Monday, March 31, 2008

April Discussion Group Topic - Virtual Networking

Morning Discussion Group:
Tuesday April 15th, 6:45 – 7:30 am
B Java Coffee and Tea
5510 Lafayette Road (corner of Lafayette and 56th) on the Northwest side

Evening Discussion Group:
Tuesday April 22nd, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
D’Vine A Wine Bar
5252 East 82nd (corner of 82nd and Allisonville Rd) on the Northeast side

This month’s topic is Virtual Networking. We’ll get the discussion started with an article from The Times Online How To Network Online. There are lots of different tools out there, and it can be somewhat overwhelming. I’ll be spending the next few weeks trying out different tools and sharing my experiences. I won’t pretend to put together an all encompassing list, and invite you to share your favorite tools.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention LinkedIn. I’ve had a profile for the past few years. I think it’s a great way to manage my professional contacts. I’ve been able to use it to track down former colleagues. I like the search functions. I’ve used it to reconnect with people I worked with at other companies. I haven’t used it to actively network with people I don’t know though that is one of the selling points. I’ve opted for the free account, so I can’t speak to the benefits of the membership upgrades. I’d love to hear how others are using this site.

A friend recommended a similar site to LinkedIn called Naymz. It has a lot of the same functionalities as LinkedIn but some nice additional features. I just recently created my Naymz profile and was really impressed by the tool. It allowed me to import all of my contacts from LinkedIn making it easy to send out invitations. The site features a RepScore for each profile. The higher the RepScore, the more has been done to verify the information in the profile. As part of my profile I was able to easily link to this blog, my LinkedIn profile, and other web sites. It only took me a few minutes to create my profile, and send invitations.

One of the tools recommended on Naymz for verifying your online identity is Trufina. By filling out a profile and answering some questions (and paying a fee of $4.95) you can get an on line ID. You can then use for Trufina ID to manage and protect your online identity information. I created by online ID card and will provide updates on how I’ve used it.

The next site recommended was Squidoo. Squidoo lets you create a simple one page website on a topic of your choice. (They call them “lenses”). I tried it out by creating a simple Women & Hi Tech Lens. It took me a few tries to get the lens finally launched and I’m not too sure that I’m all that excited by the result. I’ll need to spend some more time looking over what other people have done before I decide how useful the site really is.

The final site I checked out was the Fast Company site Company of Friends. Since I love the magazine, I was very excited about checking out the site. The site allows you to create a profile, features on line groups, allows you to build a network, and has lots of other features. I’ve signed up for a few of the discussion group and even created a Women in Science & Technology Group to see if there might be others out there interested in joining our discussions.

As I said, I’m just getting started with many of these sites and will be updating my experiences over the coming weeks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

3/25 Meeting Notes - Developing an Effective Networking Strategy

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Tuesday evening meeting. The size of the group combined with the venue for our evening meetings isn’t really conducive to group discussions, so we break up into smaller groups. Since these aren’t facilitated discussions, the conversations typically veer from the topic at hand. Not that this is a bad thing. There is a lot of value that comes out of these more unstructured discussions. If nothing else, it provides the opportunity to meet and get to know other women you likely wouldn't meet otherwise. So, even if we weren’t necessarily talking about networking the entire time, we were practicing it!

I’ll be posting some of what I took away from the meeting but since I didn’t participate in every discussion, I’d like to encourage others who attended to post their comments to share what they took away from the conversations. In the first group I joined, I met someone who works for the same company I do and even provided IT support to some of our projects. Despite this, it was the first time I’d met her. So, despite the fact that I believe that I’m fairly well networked at work, this experience emphasized to me that there is always room for improvement. So, I’m making a commitment to make more of an effort to get to know those people who may be working behind the scenes and providing essential support to what we do.

One of my other take aways from the meeting was the challenge of networking when you’re different from the rest of the people in the organization. Examples include being significantly younger (or older) than other members of the team, being single when everyone else is married, having a different cultural background, being the lone female – any of these factors can make it more difficult to build your network. It’s not to say that it’s impossible, but you may need to work on different approaches depending on your particular situation.

I was reminded of a past assignment when I was responsible for supporting a group over in Singapore. There were lots of barriers to overcome. The group was primarily male, from many different cultures and had the additional challenge of a 12hour time difference. I quickly realized that if I was going to develop a network in that organization it was going to be up to me to initiate that process. I was able to do so using every tool available to me at the time. I began with lots and lots of early morning and late night phone calls. I keep the communication channels going through utilizing e-mail. When visiting the site, I always made time in my agenda for 1:1 meetings and invited people to join me for dinner or drinks after work in the evenings. Then when they were visiting Indy, I always made sure to return the favor by helping to entertain them during their off hours. Now several years, and several assignments later, I’m still in touch with many of those individuals, even those who have moved on to other companies.

