For home cooks, there is perhaps no greater guidebook than Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
She makes French cuisine easy to understand, breaking down each step to make you think that you, too, can quickly throw together cassoulet.
For us in the business world, we need something a little more tailored to our needs – more along the lines of “Mastering the Art of Networking.”
Networking has become an essential skill for personal and professional growth. Whether you want to advance your career, foster meaningful personal relationships or expand your knowledge base, being able to network effectively can open doors to endless opportunities.
And I know, because it’s happened for me.
Where Julia Child opened the door for the average person at home to make a complicated dish like beef bourguignon, I’ve found keys over the years that have helped myself and my peers make absolutely vital networking connections, helping to develop great professional relationships.
This also helped me lean into my authentic self – something I emphasize throughout all of my work.
When networking, it’s important to remember that it is an ART:
A – Approach with Authenticity: Focus first on your approach and the impression you want to make. Share your authentic self.
R – Relationship Building: Networking is all about forging and nurturing relationships. People want to make a connection with you. They don’t need a data dump of your personal stats; they want to see your personality shine through.
T – Tracking: If networking is about building relationships, then it also has to be about keeping them strong and effective. Tracking and following up is the foundation on which you build that strong relationship.
Let’s get into it.
APPROACH WITH AUTHENTICITY
I want to start by telling you about something that happened when I worked for a Fortune 500 health care company.
I was new in my role, and I’d been assigned a very high-scope project: Improving retention of nurses who were transitioning to front-line leaders.
This was a major initiative for the company, and I was invited to present my progress to the chief operating officer, who was the executive sponsor for my work. We were ready to start sending out internal communications about the project, and he needed to be looped in.
Now, remember: I was still new at this time. I wanted to make a great impression as I had to present this really big project to a member of the C-suite.
Already a stickler for time, I went to the meeting room super early to make sure my computer was set up and all of the technology was working for my presentation. I made sure I had bottled water and I was ready to go.
If you know me, you also probably expect that I had my Airpods in and I had myself a little dance session to loosen up. Only I could hear the music, but it helped me to ground myself and feel good going into the conversation. I knew what my approach would be to make this strong first impression with the COO.
Two minutes before the meeting began, someone who I didn’t know walked into the meeting room and sat down.
“I’m never here before anyone else,” he said, adding that his previous meeting had ended early. “This never happens.”
The way he said it so casually, how he felt like he just won this victory of getting to the presentation on time, instantly set me at ease. As I sat down next to him, he opened up a pack of trail mix and asked who I was, and why I looked so nervous.
“I’m a little nervous because this is my first time presenting in front of the COO,” I said.
But here’s the thing: As I said this, without even thinking, I reached my hand into this man’s trail mix. I asked permission as I did it, and he said yes. But looking back I realize that he made me feel so comfortable that I just made myself right at home.
He asked me what about the COO made me nervous, and I said that I tended to get caught up in titles, in part because of my background and being raised to respect my elders.
As he tried to set me at ease, I was all up in this man’s trail mix. We were shoulder-to-shoulder, having a good time, snacking away, when the rest of the meeting attendees rolled in.
The COO came in and the meeting started with introductions.
That’s when I found out that the man with the trail mix – was an EVP who reported directly to the COO.
While I was all caught up in my head about making a great first impression with the COO, I made a great first impression with the EVP who influences the COO, because I was being my authentic self.
While I worked on that initiative for the Fortune 500 company, I ran into a conundrum: I knew the problem I was solving for. I knew who I was serving.
I didn’t have a mission statement I felt comfortable with.
If I got caught in an elevator with someone, how would I articulate my work to pique their curiosity?
Well, sometimes the thing you put off is the thing you should have done yesterday.
I put my mission statement on the back burner and kept working on the project.
About six months into my role, I found myself getting onto the elevator with – insert dramatic music here – the CEO.
I was a little excited, and said hello. But there were several other people in the elevator with us, so I felt like I had a little buffer as the elevator rose.
When we got to the 10th floor, literally everyone got off of the elevator except for the CEO and me.
He immediately looked right at me, smiled and said, “What’s your name, and what do you do for us here?”
I stumbled over my words. All I could say was my name and title, and then ask how his day was.
I missed the opportunity, because I wasn’t prepared. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life.
He stepped out of the elevator and I melted inside. Had I really just lost that moment with him, when I could have shared my unique value proposition, this exciting project that he was fully aware of because he had to sign off on it?
I do not want anyone in my community to ever feel that way.
If you’re ever in an elevator, what I’m about to show you will make sure you are ready to have that powerful statement ready to go.
I learned early in my career that it’s important to track your contacts.
That might sound a little harsh/stalkery. But hear me out.
You’ve heard about follow-up. I constantly talk about how important it is.
But it’s not just about follow-up. If a relationship is valuable to you, then you want to stay on top of that contact’s personal and professional moves.
I have been very fortunate to keep in touch with the COO of the Fortune 500 company where I worked.
We consistently check in with each other. But this didn’t happen overnight.
When I lost my position with that company because of a reorg, my boss had just left. Because of that, I had an indirect reported line to the COO.
As I shared what I was doing to complete the tasks required of me as an HR leader amidst a major corporate reorganization, the COO and I built and fostered an even deeper relationship based on those circumstances.
I share this because it has been more than nine months since I left that company, and I still find ways to follow up with that leader.
Sometimes I provide statuses on what I am working with in my consulting capacity with the company. Other times I let him know what I’m working on from a coaching perspective. We share tidbits with each other about our lives.
We track each other’s trajectory, monitoring forward momentum and sharing ideas to continue to grow our relationship.
This takes effort – but it’s so worth it.
I don’t do this because I expect a specific outcome. I just want to make sure that I keep this relationship healthy.
LET’S TALK …
Listen, I get it. This is a lot.
But you know what? I’m here to help.
If you want to learn more, DM me the Word “NETWORK!”
Let’s expand your network and help you find success.