Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Networking Now!

The Working Life: Effective Networking

With all the demands on our time made by our professional and personal lives, many of us assign networking a low priority. After all, we already have so many commitments to our co-workers, friends and family, that is difficult to set aside extra time to venture out and meet new people. But networking is absolutely essential to a strong career and a strong professional life. A little effort will go a long way.

What is networking?
Networking is the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. Networking is about meeting people and building relationships before you need them; finding ways to be of service to others; sharing knowledge and contacts; connecting with and to other people.
The world is a social system. All walks of life are based on social interactions.

We accomplish things in this world by working with other people. Networking is important because it can help you strengthen the social relationships necessary to succeed. Having a strong network can help you reach many of life’s goals. Think of networking as a key part of your career foundation.

However, it is important that you understand that networking is NOT selling anything, asking for a job, schmoozing, hustling, manipulating, or using other people. You aren’t asking for anything when you network; you are building a relationship, a beneficial one, of course, but a relationship first and foremost.

Networking isn’t easy. Building relationships is time consuming. Many of us already feel overscheduled, overworked, overburdened, or just want to leave the office after our 9 to 5 day. Our time is precious. But the question you have to ask yourself is, can you afford not to network?

Think about your personal and professional goals. People generally like to help other people. Most people have a bigger network than they realize; they just don’t know how to utilize it.
By not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances for advancement and success. I’ve read that on average most people know about 250 people, and each of those people know another 250 people and so on and so forth. Imagine the information and resources that could be available to you if you use that network to your advantage.

The who’s and how’s of networking
You should network and create alliances with people you like, people you find interesting, both inside and outside your industry. Network with people who have common goals. Connect with people whom you like and who like you. Make time for people who make you feel positive, energized and worthy. And, even though networking should be broad, you definitely want to network with people that can help you, because someday, they just might.

The Internet is an increasingly popular place to network. Chat rooms and social network sites are great for either initial contacts or for maintaining contacts, but face-to-face is where you can really cement and build strong and lasting relationships. People are still people, especially in the business world. There is nothing like a personal encounter to build a relationship. Or a career.

In terms of actually getting out and networking, there are two approaches, structured and organic.

The structured approach tells people that you should go into every networking situation with clear goals of whom you want to meet and what you want to achieve. The organic approach, on the other, is about just letting natural attraction work its magic.

Whichever approach you use, just remember one thing: that in order to be successful you have to be authentic to make a real connection to another person. Think of it like dating—you don’t want to be seen as that desperate person hitting on people. You don’t want to come across as pushy, rude, aggressive or single-minded. You want to be genuine. And never forget the goal is to connect with a person, not their title.

The etiquette of networking
Let’s start with a business card. When it is appropriate to hand one out?
First of all, your business card is not disposable; don’t be throwing it around like confetti.
Your business card is an extension of you and your professional stature and should be treated as such. Offer your card to people only after you’ve made a meaningful connection. Never ask someone senior than you for their card; they should offer it first. And don’t offer yours to them unless they ask for it. That said, when you are about to enter a networking situation, always keep a supply of cards handy and easily accessible, along with a pen. When the CEO of your dream company asks you for your card, you don’t want to fumble for it.

Now, your appearance and demeanor are crucial to successful networking. I talked above about authenticity and being genuine, and this is imperative. You don’t want to appear slick and on the take. You’ll get the most out of business networking by being authentic, engaging, and memorable. Here are some tips:
  • Be sincere.
  • Make a positive impression with good manners, eye contact, body language and an excellent handshake.
  • Focus on the other person. Be curious about who they are, ask questions and listen.
  • Remember people’s names.
  • Focus on quality interactions, not quantity.
  • Be positive and upbeat.
  • Never complain or gossip. You never know who knows whom and what might get around.
  • Don’t dismiss someone just because of his or her title.
  • Don’t scan the room. Even if you are just curious, you will be labeled as the guy who is looking for someone better to talk to.
After a business networking event, it is crucial to follow up properly. Immediately send a note or an e-mail to people whom you enjoyed meeting and tell them what a pleasure it was. If you made an offer to connect that person with someone else make sure you follow up. Networking is a two-way street. You have to give to get.

If you find someone you really liked, then get together for lunch or coffee.
Remember, meeting someone is just the start; building a relationship takes a little more effort. But networking the right way is always worth it.

To Listen to an archive of this show:

The Working Life: Effective Retention Strategies

The Working Life: Effective Retention Strategies

We all know how important it is for businesses to find, attract and retain a talented workforce. In today’s world, workers, especially younger ones, change jobs much more frequently than they did 10 years ago. Turnover has a huge financial and organizational cost as businesses struggle to recruit and train new employees. So what are the secrets to retaining quality employees? Do younger workers want different things than more seasoned workers? How do you keep young talent from jumping ship?

What’s the problem?
The problem is that, in large measure, today’s workforce is restless. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that nearly three-quarters of any given workforce is looking for employment elsewhere. SHRM reported that 41 percent of employees were passively job seeking, 31 percent were actively job seeking while just 28 percent were not searching at all.

A full 50 percent of workers polled said they were likely to increase or begin a job search as the job market continues to improve.