What experiences do others have with working through barriers to build a network? Please share your stories here so that we can all learn from each other. One of my goals in starting this group is to build a network of women who can serve as resources for one another.

I’ve found time to catch up on my reading and ran across an article that inspired a true “Ah Ha” moment for me. I highly recommend tracking down “How Leaders Create and Use Networks” (Harvard Business Review, January 2007). The article helped me to realize that changing the way I approach networking could really transform both my effectiveness and future career success.

Over the years, I’ve had this same conversation with countless women. Why was a very accomplished woman who works hard and consistently delivers passed over for promotion or leadership role in favor of someone else whose chief accomplishment seemed to be the ability to schmooze?

It turns out that many of us may be using the wrong strategy when it comes to networking. In the article they define three distinct forms of networking “operational, personal and strategic.”

An “operational” network is one you use to get your job done effectively. It is typically internally focused within your own company, though can include external contacts such as vendors or suppliers. These are the people who can help you with a specific task at hand. Examples include someone from HR who can help you with a personnel issue, a person in IT to help you with a software problem, someone in Finance who can answer a budget question, etc. If you move to a new position, your operational network will likely need to change. A well developed operational network will maximize your efficiency in your current role.

A “personal” network focuses outside of your current organization. You build your personal network through meeting people with whom you share a common interest. You may be able to use these personal contacts later as a source for advice, referrals, mentoring, information, contacts, etc. It is not always evident how or when you may be able to leverage individuals in your personal network to achieve career goals. However you never know when a causual conversation with an acquaintance can lead to a great referral. By working on building a personal network you can develop valuable networking skills.

A “strategic” network is more future focused. As individuals advance in their careers, their focus needs to shift from being a technical expert and adept at completing specific projects to setting strategy and planning for the future of an organization. To successfully implement change, one needs to garner support and build alliances. This is where strategic networking comes in. If you have a strategic network in place you will have individual who will be able to help you better understand how your proposals may be received by others. They can also help to lobby support on your behalf. By far, this is the area of network most individuals neglect. They may see it as politicking or “playing the game”, but like it or not this strategic network can influence your success as a leader.

Upon reflecting upon the article, I realized that I could (and should) make some refinements in the way I approach networking. I feel that I have an extremely effective operational network. When someone asks me for help, I may not be able to answer the question directly but it’s rare when I don’t know someone to call who can answer the question. I also have a great personal network. I have lots of interests and more importantly, being a single “empty nester”, I have lots of free time to pursue these interests. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to meet lots of wonderful and very interesting individuals. I count the fabulous women I’ve met through W&HT among those in my personal network.

When it comes to strategic networking however, I realize that I’ve put far less time and energy there. I have been one of those individuals who primarily focused on the task at hand. It’s not that I don’t have people at all levels and from outside my organization in my network. It’s that I’ve never really thought about how to leverage those individuals as part of my future career strategy. Maybe I should.

I have a few more organizations to add to the Networking groups list I began last week. Here are a few more suggestions:
Indiana Health Industry Forum
Indianapolis Hiking Club
Mickey's Camp

We’ll continue the discussion on networking next month but with a slightly different focus. Our April discussion group will look at the topic of virtual networking. There are lots of different tools out there. I’ll be looking into the different kinds of tools that are available and looking for strategies on how to use them more effectively. Any and all suggestions are welcome.

To help you plan ahead, the morning discussion group will meet once again at B Java on Tuesday April 15th at 6:45 am and the evening discussion group will meet on Tuesday April 22nd at 7 pm at D’Vine. I hope to see those of you who have attended in the past as well as see some new faces. All are welcome. If you’re not yet a member of W&HT, please feel free to attend as my guest!

I’m currently working on a list of topics for future meetings. I’d really like your suggestions. Please feel free to e-mail me or post your suggestions in the comment section below. I’m currently working on the following topics: Women & Philanthropy, Women & Leadership, a Reader’s Forum where people come and share their favorite book, magazine or article, Managing Communication Overload, Work Life Balance,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Notes from 3/18 Discussion Group - Networking

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I’ve been somewhat negligent about updating my blog. Before I begin my summary of our discussion from yesterday, I do want to clarify something. Our discussion topic for this month is simply networking. I chose the article How to Network for Introverts because I thought it had good advice on networking effectively for anyone and also because I wanted to be sensitive to the barriers that prevent many of us from building effective networks.

