The difference between success and failure for project manager is a thin line. One delay can have profound impact on delivery commitments. Mitigating future risks becomes a whole lot easier when you have a network of professionals both internally and externally to the organization to leverage for a solution. Building a comprehensive network is more vital in today’s dynamic environment than ever before, so let’s explore the three core reasons why you and others are investing time for networking …
a) To Learn
b) To Solve Problems
c) To Build relationships
The first TO LEARN is the easiest to satisfy because it’s a passive activity. Whether it’s attending a professional convention or learning about competitor news at the water cooler we are always looking for a piece of knowledge that can make a difference. We can learn from ANY individual we meet (if we so choose) and it’s as simple as asking the right question. The trickier question is What Do You Want to Learn? In addition to collecting intellectual content, we can also choose to learn about individuals within our network. Key insights into a critical stakeholder’s interests, background, hot buttons or decision criteria can be invaluable in building trust and adding value. We might even choose to learn more about ourselves if we’re interested in improving our skills. My suggestion is also to switch the learning question around to reflect on What Do You Have To Share For Those Interested In Learning?
TO SOLVE PROBLEMS is the real reason project managers network, because we all have endless laundry list of problems to be solved now or future risks to mitigate. Of course there is the small subset of “know it alls” that don’t want help finding faster, cheaper, or more creative answers (that would take all the fun out of it for them). This desire to solve current problems is what should be driving your desire to invest time networking both internally and externally. If you find you’re not getting much assistance, then it’s probably because you having done your pre-work assignment. You didn’t know networking has homework? What rock do you live under? Master networkers realize the age old truth, you must give before you receive. No time to help others? Be serious. There are an infinite number of opportunities to add value by helping others solve their problems big and small without a big time investment. The reward is a form of internalized “credit” known as reciprocity. Even sharing a connection that brings them one step closer to an answer can reap similar rewards if done authentically because we feel a higher degree of trust with individuals who demonstrate care for our well being. By asking questions, you can quickly learn how to add specific value to ANY individual you meet. Help them solve their problem(s) and you have increased the value of that relationship…
TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS is the long term reason we network that links directly back to the first two reasons. Building relationships (and more importantly, reciprocity with these individuals) provides a network that can streamline the learning and solution process for both you and them. Inherent to these mutually beneficial relationships that evolve from networking is an elevated level of trust. That trust varies based on which of its 4 tenants – sincerity, competence, reliability and care – that we regularly demonstrate. Hit on all four over an extended period of time and you have a connection that will seek you out to find answers or drop what they are doing to help. What types of people do you want part of your long term network? In addition to your current set of stakeholders, start identifying the gatekeepers, high potentials on the fast track, new leaders joining the company and subject matter experts to include in your network. Then schedule time to systematically add value and build trust with these individuals so the relationships prosper, because who knows when you’ll REALLY need their assistance next.
So your REAL reason to network is to help others learn, find solutions and build relationships. The surprising result will be that you end up with more knowledge, solutions and relationships than you could have ever imagined.