By: Martin Haider, Managing Partner
A senior executive recently contacted me for networking advice. I receive calls like this frequently and they are typically predicated by someone motivated to begin a job search or to obtain a board position. Interestingly, in this case the executive who called me explained that his CEO had mandated that he improve his proactive networking efforts. It seems that the CEO had just returned from a planning meeting with the C-suite team where it came up that two critical positions were expected to be vacant in the near term and that neither role had a viable internal candidate. The CEO was rightly troubled by this news, but was more concerned that no one in the room could think of an external candidate they would recommend for either role. From the CEOs point of view, this gap suggested two systemic issues: first, the leadership team should be prioritizing the development of internal successors for next level opportunities, and second, the busy, tenured team seemed to have lost connection with the talent pool outside of their organization.
It’s a given that promoting leaders from within will mostly likely yield the best long-term performance in your organization. It’s also arguable that the next best candidate will be an internal referral. That said, most companies will at some point need to hire a leadership level position externally. The question is, what are YOU doing to create relationships now with top talent in your industry so that you are prepared? My advice to this executive was firm and unwavering. You MUST make time to actively network. If nothing else, it keeps you fresh through an exchange of ideas and innovations with rising talent in your field. Recommending a future star in your organization also provides a forward thinking example of your leadership and commitment to your firm’s success. Strong leaders are well prepared and well networked.
A trend that we are seeing more of in our work at Leading Principals is engaging with our clients to provide networking services. For this organization, we were able to identify a targeted group of high achievers for both of their at risk positions and we facilitated introductions well in advance of launching a formal search. The best professionals are strong networkers and often respond well to casual dialogues not tied directly to an immediate opportunity.
Finding time to network is often the biggest challenge. Whether you are networking for a personal career change, to improve your industry knowledge, or to identify potential candidates for a future position in your organization, there are ways to incorporate it into your schedule without it becoming a part-time job itself.
- Start with your first-degree network. The people you know who are making strides in their fields and whom you trust. They can help recommend worthy targets to contact.
- Leverage your internal business partners. Work with your HR/Talent teams to broaden your network of high achievers (including those outside of your organization).
- Maintain contact with former colleagues. When appropriate, offer to introduce existing members of your team to others in your network. Reconnect with former co-workers from previous employers. You’ll be surprised to learn how your former peers’ careers have taken shape and by who they know that you should know.
- Mentor junior professionals in your field. Connect with one or two rising stars and have lunch with them twice a year. The “pay it forward” concept works both ways.
- Participate in a professional association. Attend at least one event a year. Your minimal investment of time can pay huge dividends for your career.
- Take that call! Make yourself available on occasion to talk with someone who has reached out to get acquainted. Keep it brief, but share your experience and learn about theirs. You’ll probably learn something and will keep your networking skills honed.
- Keep it brief. Skip the time consuming lunches and commit to meeting someone in your network once a month for 30 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about someone when there is not a job, product or contract on the line.