I want to thank everyone who came out to B Java on a rainy Tuesday morning. I’m happy to report that we had a larger group than last month and several first time attendees. I’m quite heartened to see the interest in these forums growing.

Obviously, everyone who attended appreciated the importance of networking. The challenge comes with doing this effectively. One topic that came up early in our discussion was how to network effectively within a company when you are working there as a contractor. Those of us at the meeting had experienced this from both sides; working as a contractor or working with a contractor. Most companies have policies that preclude contractors from participating in company sponsored events, which can limit the contractor’s networking opportunities. While there isn’t much we can do about company policies, there are things those of us who work with contractors can do to make this situation less awkward for all involved. A situation was described where employees were planning an event that excluded contractors, right in front of their contractor colleagues. Paying attention and being sensitive to the situation would have gone a long way in preventing hurt feelings.

Another topic for discussion was whether men and women approach networking differently. I’d tried to find an article that focused on this topic for our discussion but wasn’t able to find one. (If you know of a good reference article, please let me know.) About the closest I came was an article on the obstacles to women achieving leadership roles in the Harvard Business Review (Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, September 2007). One of the obstacles identified was “underinvestment in social capital”. Studies have shown that socializing, politicking, and having external interactions have been correlated with rapid career advancement and that “social capital is even more necessary to managers’ advancement than skillful performance of traditional managerial tasks.” Women as a whole tend to focus more on job performance and deliverables and less on socializing and building “social capital” to the detriment of their careers.

Another barrier identified is that family obligations often leave women little time for socializing with colleagues and building professional networks. However, time isn’t the only barrier. Especially in fields where women are in the minority, networking tends to center around activities that would preclude women, golf, sporting events, and the like. The recent Wal-Mart gender discrimination case cited examples of managers meetings that included trips to strip clubs and executive hunting retreats. This creates quite the conundrum for a woman. By not participating, she’s excluded from important relationship-building activities. However, her participation would likely make the men feel uncomfortable and could damage her relationships and reputation. Women can hold their own networking events but until there is gender equality in the executive suite, this will only get us so far.

During the discussion, people also shared stories of where attempts to network and build relationships with other people had left them feeling used. We could all relate to the story of being pleased to receive an invitation to lunch only to find that the person who extended the invitation really wanted to talk about job opportunities at your company. Another example shared was receiving an invitation to a colleague’s home only to find out it’s for a Mary Kay party. The point was that people wanted to feel as though others were being up front about their intentions. The person who was invited to lunch would have been happy to talk about job opportunities and would have had a more positive impression had the intent been made clear. So, when utilizing your network, be sure that the person you want the favor from doesn’t feel manipulated.

We finished up our conversation by sharing the organizations and activities we felt had been most useful for us with our personal networking.

Non profit groups: The United Way, Dress for Success, Girls Inc., The American Lung Assn.

Professional Associations: Project Management Institute, Indianapolis Quality Assurance Assn., Indiana Healthcare Businesswomen's Association, Assn. of Women in Science, Central Indiana Society of Women Engineers, National Assn. of Women Business Owners, Network of Women in Business

Community Groups: the Chamber of Commerce, Business and Professional Exchange, Scientech Club, Venture Club of Indiana

Just to show how networking can happen at any time, during this discussion BJ Davis, our hostess and owner of B Java, stopped by our table to tell us about another networking group that also meets at her coffee shop - Smaller Indiana. None of us had heard of the group so I decided to check out their web site. Smaller Indiana makes creative people and innovative ideas easier to find. This is the place for you to share your ideas and engage with Indiana's most creative and inspired souls...working together to build community, culture and commerce. It looks like their web site has some very interesting tools that will fit into next month’s topic on “virtual networking”, so more to come.

Clubs and activities you do for fun are also a great source for meeting new people and expanding your network. If you go to Google and type in the words “Indianapolis” and “Club”, there are hundreds of clubs that that show up in the results list. Another great source to find people with similar interests is It’s a great resource for connecting with people who share common interests.

This is by no means meant to be an extensive list of local networking organizations and opportunities. I hope those of you reading this blog will share your favorite networking groups and organizations.

I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation next week when we meet at D’Vine. If you can’t join us, or if you can’t wait till then to share your thoughts, please post your comments.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

March Discussion Group Topic - Networking

Morning Discussion Group:
Tuesday March 18th, 6:45 – 7:30 am
B Java Coffee and Tea
5510 Lafayette Road (corner of Lafayette and 56th) on the Northwest side

Evening Discussion Group:
Tuesday March 25th, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
D’Vine A Wine Bar
5252 East 82nd (corner of 82nd and Allisonville Rd) on the Northeast side

This month our discussion groups will focus on the topic of Networking. The article I chose to get the discussion started is How to Network for Introverts. I chose both the topic and the article because of an experience I had this past summer. My daughter moved to Chicago this past summer to launch a job search. I jumped in immediately to help by offering networking contacts and advice. However, it took her awhile to embrace this advice and assistance. After some probing, I identified two root causes: 1) she had some misconceptions about networking and 2) she’s an introvert.