And that’s one of the root causes of the problem; a strong job market and strong economy make workers restless, as they seek other, better employment opportunities. At the same time, a tight labor market means there are not enough skilled workers to go around.

The highest turnover is in middle management and non-management, and turnover is highest among the youngest workers, those in Gen Y and Gen X. Younger workers are much more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere if they are not getting what they want at an organization. And this is a problem because if you don’t keep your pipeline of talent happy, productive and retained, you won’t have much of a pool to draw from.

Retaining talent is a bottom-line issue for all companies, and 75 percent of human resource directors say they are concerned or very concerned about it. Keeping workers happy and productive is imperative, especially among the youngest sector. Here’s how to do it.

What’s the best way to retain young talent?

Obviously, money and benefits are very important to employees, and companies with good pay packages will do a good job of recruiting and retaining employees. But all things being equal, your competition probably has similar pay packages, so the question is, what sets your firm apart? How do you make your company a preferred employer?

This comes down to one, simple, yet complex factor—how your employees feel about working for your organization. And with the Generation X and Y workers, where turnover is the highest and where retention is a problem, companies have to understand what those workers need, and give it to them.

While, most people want similar things out of work: to be respected, to contribute positively and to be paid well. Younger talent place a higher value on things like professional development, relationship with their boss, and opportunities for advancement. Remember, young folks want to launch a career. Therefore if you want to retain them you should integrate some retention strategies that are aligned with their goals and your goals.
I recommend the following retention strategies:

I. Onboarding

Employee retention begins on day one. Studies show that new hires begin to question their decision to join your organization after their very first day, which is why employee orientation is absolutely key. The most frequent complaint about employee orientation is that it is boring, overwhelming or non-existent. This is where onboarding comes in. Onboarding differs from conventional orientation in that it is a comprehensive approach that serves to introduce and integrate new employees.

This approach is extremely important for young talent. Onboarding is your first opportunity to deliver on recruitment promises; you must reaffirm their decision to “buy” into your employment. In it, you must build cohort, solicit their input from day one, provide an authentic overview of your organizational culture, and get senior leaders involved. Show them how their work contributes to the organization. Use career and organizational success stories.

Young workers want to see how they will fit in, they want to be part of a team, and they want to be assured that their work is meaningful. Give them that from day one and your retention task will be a lot easier.

II. Professional Development

This is all about training. Employees want to have the skills to succeed.
This is especially true for young talent. The problem is that traditionally, organizations offer professional development as a “reward’ for service. Why do they wait?
Remember, this is about career launching. Training and development is a critical investment for individual and organizational success. If they are lacking skill or certain professional “sensibilities” then find them appropriate training. Don’t wait until the gap becomes a festering wound.

Training must be facilitative, interactive, and fun. Young people today need the “soft skills” as well as the hard, technical skills. Gen Y does not learn passively; they learn through active engagement, so be sure that your training is tailored to what works best for them.

III. Manage, Coach, & Mentor

Managers and supervisors of young talent must become adept at managing, coaching, and mentoring them. Gen Y is used to having adults invested in their success. They are used to being coached and mentored at home and at school, so they need this in the workplace as well.
Gen Y has defined expectations from their managers: They want respect. They want to be treated as colleagues not “kids” They want their managers to take an active interest in their well being. They want consistent and honest feedback. They want reward and recognition. They want a clear delegation of task with a flexible process. Again, recognize what they need and give it to them. If you don’t, someone else will.
Your organizational culture must support personal and professional development. In order to make this work, you have to provide your managers with the skills they need. And you need to hold them accountable. If your managers aren’t ready consider outside sources or structured coaching and mentoring programs

IV. Meaningful Work

Meaningful work means people feel like they are making an important contribution to the organization’s mission. For young talent it is an opportunity for them to showcase their talents and skills and develop professionally. Young talent will not be happy only doing menial labor; they want to contribute something they believe is meaningful.
You must find a way to give them substantial work. Give them a seat at the table.
Create strategic initiatives for them to tackle. Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Show them how their work contributes to the organization. Recognize and reward contributions. This is the groundwork you laid in your onboarding; now you have to deliver.

V. The Stay Interview
I am convinced that if more companies did this, turnover would be much lower. The stay interview is a situation in which you find out why your employees are staying. It’s an interview where you find out what your employees love or hate about your organization, sort of a how’s it going, state of the union sort of thing. Stay interviews are a great way to find out what your organization is doing right so that you may leverage it to make better strategic retention strategy decisions.

Rather than waiting for the exit interview, why not find out now what is working and what isn’t? It seems kind of insane that we ask people why they leave—as they are leaving! This information doesn’t really help us in real time, does it?

Stay interviews should be focused on the positive. They shouldn’t just be a bitch session, though you do need to find out if something isn’t working. Use appreciative inquiry, like:
  • What will keep you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What is most energizing about your work?
  • Are we fully utilizing your talents?
  • What is inhibiting your success?
  • What can we do differently to best assist you?

By using these strategies, your company can build a retention strategy that will keep all your workers longer and happier. The key is to understand that your youngest workers approach their careers differently. Once you understand this, you can be proactive and accommodate theses differences, and that will help you retain them.

To Listen to an archive of this show: