Abstract: This is the first article in a new series about critical success skills you did not learn in school. This article focuses on the importance of developing a robust networking system and process to facilitate personal and career advancement objectives.
Why do otherwise credible Universities intentionally fail or refuse to teach some of the most valuable practical executive skills? What do you need to learn that you missed in school? While it is difficult to choose a winner, I would say that networking is the most important and, potentially, one of the most under-practiced business skills. My reason for saying this is that, without successful networking, you may never realize an opportunity to practice other skills I discuss in these articles.
Networking is formalization of the process of keeping up with people and companies that are important to you. The sentinel book on this topic is “Swim with the Sharks without being Eaten Alive” by Harvey Mackay, 2009. Harvey’s book is as relevant today as the day it was published. The first time I departed an organization on short notice, I did not have a single contact recorded. I had no idea what to do first to launch the next phase of my career.
After about a week of floundering, I had a stack of over 50 sheets of paper with contact information and notes from calls that were getting out of control. I was forced to develop my first networking database to manage the growing trove of invaluable information I was gathering. Fortunately, one of the things I did learn in undergraduate school was database programming. Today, we have Outlook for the Windows platform and Daylite for the Mac OS platform to support network management. Struggling with the very lonely, emotional, demoralizing, and challenging task of hustling a job gave me religion about networking. I lost over a month getting my act together. I resolved that if this were to ever happen to me again, I would have an extensive database of information on people and firms that might help solve any of the many problems and challenges I face daily, whether I am looking for a job or not. I have been at this for over 25 years now. My networking database has over 3,900 contacts and 3,200 companies. Among other things, I have notes detailing most of my interactions with these contacts going back years so I know how fresh or stale the contracts are. I consider this database to be my most valuable possession. It is irreplaceable. I spend several hours every week cleaning, honing, capturing new data and revising information in my database. Virtually every business-related activity results in the acquisition of new data or refining existing data in my database.
Sadly, it is too commonplace to receive a call from a newly terminated executive. I am beyond being surprised when they ask me for contact information of people they have known for years. More than once, a senior executive has confided that they have no formal contact database other than what might be on their phone. How does this happen? They make zero effort investing in their ability to sustain themselves; then, they find themselves as I was, hapless and hopeless when they land on the street. Like me, in the beginning, they are at square zero. If you do not regularly invest in sustaining key business and personal relationships, you should not be surprised to learn that many of your calls will not be returned after you are out and that your networking ramp-up process will take much longer than you anticipated. If you receive outplacement services, one of the things you will be taught is how to network. My question is, why would you intentionally harm yourself by waiting until you get fired to start developing this skill?
I STRONGLY recommend that you keep your personal network to yourself. NEVER place your contact data on a corporate system or device. For one thing, if your database is like mine, it contains personal and professional information. If your networking database is on a corporate system and you get fired, good luck getting it back. If you are involved with marketing or consulting, you can rest assured that your prior employer will exploit your contact file long after you are gone. This is one of the many reasons I decline a corporate telephone. I will not allow a corporate entity to have access to or control of my telephone. Many of those that I know that have made this mistake awaken the day after their termination to learn that their employer has erased and locked their electronic devices. If you grant corporate access to your personal devices, you may have no ability to exercise control over what is done to them. In other words, you cannot restrict a corporation from retrieving and or erasing just its data. The only thing it can do is erase your entire device. If your database is backed up to a cloud-based service linked to the device, your backups will likely be erased before you can get to them.
You conduct networking with a contact file. I prefer a customer relationship manager or CRM application. For MAC devices, the app of choice is Daylite by Market Circle. It syncs across all of my devices, and most PC based capability is available on my IOS devices. Daylite synchronizes with the IOS contact app to support phone dialing and call recognition. There used to be an app called BCM or Business Contact Manager, an Outlook add-on on the Microsoft platform. This app was hard to use because it placed so much overhead on the PC that it became too slow. Microsoft has a product called Dynamics that was initially designed to run on commercial servers. I believe Dynamics has since been moved to the cloud to compete with the king of cloud-based CRM systems, SalesForce.
Why is a CRM solution preferable to a simple, flat contact file? With a contact file, all you have is a virtual index card file. A CRM is a relational database. With a CRM, you create companies independently of individuals. Then you can link multiple individuals to the same company or move individuals from one company to the other as their career progresses without losing track of their history. I have followed some of my contacts through multiple employments over decades. Among the many features of a CRM, unlimited notes of contacts, meetings, attachments, and the like can be created. These notes support attachments of any kind and can be associated with multiple contacts or companies. Having notes improves your ability to document networking activity and to have critical data at hand. For example, people send me their CVs, and I put them into my database. I can be across the country when someone comes up in a discussion, and I can produce their CV from my cellphone in a matter of seconds. More than once, this has led to the person getting a gig. I could go on with this, but hopefully, I have convinced you that CRM is the way to go.
How do you network? For me, it includes things like updating my contacts every time I receive new it also involves regular, disciplined follow up with contacts and revision of important information. You never know when vital information will be needed. If there is sufficient feedback and support, I will produce an article that addresses more specific networking techniques that I have found especially helpful.
Contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these articles, leadership, transitions, or interim services. I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you. An observation from my experience is that we need better leadership at every level in organizations. Some of my feedback comes from people who are demonstrating interest in advancing their careers and writing content to address those inquiries.
The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower. You will be notified of all updates as they occur. To become a follower, click the “Following” bubble that usually appears near each web page’s bottom.
I encourage you to use the comment section at the bottom of each article to provide feedback and stimulate discussion. I welcome input and feedback that will help me to improve the quality and relevance of this work.
This article is an original work. I copyright this material with reproduction prohibited without attribution. I note and provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material. If you choose to link any of my articles, I’d appreciate a notification.
If you would like to discuss any of this content, provide private feedback or ask questions, I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.