Networking is one of those topics where the name may stand in the way of implementation. “Networking” sounds so cheesy and transactional. In my commencement speech, I do a little riff talking about “networking” in the funny voice that I’m ascribing to people giving career advice. It’s kind of like “plastics” that way.
Of course, the bad connotations people have for the word itself don’t change the fact that people are, in general, a good use of time. It doesn’t change that anything big you want to accomplish professionally will probably involve other people. And it doesn’t change that you need to meet these people and build relationships with them.
Shutting yourself in your office and working through lunch is not actually productive. True, people have daycare pick-ups to make, and others do not want to do the “split shift.” But lunch can be great for getting to know your colleagues in a relaxed way. Various management research has found that a lot of information in companies is transmitted informally, which is a fancy way for saying in the cafeteria or in the diner nearby that everyone goes to. I’m not saying eat lunch with people daily but…sometimes?
Working parents can do happy hours. This is not an either/or thing. Going out to drinks with your team some night does not make you a bad parent. Unless you’re the guy already going to the bar with his mates for 3 hours after work every night, you can probably go out sometimes, and still wind up being home a lot.
Go to conferences. Yes, the panels are sometimes pointless. Yes, any food served to 250 people is not going to be awesome. But professional conferences are a great way to cement ties with people you only see occasionally. A side note: Sarah discussed the phenomenon of people bringing their families to conferences. Handle with care. These can be great opportunities to immerse yourself in professional connections, so you want to make sure that whoever else is with your kids (spouse/partner/caregiver) is cool with you deciding last minute to do a dinner…because that’s kind of the point of being at the conference. If you want to be sure to have family time in your destination, come a day or two early or stay a day or two after.
Use electronic means. We cited Molly Beck’s new book/method, Reach Out, as a very doable way to network. Send one email a day to someone you want to reconnect with, or met recently, or that a friend/colleague said you should get to know. It’s very simple, but the discipline of doing this daily builds a powerful network over time.
I’d love more suggestions. How do you invest in the “soft side” of work, given your family responsibilities? How do you meet people inside and outside your organization? How do you keep your network strong over time?