As you progress in your career, prioritizing and strategically planning the people surrounding you can make a difference in your long-term success. Being thoughtful about the people in your network, your accountability partners, your advisory team, your mentors, and the people you mentor and how frequently you connect with all these crucial players shape a network connection plan that provides an informed advantage over your peers. It can be easy to put off or deprioritize when life gets busy, but the impact is significant. The power of the company you keep can lift you in life or pull you down. You want to be mindful of the people surrounding you and how they are helping you or hindering your progress. There are many ways to create and build more valuable relationships in your professional life.
Start by Developing Your Network
Develop your network in your company, industry, or locally through employee resource groups (ERGs), volunteering, or service organizations you are passionate about. The number of opportunities is far-reaching, including:
- Join ERGs specific to a diverse group you belong to at work, ranging from a veterans group to a women’s networking group.
- Volunteer or join service organizations such as Rotary International and Rotaract, Junior League, university alum groups, sorority or fraternity alumni groups, or faith-based organizations.
- Create a particular interest group you love and invite others to join in with you.
The goal is to get to know more people, be more engaged, and build connections and trust with others. Consider how you can create a broad network of connections within your organization and externally across all career levels, including employees, middle managers, senior leaders, process owners, business partners, investors, and more. Think about people in different roles, so you seek connections who are functional leaders (such as finance, human resources, and marketing) and process leaders (order to cash, procure to pay).
When you are actively building your network, it’s understandable that you should think about tools that can help. One tool for network building is LinkedIn. With the click of a button, LinkedIn allows you to look up your ideal client, key stakeholders who could help round out an advisory team, or other industry experts. Creating a list of connection types as you search on LinkedIn is a good idea. Search on LinkedIn based on career level, functional expertise, domain or process area leadership, executive leadership ranks, industry expertise, years of experience, and more. Once you conduct more granular searches and request people to join your network, you can ask more specific questions to engage them. As a general rule, if you reach out to 10 to 12 new LinkedIn connections a week and begin to engage them, you’ll be more likely to generate conversations about business challenges and solutions that may bear fruit in business development.
Community boards and referral networks are hosted by leaders that integrate and host networks beyond the office (Mighty Networks). However, many other community owners and networkers provide collaboration spaces based on a common cause where you can build your network. You can opt to weigh in on a topic and attract supporters through the written word, reactions, and from others providing comments.
Get an Accountability Partner or Two
The value of accountability partners should always be considered. I’ve had accountability partners in all kinds of personal and professional settings. This includes someone to meet with to prepare for an important presentation, support me when working on a professional certification, or meet me socially for coffee or an exercise class. Accountability partners can significantly impact your motivation to show up and develop good habits.
Why You Need an Advisory Team
Consider creating an advisory team to help you increase your performance and easily navigate dilemmas. Advisory groups can help you by providing a point of view or industry expertise at just the right time. They can help you through critical junctures in your career, such as leading up to a significant promotion or after you move into a new role at a new level or industry. When you start planning who to ask to serve on your advisory team, think about critical people such as a former boss or manager who knows you and with whom you have a good relationship, a peer with whom you collaborate well, and people who are genuinely on your side and have your back. Also, remember industry experts or competency experts for your work area. Consider specialized experts—such as a branding strategy or positioning—who could help you fine-tune your message to be even more relevant.
You can add many different types of people, but it needs to fit the individual and their role. Overall, seek five to seven people you can count on, and have one-on-one meetings with each person. These individuals on your advisory team could be within the company you’re currently working or external. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they support you as a human being and have the expertise to help you get an edge.
In terms of what you may want to discuss with your advisors, here are a few starting points for what you might cover in a typical meeting:
- Special projects
- Current leadership roles
- Target leadership roles for future opportunities
- Thought leadership
- Professional giveback
- Mentoring relationships
- Getting advice on navigating difficult situations
Advisory teams are about accountability and ensuring you have someone to discuss a big problem with. This support will help you establish goals linked to your purpose so you’re working on matters that matter and deliver results.
Mentoring: A Circle of Support
A mentor, as defined by dictionary.com, is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher. Everyone needs mentors so they make good decisions and take actions that matter for the health of their business and professional lives. Mentorship can be an investment someone makes in you and your professional life, and you can return the favor to another colleague.
Mentoring is one of the most valuable ways you can spend time developing your network. You invest in other teammates’ growth and seek mentors to guide you. It creates a circle of support that generates positive forward momentum that yields business benefits. Make sure you are always considering who your mentors are and if you need to be in touch with others who will help you grow. In parallel, consider who you are mentoring personally and if there is anyone else you could support in growth. Additionally, if others see you are actively involved in both sides of the mentoring process, they will be more likely to support growth and learning opportunities.
Staying In Touch
Make it a habit to contact people in your network for regular conversations. Setting regular meetings with key people in your network makes a huge difference in building the foundation of your relationship. Some people may need to prioritize this monthly; for others, it may be bi-monthly or somewhere in between. For example, some managers in matrixed organizations hold one-on-one meetings with their team members every six weeks. So the frequency must fit the relationship, the work, and the business at hand.
In conclusion, be mindful of the company you keep. Surround yourself with people who lift and support you rather than hinder your progress. If you make a concerted effort to build your network and increase the support you have, it will pay dividends in no time.