On July 21, the IWL team went to Umbaugh to present an interactive workshop to their women’s group on a topic that many people often dread… networking. Over 25 women – and yes, two amazing men – wandered into the quarterly meeting, at least partially faking their excitement to talk about something so commonly feared.
Kim Graham Lee, Interim CEO of IWL Foundation, started off by asking the audience how they would rate the importance of networking on a scale from 1-10, and then how they would rate the quality of their own network using the same scale. Everyone in the room rated the importance of networking between an 8 and a 10. However, most of the room rated the quality of their own network much lower. Then she posed the question, “Why the gap?”
Women shouted out answers like no time, being uncomfortable, not prioritizing it, and too many responsibilities for work. It was at this point that we asked them to rethink the whole concept of networking. We encouraged the group to consider it as an “opportunity to connect with purpose.” We even came up with our own IWL definition of networking to encapsulate aspects that are often overlooked.
IWL’s Definition of Networking:
Intentionally creating a set of active, mutually-beneficial relationships through the exchange of information and support that help you and others grow professionally and personally.
And who better to talk to women about this topic than Kim, who will tell anyone she meets that her network is one of her greatest assets – and something she built entirely from the ground up after moving to Indianapolis following college and knowing no one. She also credits her involvement in recent years with IWL as further expanding her network and ultimately her ability to help others and have impact.
This workshop was a collaborative effort of our whole team, and the key points we want people to get from it are:
Networking is EXTREMELY important – for your professional AND personal life.
Why do we need a network? There are so many reasons. To learn from one another. To grow personally. To get things done that we can’t do all alone. To work more effectively. To bring more fulfillment into our lives. Building relationships is a human process that gives us the support to succeed and the opportunity to help others.
Networking must be purposeful.
Approaching networking without knowing your focus limits your ability to take meaning from these interactions. The first step is looking inward and coming up with your elevator pitch. This isn’t as scary as it sounds. Spend time reflecting on your strengths, your accomplishments, and your passions as well as how you can serve others and what your goals are. This will give other people an idea of how they can more effectively help you.
The other side of being purposeful is taking the time to reach out to “more strategic contacts” you want to add to your network given your goals. You have the power to make this happen, and you don’t have to be an extrovert. These meetings can be one on one, as well as within your own company. As Kim said, “Don’t try to boil the ocean!”
You’re already doing it!
This is really the key to rethinking networking. Human beings – especially women – network all the time without thinking about it. When you ask the neighbors to water your plants while you’re on vacation, you are utilizing your network. When a coworker asks you to copy them on an email to someone they’ve never met, you are connecting dots in your network to help someone out professionally. We meet people all the time. We ask friends for help and vice versa. Every time you make a new contact, they have been added to your network. Don’t be afraid to cross over your personal and professional networks either!
This is something many women struggle with. Men might play golf with their coworkers on the weekends, while women feel like they have too many responsibilities at home. There are small steps you can take to better leverage your connecting skills. The big point here, though, is that you’re probably already better at networking than you thought! Just like the challenge presented to the Umbaugh participants, take one step in the next 30 days to connect with one individual whom you would like to have in your network.
**If you’re interested in having the IWL team present this workshop to your organization, contact Kim Graham Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn about the different types of network contacts and other tips and best practices for building important connections with purpose.