Cultivating a Responsive Network Using a Project Management Approach

By Executive coaching News
Cultivating a professional network using LinkedIn

You don’t need to be a rockstar salesman to cultivate a responsive network. In fact, it’s the soft skills that will make you shine, attracting others to your likability and influence. So, to build a reliable network you first need to recognize others and show appreciation both professionally and personally. Of course, a little “elbow grease” doesn’t hurt; around thirty minutes per day of dedicated engagement should suffice. Yes, clear communication and attention to detail can produce satisfying results — new career opportunities, invitations to exclusive events, new channels to showcase your skills, etc. Additionally, cultivating your network presents a prime opportunity to display your project-management prowess. To derive the most value from your social effort, take a page from our project-management playbook and focus on people, process, and tools; and play an active role in shaping a successful future with a responsive network.    

People

Interconnectedness. Support. Opportunity. Exposure. Everyone wants it, but few know where to find it. And even fewer realize that these factors are a natural extension of a responsive network. In essence, you must work on crafting your network if you wish to experience career longevity. Crafting the right network is a crucial step for experiencing personal and professional success. Similar to the way high-performing teams function, a healthy network relies on one irreplaceable component: people — those who support each other’s values, interests, and approach to happiness. And similar to the way a successful project outcome requires clear communication, a lucrative network demands good people who are a good match for you — and you for them.

As Twitter’s Mike Davidson said while building a 100-person research and design team, “It’s all about people. It’s about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges. Your book is going to impress, but in the end it is people that are going to hire you.”

Let us remind you, in order to surround yourself with a supportive network, you must pick your people: Who you work with; who you work for — or do work for — all shape how you experience success. If you choose with intention and purpose, chances are good you will be pleased with the results in the long-run. “One of the biggest assets in anyone’s life is a generous network.” And the way we see it, a generous network is the result of attracting generous people. As we have said from the beginning,

“The right people for the right projects, that’s talent management, having the right people to lead these projects, that’s project management.”

Your network is no different. The right people for the right community — that’s networking. However, there is one caveat to consider… Often, the most beneficial action involves directly helping others rather than yourself, serving as the connector rather than the connection. But don’t worry, eventually the gratitude comes full circle. As American Express advised with their “7 Ways to Build a Strong Network,” if you can, always try to give before you receive. Not only is this unexpected behavior, it influences people to put an asterix by your name, giving you the edge when your time comes to ask for assistance. So, moving forward, think: win-win rather than immediate gratification. Create a winning outcome for someone else (expected or not) and improve the likelihood you will experience a win when it’s most needed.

Most importantly, by picking your people you are inevitably emphasizing quality over quantity and will attract others who share this mindset. Whether it’s perceived as authentic or real, approach your networking with an honest valuation of the people component; be purposeful and understand that the health of your network has more to do with communicating with others rather than caring for yourself.

Process

Building on our project management frame of reference, establishing — and adhering to — a process enables you to more effectively cultivate a responsive network. Organization, time management, and clear communication is attainable when you answer the ‘who,’ ‘why,’ and ‘how’ of your networking activities.

Who do you want in your network?

What value do you offer them? — and them, me?

And…

How do I network with the right people?

This is the purpose of adopting a process; no longer will you use the excuse “there isn’t enough time in the day to actively network.” Most importantly, establishing a process will provide clarity and reduce the stress associated with investing in long-term growth tactics.

Do you ever reflect upon your busiest days and think: when will my hard work pay off? Well, answers will vary but one thing is for certain: having a strong, supportive network can absolutely empower you to reach your goals in a shorter amount of time.

No different than farming, cultivating your personal and professional network requires resources. The more you have available, the faster your network will grow and the healthier it will be — like a prize-winning pumpkin at the county fair, everyone will appreciate and want to know more about your experience — the how-did-you-do-that mindset. It’s a sign of a winning process.

To understand why a process is needed, let’s reference the work of a project manager (PM). In order for a PM to “see” the fruits of their labor they need to thoroughly understand the business objectives at stake i.e., how will this project impact the organization and all stakeholders involved (customers, shareholders, and the team). So, although getting the job done is still a true indicator of project-management performance, it must be balanced with an understanding of business objectives if a project manager wishes to perform and experience long-term success. With this knowledge in hand, why not refer to yourself as a PM of network cultivation. Before you know it, you just might begin benchmarking your growth performance like it’s your job…  

Now, about that process… let’s outline what it might look like for you.

First off, what works for you may not work for your friend or co-worker; therefore, it’s important to adopt a process that’s enjoyable and do-able. (Trial and error is recommended.) If you’re just getting started, asking others how they began building their network — simply by sharing a post using our favorite tool (hint: we will discuss this next) — can be most effective. Responses from network members will provide initial knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. However, once you get the hang of your tools it’s time to add structure to your efforts. A plan that fits your schedule and delivers measurable change over time.

Moving forward — using our preferred tool mentioned below, think:

Search → Discover → Connect

Now, think about how you would interact with a brand or employee from a company you worked for — or interviewed with. How would you align yourself with this person or group?

First you might search for the company or specific employees. Doing so will reveal profiles relevant employees or even better, people you already know at the company. You may even discover open positions or future work opportunities. Lastly, connect with the people and companies that align with your interests. Of course, this can be initiated with a personal note or simple connection request; it can also lead to so much more — did someone say coffee meeting? we’re in! And remember, every time you gain a meaningful connection (a person who you share value with and vice versa), your network grows.

Using our search, discover and connect process, you might consider how executing these small actions on a daily basis can lead to desirable change. Especially using LinkedIn, the results will offer a plethora of valuable additions to your network, not to mention access to events and educational opportunities. Finally, this easy-to-use process also applies to effectively reviewing your news feed on a daily basis, looking for interesting stories or posts pertaining to your current goals: Search/scan posts for relevancy, discover valuable content, and connect with the people and/or companies that fit with your network. Then capitalize on the opportunities you uncover.

Tools 

Many would agree that LinkedIn is currently the “tool of all tools” for building a network. It’s accessible, easy to use, and provides both short and long-term results. Offering both active and passive forms of participation (yes, your digital profile is still “live” even when you’re not physically interacting with your connections), users are free to search, connect, and even promote to a potential audience. Not to mention, LinkedIn also encourages you to create content for your connections, further elevating the idea of someone having thought-leadership.

Most important to our discussion, LinkedIn rewards consistent engagement, meaning the more process oriented you become — adding value to your current connections and interest groups through sharing useful information — the more people (potential contacts) you are likely to reach and eventually introduce into your growing, diverse collection of professionals. Of course, as a technology tool, change occurs rapidly; therefore, it’s critical to actively interact with your network, whether it’s part of the morning coffee routine or the evening recap on the day. And what might be the most motivating aspect of creating a process for LinkedIn participation, every previous and current co-worker, colleague, business partner, acquaintance or staff member is a potentially new connection. See, your network is already larger than you imagined.

Symbolic of useful digital tools, your LinkedIn network is always “there for you,” safely stored in a device or computer, meaning you can engage with people at your convenience — 24/7. If you need to reference a job posting — it’s there; view a person’s profile — it’s there; or publish a your latest article — it’s there!

Last but certainly not least, Linkedin was meant for process.

Think people. Think companies. Think content. And remember to search, discover, and connect.

Go ahead: Every day for the next month follow these three simple steps. Make it a routine and share your process with others. We are confident your network will grow. Therefore, you will too.