I've always felt that the real title to every book I've written and most of my nationally syndicated columns is Prepare to Win. But I have a fondness for catchier titles, so for my networking book, I went with "Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty." Bottom line: Networking is all about preparing to win.
In my networking book, I wrote a chapter about people that should be in your network: doctors, travel agent, banker, insurance agent, auto mechanic, ticket broker, recruiter, community and religious leaders, real estate broker and on and on.
These are all great and musts to have - especially for me - but one of the areas I later realized that I neglected to cover is connections to cultivate inside the workplace, which are crucial to succeeding in anyone's career. After all, there's a reason we call them connections. You have to connect.
That's exactly what I did when I started my career many moons ago at Quality Park Envelope Company. My gut instinct told me that if I could figure out who I could befriend and impress with my business qualities, I would be able to move up in the organization. Sure enough, within a couple months, I moved from the plant to the sales department.
All it took was for me to do the best I could do, make sure the assistant plant manager knew it, and latch on to a guardian angel - someone who was equally eager to escape the plant and who took me with him when he wrangled his way into sales.
I was beginning to learn the finer points of internal networking. Networking is not a numbers game. The idea is not to see how many people you can meet; the idea is to compile a list of people you can count on.
This was my first exposure to what I later learned was called the sausage theory. When one link moves, the other links follow. I've seen this play out many times over the years. When one person gets a different job in an organization or jumps to a key job at another company, they often bring a lot of their co-workers with them.
Here are some of the co-workers to get to know who can help you move up:
- A best friend (or two or three). Find a few people you can count on for support and assistance. You'll be more productive knowing you've got them to talk to about work. Don't make it a one-sided relationship, of course - be available to listen and help out your friends as necessary.
- A Human Resources rep. Get to know at least one person in your HR department so you have someone to go to with questions and concerns. You'll be more comfortable discussing issues if you don't walk in only when you have a problem.
- A mentor. Seek out a senior worker in your organization to go to for career advice. Let the person know you respect his or her reputation and would value any tips he or she can share. With luck, you'll gain a sponsor who can help you move upward in your organization. I owe much of my success to my mentors.
- A rival or challenger. You're often in competition for top assignments. Instead of treating it like a battle, get to know the people with the same goals and ambitions you have. You may find common ground that will help you both succeed. Competition makes you better.
- Gatekeepers. The best way to open doors is to know gatekeepers. Get to know the people who have access to executives and senior managers, and make sure they know you. This can be very important for getting through to people who can approve your ideas and help you get ahead.
Bottom line, your career can be linked with the careers of others. As your friends and mentors move up, so can you, especially if you have been a key contributor to their promotion or success.
It doesn't matter how far down the food chain you are when you start out; networking can pay off big time. It isn't where you start. It's where you finish that counts.
Just remember, there are no dead-end jobs. If you build a network, you will have a bridge to wherever you want to go.
Mackay's Moral: Working your way up is much easier if you're networking your way up.