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Networking from the Inside

June 8, 2010

   Do you think internal networking is for those with too much free time, or for those who just need “face time”?  Not so, and here’s why.  It’s a critical skill for those vying to help others, the company, and ultimately themselves.

What if you were just told that the end of the month was it for you?  Your long-term position just became short-term due to program funding issues.  It’s got nothing to do with your personal performance, but you’re still being released.  Besides that sinking feeling in your throat, what do you think you should do next?  You could start looking while you still have a job, but why not try networking from the inside for perhaps another position within the company?  This just happened to a friend of mine, so this discussion is very relative.  [tweetmeme source=”@Aidan_Foley” only_single=false]

I would like though, to steer this dialogue as if you weren’t being let go at the end of the month.  After all, once on the inside, networking should be part of your job function, because as we all know, nothing lasts forever.  People who “play politics” in a positive way are considered to be networking.  Because I spend a lot of time brainstorming, and giving ideas on networking, I’d like to offer a new perspective on the topic.

 

The 2 Types of Networking – External & Internal
If you are in Sales, or are job seeking (you’re still in Sales – Yourself), then it’s a no-brainer:  networking should play a key part in your outreach strategy.  But, since you are still on the inside, why not try networking from the inside?  Others would simply “kill” to be where you’re at.  Everyone is looking for inside connections, so they can set up informational interviews, and you have them at every turn.  May as well exploit such a scenario, if possible.

Even if your job rarely requires you to interact outside your company walls, you still need to 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 above, and beyond your normal scope of your normal 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.  It would be better to do so before you got the head’s up at month’s end, but now you must make the best of it.

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 2 types of networking.

 

What Makes Internal Networking 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 routine.

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, playing politics, or as I like to call it “face time.”

The difference about positive office politics is that effective internal networker are those who are always going for the win-win scenario.  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 suck-ups,” then the tips I’ve outlined below won’t help you.  Believe me, I’ve been there.  Even at my last place, we use to call this one Manufacturing Engineer “Madam Butterfly” because of his apparent lack of getting anything done, but very eager to do the “face time” just to get ahead.  I guess he’s on to something though … because he’s still there.  🙂

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 too.  In the right frame of mind now?  Great!  Now, here’s are some ideas:

  • Have a better-than-average relationship with your boss?  Ask him (or her) to give you a few ideas on other leaders who you should get to know in the company.  They may be set back by the question, at first.  The purpose though would be to broaden your business acumen, and learn from another really good 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.
  • 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 2-3 people.  If you’re not comfortable inviting them to meet, find a person who knows both of you, and ask him or her to make an introduction.  Arrange to have a coffee, lunch, or dinner with the purpose of getting to know what you both do for your jobs.
  • When people are promoted, receive an award, or otherwise achieve something, send out a congratulations.  A quick congratulatory e-mail 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 society.
  • Have you ever 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 two-minute recap of their role, and how they contribute to the team’s efforts.  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.
  • 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 “Madam Butterfly.”  🙂  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.

How do you network at your workplace?  I’d love to hear what worked well for you.  Thanks!

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