Recently, my husband attended an alumni networking event. It was downtown and since he works in the suburbs it was a bit of a schlep. Still, he thought it was time to give it a try and give it a chance. He came home that evening pleasantly surprised. He told me about the speaker, a congressman from our district, commented on the food, and saved the best for last-he´d had a good time.
It´s amazing, he told me, how you can walk into a room and because you have one thing in common with everyone there you feel welcomed. It is amazing. Sort of. Of course I´m his biggest fan (and, admittedly, critic, too) and I was tempted to say, "Well, what were you expecting?" But I´m pretty sure I kept my mouth shut. I was so happy that he´d enjoyed the program and was able to connect with people and now he´s planning on getting more involved, first by conducting admissions interviews (I think that´s what´s they´re called) with area high school seniors and then I don´t know how. What´s important is that he discovered a networking outlet that feels natural.
I don´t know why, but it seems like spring is a good time to consider the benefits of networking, particularly as they relate to employee development. Whether you run a 200-person show or share the work with just one employee networking is a key ingredient to helping employees expand and reach their potential.
Sometimes networking can be a chore, especially when an event is held after a long day at work. But if, like my husband, you´re headed toward a program where you´re going to find people with whom you have something in common, then it´s likely to be less painful and could even be a fruitful experience.
I won´t go into the obvious reasons for networking. Well, maybe just a little: networking helps further your company´s message; it extends your reach for prospective customers; and it provides a mechanism for learning about what´s going on in your business community.
As you consider the ways that you and your employees can begin to network ask your staff questions about where they might want to go, what kinds of programs they´d like to attend. Ask them, too, about the organizations they belong to and whether or not they´re active members. Find out what their reservations might be. Let´s face it: networking really can be a drag, but it can also open up our worlds and change our lives.
When I was just starting out in the work world I hated networking. I preferred to find a spot, chew on an hors d’oeuvre, and count the minutes until I could leave. Then as the years flew by I found that I looked forward to these events. They didn´t feel so contrived and it turns out that there were people just like me. I even became known as "quite the networker," which has always made me laugh. I think it´s because I´ve always enjoyed meeting new people and, as a writer, it´s always more interesting to listen to other people than to hear myself.