For those of you who know me, the admission that on the Myers Briggs personality scale I’m not only an E (extrovert) but I pretty much peg the meter when it comes to extrovertedness will come as no surprise. I talk to everybody, cashiers, waitresses, the person standing next to me in line, people on the street – you get the point. I find walking into a room of strangers to be an exciting challenge and leave energized. However, sometimes I forget that not everyone is like me. This is especially true in my chosen field where I’m mostly surrounded by introspective analytical types. As the article states, those who are introverted would rather have their “head stapled to the carpet”.

Take heart, my more reticent sisters and brothers. You can be just as effective at networking, provide you understand what networking is and is not. The perception many people have about networking is that it’s all about schmoozing and collecting business cards. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Networking is about building relationships. When you need assistance, it’s much easier to ask someone you know for help. And the corollary is that people are much more likely to assist someone they know than a stranger. You can collect thousands of business cards but if the person you call doesn’t remember you, it’s no different than a cold call.

Networking is as much about listening as it is about talking. This is where introverts have a distinct edge over us more outgoing types. You learn more if you really listen to what people have to say (rather than focusing on what you’re going to say next). Yes, you do need to be able to talk about yourself as well, but if you listen to them you can identify common interests or ask questions to keep the conversation going. However to network effectively, you do have to be willing to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know.

You can greatly lower barriers to talking to a complete stranger if your choose your networking events wisely. I’ve heard people describe networking events where the sole purpose seems to be collecting business cards. If you attend an event where the sole purpose is “networking” it may not be a very satisfying experience. You would be best to focus on events where you’re more likely to have a common interest with the other attendees. Professional association meetings, technology seminars, and educational events all provide opportunities to meet people who share similar interests. You don’t have to limit yourself to professional meetings though. Any recreational activity or club can provide a great opportunity to network. Once you know you share a hobby with someone, a logical next step is to ask them about their career. You never know what you might learn.

It helps to set goals for yourself when attending networking events. Will you introduce yourself to 2 new people at the first event and maybe increase that to three at the next? If you end up spending the entire evening with one person, it kind of defeats the purpose of networking. It sometimes helps to attend with someone you know. You may even want to team up with someone a bit more extroverted than you or who may know people attending the event. They can take the first step, make introductions and help you feel more comfortable. Just be sure you don’t use this person as an excuse not to go out and meet people on your own. The hardest part is getting started, it does get easier with practice.

Remember, it’s not about quantity or the number of people in your network, it’s about the quality of your relationships. It also helps to know a few people who have great networks you can tap into. I have people in my network who I call not because they are the expert in a particular field but because they’re bound to know someone who is. This was especially useful to me this past summer. I can’t say I have lots of contact in my daughter’s chosen field in Chicago but when I asked the people in my network for help, we came up with a fairly impressive list of contacts.

Finally, the most important factor in networking is often the most neglected. You must follow up afterwards. At the risk of sounding redundant, networks are built on relationships and you don’t build an effective relationship after one meeting. The rule of thumb is you should follow up within 48 hours after meeting a new person. Otherwise, you put it off until it feels awkward to do so. The simplest form of follow up is to send an e-mail. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them. I often take notes on people’s business cards. I jot down what we talked about, common interests, and where we met. This helps me not only for the initial follow up but also when contacting them again down the road or when you see them again at the next event. When I attend a regular event, such as a monthly meeting, I like to review the cards I collected at previous events. That way I can refresh my memory about who I met and what we talked about.

Follow up is more than just a one time activity. It takes time and attention to build an effective network. Share interesting articles. Let people know about upcoming events that match their interests. And you may even want to invite someone to meet you for coffee, lunch, or a drink after work. People seem to think that networking is about what other people can do for you. Yes, we all need to tap into our networks from time to time for advice, a referral, or other assistance. By the same token, the people in our network need to know that the relationship is reciprocal and that they can call on us as well.

I’d be remiss if I ignored that fact that today networking is not only a face to face activity but also a virtual activity as well. I’ll save the topic of using the internet for networking for another day though. What are your thoughts? Should we combine in person and virtual networking in our discussions this month or save the topic of virtual networking for another month?

More to come