By Debbi Shaffer, Director of Administration, Wray Executive Search
When I worked at the consulting firm of Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, I was in awe of Carol, the receptionist. Carol seemed to be a magician who could make pretty much anything happen, and often when The Secretary needed a miracle, it was often her he called upon. I used to joke that I would give anything to have a copy of Carol’s Rolodex. What I didn’t realize at the time was her Rolodex would have been useless to me. Why? Because she had spent years cultivating relationships with the individuals in her Rolodex. A network is so much more than a name, email address, and phone number. Carol had nurtured and grown a network that would bend over backward to help her make miracles happen. She sent birthday cards, flowers for anniversaries, emails acknowledging milestones, and hundreds of other small touches to develop relationships instead of acquaintances.
I have a plaque at home which reads, “I’m only as strong as the cocktails I drink, the hairspray I use, and the girlfriends I have.” The sentiment applies to my work life as well … I’m only as good as my network. Borrowing a page out of Carol’s playbook, I now consciously work on building relationships instead of collecting contact information.
One tip to cultivate relationships is to make notes while they are fresh in your memory. For instance:
- Having lunch with a co-worker, they comment the dessert being delivered to the next table is their favorite. Make a note in their contact file. When their next birthday rolls around, send the same dessert. They don’t recall mentioning it at lunch and are blown away you knew their favorite.
- While chatting with a client you learn they’ve gone back to school to obtain their degree and are scheduled to finish the following spring. Put a tickler on your calendar to send them an email to congratulate them on their accomplishment.
Another tip is to offer to help before you are asked. If someone in your network expresses frustration with something you know well, reach out to offer your assistance. People generally dislike asking for help but are grateful when it is offered.
People know when someone is trying to get to know them just to get something from them, so remember to be authentic and genuine when building your network. Don’t connect just to get something from a person.
Don’t have one-sided relationships. If someone has done something for you, when the opportunity arises to do something for them arises, don’t pass it up. On the flip side, if you have helped someone multiple times, but they’ve neglected to help you when they could easily have done so, you may want to think twice before assisting them if doing so will create a burden on you. We should not do favors to get favors, but we should also understand the power of “not right now”.
Make your network a priority by touching base with your contacts before you need something. If you only reach out when you need help, your connections will feel the one-sidedness of the relationships and might not be there for you one day. Maintaining a beneficial and active network takes thought, time, and creativity. If you put in the work, it will pay off.
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