Navigating the Company’s Social Network

The explosion of social networking sights have accelerated the interaction of forgotten friends, long lost loves as well as key business contacts from former work experiences.  While this later group may be the most valuable network for out of work professionals, savvy business leaders know there is a much more important network to stay connected with when you’re managing projects.  Your internal company network is the life blood of your continued project successes in addition to being a source for career security.

The migration of thousands of corporations towards project oriented operating structures has facilitated the need for a more sophisticated strategy for staying in touch with key individuals across the company.  One strength of the old functional (aka “siloed”) structure was that it’s relatively easy to find critical resources when you needed them most.  Marketing analysis or a specialized software design skill set needed?  No problem, just send the request up the chain of command and the best person available would be allocated by functional manager (after the usually political wrangling occurred).  But working in a virtual environment managed by complex matrixed reporting structure has changed everything.  What expertise exists within the company?  Where do key people reside?  Who do they report to?  How many projects are they allocated to today?  Stop relying on the organization to manage these interactions and take the responsibility for building your dynamic internal network as one of your most important tasks.

The project manager’s role centers on their ability to manage risks – the urgency of the moment, the anxiety of the unknown and the unpredictability of individuals.  Solutions to all these issues reside within the company’s network that you can tap into, but only if you know how.  Expedited shipping happens faster when the dock manager owes you a favor.  Influencing the executive’s funding decision is easier when the executive assistant gives you some insider information.  Solving a critical path crisis happens faster when you know who the experts are and how to get them to push your project to the top of the priority list.  Your future promotion will also benefit from positive feedback from a wide assortment of leaders across the organization or it can mean the end when layoffs discussions include “Who’s that person?” when your name is mentioned.

No time to build a network?  Yea, we know you’re busy, but this excuse doesn’t hold water when you know that the network you develop will have profound impact on your project and career success.  Often this is a smoke screen to hide the real fact that you feel uncomfortable initiating connections with new people. If you were good at it, you would have gone into marketing, right?  Research says that only one in ten people are actually comfortable in striking up a relationship with a complete stranger.  Despite the fact that you both work in the same company, it can feel that awkward reaching out because we build up those “worst case scenarios” on why this outreach effort won’t work for you anyway.  Ask yourself how YOU would feel if someone knocked on your office door one day to request coffee conversation to meet another one of the influential leaders in the company.  Flattered?  Yes you would be, so hold that picture in your mind as you start expanding your internal network.

Unfortunately, the days of the Friday afternoon kegger are a distant memory, so you’ll have to get more strategic when building your network. Here are a few ideas on how to get started…

  1. Start by mapping the key departments, areas of expertise and influential leaders that you’d like to include in your network.  Prioritize the list and start scheduling time in your calendar to connect.
  2. Ask for introductions to meet individuals you don’t know until you get the courage to accelerate the process on your own.  Get preliminary insights on individuals before you meet to accelerate the connection process which will maximize the ROI for both of you.
  3. Plan to leverage all-hands meetings, company picnics and lunch at the company cafeteria as networking opportunities to meet diverse individuals and seek out executive level conversations.
  4. Ask thoughtful questions to understand their areas of expertise and interest in addition to current challenges that you might be able to assist in solving.  Seek out areas that you have in common as a way to strengthen the relationship and make it easier to follow-up.
  5. Follow up periodically to provide value adding information, connections or ideas based on their needs or areas of interest.  This “investment” will pay off when your project needs it the most!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the accelerated growth trend that networking represents globally.  Your strong internal network will significantly increase your odds of project and career success over the next 10 years, translating into hundreds of “fans” of your professional body of knowledge.  Looking forward, just imagine when that network extends beyond the boundaries of your company, city and profession.  Those small consistent investments of time to develop new relationships could make your network the most valuable professional asset you possess.

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