Note: Published this on LinkedIn October 2014.
On almost a daily basis, I am asked for advice or help from colleagues and former colleagues. I don’t think this is because they think I know so much, but because they think that I probably know someone who does. I don’t remember the last time I flatly said, “I don’t know.” If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say, “Good question. Let me get back to you.” or “I don’t know, but let me find out.”
Having a strong network is important for success. Being a superstar isn’t always about having the answer, but often about knowing who does have the answer. No one person is an expert at everything and many people are passionate about and have an expertise in at least one area. Knowing who has what expertise in what areas and being able to call on these people is likely my best skill. We all meet people that are very good at one thing or another, but we don’t always take the time to recognize this and establish relationships.
When meeting someone new, seek to understand. Understand their role, their skills, projects they’ve worked on and so forth. Usually it is ok to ask directly, “What is your role?”. People love to respond with details on areas that they are responsible for and projects they’ve worked on. Other times, it is easy to pick up queues from normal conversation.
This woman has experience implementing HANA. This guy knows Sarah from company X. Boom: added to mental rolodex.
But don’t stop there. Meeting people that have contacts and expertise in certain areas is great, but establishing the relationship is key. LinkedIn is a terrific tool. Connecting with people on LinkedIn works well, but don’t send the standard invite. Personalize it with respect to the encounter. “Hi, since you are a person I trust” doesn’t cut it. A better invitation would be, “Hi Sue, nice chatting with you yesterday about OpenStack. Look forward to hearing what you learn at the conference next month.” Something simple and to the point works well. You don’t want to sound like you’re selling something, but be genuinely interested in making a connection. People will always accept this personalized invitation, as long as you weren’t a total jerk in the face to face.
Then manage your LinkedIn. Browse through your time line daily. A simple Like or “congrats” when someone gets a new job or has a work anniversary reminds that person of you. Stay on the radar and engage when possible. Unless you’re an internet superstar with hundreds of likes and followers, you’ll care about who engages with you. You’ll remember that person and be more likely to reciprocate in the future.
Another way to keep engaged is to ask a question soon after meeting. For example, I had a meeting with an architect of powerful automation tool that can spawn HANA instances on the fly. This person probably meets a bunch of people every week and forgets most of them. I wouldn’t let him forget me! A couple of days after we spoke (Yes. Like a date. Don’t call the next day), I sent him a short email thanking him for the time but also asking a follow up question. A simple thank you probably wouldn’t have elicited a reply. If a direct question gets a response, then it is apparent that the person is willing to help and most likely wouldn’t mind answering questions in the future. I have since contacted this HANA automation expert several times. As expected, he always answers and is always helpful. For my part, I’m always respectful and appreciative of his time and effort.
Sending a random message goes a long way. In our daily lives, we often think of someone that would appreciate a blog we are reading or someone that helped us in the past. Rarely, do we act upon it. It is like calling our mother. We think of our moms all the time, but don’t always pick up the phone. Next time you think of someone that you met in the past or a manager that supported you, don’t just blow it off. Compose an email.