Top Strategies That Will Strengthen Your Professional Network
Do you find yourself lacking power within your organization? Do people who own accessibility and influence often drown out your ideas to people in power? Welcome to the real world in 2018. The workplace rarely provides a level playing field for competing ideas and it tips towards those who have put in the time and effort to network within upper management.
Not every company operates this way. Mike Ghaffary, the VP of Business Development at Yelp! sets time aside specifically for outsiders to get a piece of him every week. That type of openness is admirable, but rarely seen in other organizations. In many companies—especially large corporations—you are fighting the hierarchy to be heard.
One way to level the playing field of influence is to develop a network of support. It’s easy for a lone employee who lacks power to be ignored or discounted; it is much harder to ignore someone who enjoys the support of many in the organization.
Turn yourself into a player by networking the right way
The thing many individuals miss is the fact that you will enhance your influence by building a supportive network. Whether people recognize it or not, just about everyone in a workplace participates in a network.
- Those who can bail you out when you’re in a jam, such as the warehouse manager you always call when a replacement part has to get rushed over to your company’s biggest client ASAP
- People with whom you collaborate and share information. For example, the cross-departmental group that informally meets for happy hour every other Wednesday to toss around ideas for making work processes easier.
- Those you’re simply friendly with for any reason. Just like the woman in the marketing department who belongs to the same sorority as you did in college.
- Colleagues who depend on you to make them look good. Like the color-blind co-worker you adore working with who can’t create an interesting PowerPoint presentation to save his life and relies on you to effortlessly produce dazzling—and colorful—slides for him. You don’t mind doing it because he is the best at proofreading and editing the reports you write and makes YOU look even better.
- Finally, the people with whom you share important workplace goals, such as the six colleagues on your product development team
These relationships will not be on an official organization chart. That chart indicates official reporting relationships. Your network is unofficial, unmapped and held together by mutual needs and personal bonds. It operates in the spaces between the tidy chart boxes. Your personal network should include people at every level of your company.
How much does your network contribute to your influence?
- Are influencers on their own
- Are known as contributors to key organizational goals
- Have expertise and understanding valued by management
- Are trustworthy (otherwise, they shouldn’t be in your network)
- Are supportive of you and your ideas
- Have access to decision makers
The more your network reflects these qualities, the greater its potential contribution to your personal influence. Obtaining standing in a network with these qualities requires effort on your part.
You have to work at it and grab it by:
- Being trustworthy and reliable in your dealings with others
- Providing support and doing favors for network members when asked
- Returning the favors done for you
- Contributing ideas and leadership
- Working with others toward shared goals
A network like the one I have described above has no limit on member numbers, nor is it limited to particular departments or operating units. However, as an instrument of your influence, it will ideally extend into every area of the organization where you’d like to have an impact, and from which you’d like to gather information and support.
Always be on the lookout for new members for your network. Use social media to find them. Definitely use LinkedIn® and its groups. Befriend the summer interns and learn from them. Introduce yourself to newly hired managers, vice presidents and directors. Find ways to help them be more successful in their work. Share your ideas and gain their support. If you do this consciously over time, you will build personal influence and an army of support.