Today’s guest post, the first in the Playing Office Politics series, is by Jennifer V. Miller, the Managing Partner of SkillSource, a training and consulting company that helps emerging leaders “master the people equation”. Her experience as a human resources generalist, training facilitator and corporate manager helps her develop the “people side” of those who want to maximize their influence. Connect with Jennifer at The People Equation blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
One of the four behaviors resident in people who “play politics” in a positive way (as identified by researchers at the University of Florida) is networking.
Because I spend a lot of time giving keynotes on the topic of networking, Jane reached out to me for my perspective on the topic.
2 types of networking
If you are in sales, or are job seeking, then it’s a no-brainer: networking should play a key part in your outreach strategy. Connection-making if this sort is external networking. See my blog posts here and here for tips on how to network outside your organization.
Even if your job rarely requires you to interact outside your company walls, you still need know how to network. That’s where internal networking comes into play. Internal networking is when you reach out to colleagues within your organization, even if your job doesn’t require you to do so. It’s going beyond your normal scope of job responsibilities. Being an internal networker means you are looking outside your immediate, day-to-day activities and thinking about how you can connect with and create value for others in your company.
Many of the same principles apply for both external and internal networking, but there’s a nuance to the internal process that’s unique. Let’s explore why it’s important to distinguish between the two types of networking.
Why internal networking is different
It comes down to mindset: people have expectations about what various job roles “should” be. For example, people expect outside sales reps and job seekers to be making phone calls and attending industry functions. It’s seen as a required part of their daily work.
With internal networking, however, the mindset shifts. People are a bit more leery of employees and leaders who seek connections beyond their daily scope. These activities are often perceived as “sucking up” or “playing politics”.
The differentiator, as Jane points out in her introduction to positive office politics is that effective internal networkers are those who are always going for the win-win. They create connections because they believe that reaching out to others will help all involved, including the company.
How can I improve my internal networking?
The first thing you need to do is a quick mental audit: what’s my mindset on internal networking?
If you’re still stuck in the mentality of “networking is for kiss-ups” then the tips below won’t help. Take a moment and remember a time when you successfully made a connection beyond your department boundaries. Think about how you benefitted and the other person did too. In the right frame of mind now?
5 ideas for networking “inside” the walls
Here are some ideas:
1) Have a decent relationship with your boss? Ask her (or him) to give you a few ideas on other leaders who you should get to know in the company. The purpose would be to broaden your business acumen and learn from another leader in the company. Who knows, maybe it will turn into an informal mentoring situation. Plus, it helps to know other business unit leaders if you want to switch job functions in the future.
2) Make a list of key players in your organization that you would like to get to know. It’s OK if the list has only 3 people. If you’re not comfortable inviting them to meet, find a person who knows both of you and ask person to make an introduction. Arrange to have a coffee break or lunch with the purpose of getting to know what you both do for your jobs.
3) When people are promoted, receive an award, or otherwise achieve something, send congratulations. A quick congratulatory email to someone (even if you don’t know them well) will go a long way towards showing that you are paying attention beyond your cubicle’s four walls.
4) Been assigned to a cross-functional project team? If you’re unfamiliar with the work of the project team members, suggest that one of the initial project team meetings be an “infomercial” of sorts. Have each team member do a 2 minute recap of their role back at their desk. Not only will you learn more about your project team members, you’ll also quickly gather data that may head off miscommunications or misperceptions for the project.
5) Talk up other people’s accomplishments. When in department meetings, be sure to praise other teammates’ wins. Do the same for people in other departments who have helped you out. Word will spread that you’re a team player, one who’s not afraid to share credit.
Networking inside your company’s walls does not mean that you’ll garner a reputation for being a gamer. Rather, if you keep others’ interests in mind, you will be seen as someone who’s willing to lend a hand.
The well-connected person creates value for all.