external Board of Directors positions. In this article discussing corporate board appointments, it suggests taking on non-profit board roles, seeking out specific leadership opportunities, and letting others know what you are looking for in order to be nominated and appointed to board roles.
Putting effort in to and taking the time to serve as a director for a company outside your industry can also be a critical step in positioning and preparing yourself to become CEO. Denise Morrison, chief of Campbell Soup Co., said in this article from Wall Street Journal about the number of women in the pipeline to become CEOs that she worked very hard to prepare herself for this role. She networked and met other people in her industry by attending food industry events outside of her work commitments, and she joined a corporate board from a different industry so that she could show what she can actually do.
After reading and thinking about this a bit, I’ve decided to give myself this challenge. The next time I attend a networking event, or have a lunch/dinner with professional networking or business development purposes, I will enter the conversation with a specific business related need to accomplish. Perhaps it’s just asking questions to get market information, or understanding more about what the other person does or what they aspire to do to understand how we may work together in the future. I won’t be stopping my natural tendency to learn about where someone grew up or what they like to do on the weekends, but I am going to focus on increasing the business benefit of networking.