Growing Within Your Company:
Dragonflies and Pelicans
Id like to network with you. How do you feel when someone says that to you? After surveying a countless number of professionals in my seminars, I see the same reaction: they cringe. People dont like the concept of being networked with. Theres an implication of being used, of being put on the spot, of being asked for names when youre not sure that you want to share any.
Although we all realize networking is important, we have an instinctive reaction against it when were on the receiving end. How do we change that reaction so that both teams want to play ball, especially when youre the one who is seeking new information or relationships? Theres a tactic and a strategy to encourage others to open up to you, then you can start developing your dragonflies and pelicans.
Networks that Last: Dragonflies and Pelicans
The tactic and the strategy that encourage others to open up, i.e. network, are straightforward, but have a lot of planning behind them to get it right. To get started with the tactic, however, simply dont use the word network. Dont use the word and you dont get the immediate, knee-jerk response. Well use the word network here as shorthand, but its when youre talking to others that you downplay it. Concepts like pick your brain, cup of coffee, and trade ideas all are more effective, but they require you to think through the strategy first.
The strategy is: start by helping. What can you do to help the person with whom youd like to network? Helping others with their work and their lives not only makes them want to help you in return, but it is also satisfying and sincere, a much more effective approach that gets people to return calls and pursue you instead of your pursuing them. (Read the Network as the Norm chapter in The New Job Security for details and examples.) Whats not to like?
As you start building relationships that are part of your career network, youll find that they fit into two categories: dragonflies or pelicans. Dr. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, defines them as long term, high-reciprocity ties, and short-term, instrumental ties. You need both for a strong network.
Before we identify your pelicans and dragonflies, lets get on the same page about the values behind career networking. Wayne Baker, in his book, Achieving Success through Social Capital (Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2000), could not have said it better. If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we wont succeed. We cant pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships. Networking is never about using people. Rookies or people you dont want to hang around may take that approach, but your approach is more honorable: youre taking the risk of helping first, without a guarantee of any return. Since you cant help everyone in the world equally, you have to decide where to spend your time, just like you do when youre developing any friendship.
Now, to the pelicans. Have you ever seen a pelican flying over the surface of the water searching for its next meal? When it spots its target, bam! This bird intuitively makes an immediate nosedive (or is it a beakdive?) into the water. It goes deep, disappearing quickly. Just as you think its going to drown, the pelican surfaces with a giant fish in its bill. Mission accomplished. Youll want to be a pelican with many parts of your network. Youll want to dive deeply, immersing yourself in your element. Delving deeply into your profession or industry to learn from the experts enables you to become and
Contrast the pelicans style with the dragonfly. The dragonfly rarely slows down. It constantly skims over the waters surface, touching down briefly then off again, moving continually from reed to water to a piece of driftwood then away. Staying on the surface when youre building a network gives you a sense of momentum. These short-term, instrumental ties are perfect as you start a new job, as youre learning new skills and take on new responsibilities, and, to a lesser extent, during your long term career. How else do you find out that shipments arent going out of the loading dock like they were last quarter? How else do you know that another company is going to outsource the payroll work that youd like to bid on? Short-term, instrumental ties can feed you ongoing, real-time information.
Although keeping that wide-angle view of whats going on in the marketplace is valuable, you also need the in-depth knowledge of your targeted industries and your profession. Use your networking abilities to network down and into your specialties as well as across the marketplace in general. If you stay too broad, you wont have the expertise in any one to two areas that people are looking for. Targeted industry insights will sell you and build your reputation. Youll know what the needs are, which companies are hot, who the movers and shakers are, what the right vocabulary is if youre changing industries, and maybe even the names of some potential customers for them. Youve come up with the big fish.
About the author
Pam Lassiter is the author of "The New Job Security," a Wall Street Journal, careerjournal.com Award Winning Book, and principal of Lassiter Consulting, which provides senior-level outplacement and retention services to companies and executives internationally. Pam hosted ExecuNet's New England regional networking meetings for 12 years and makes appearances on national television and radio programs. Her articles on career management appear in human resource and business publications including Fast Company, Fortune, The Financial Times, Bloomberg radio, and CFO.