Leveraging Our Network: References

A reference is a testimonial of someone’s suitability to fill a specific role in an organization.  When we find ourselves in a position where we’re asked to provide a reference for a colleague who’s interviewing for a position, it’s important to provide an honest assessment, particularly if that person wasn’t a top performer when we worked with them.

Although we’d all like to believe we were top performers in every position we’ve held, there are a multitude of reasons – some that might have been outside our control, this might not have been the case.  The same holds true for everyone in our network; therefore, sometimes it’s important to give them the same benefit of the doubt we’d like them to give us.

When asked to be a reference I’ve found I can serve all parties more effectively if I have the person asking for a reference send me an EMAIL.  In that EMAIL I ask for a description of the position they’re applying for, why they want this particular position, why they want to work for this company, and why they believe they’re a good fit.  Using that description, I prepare specific of examples of when I’ve observed this person doing this work successfully, being careful not to stretch the truth or fabricate any of the information.

Using what I’ve written and the information of why the individual thinks he’d be a good fit, I review this information with him so that he has a good understanding of what I’ll be sharing with his prospective employer.  This gives us both the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and allows me to not only represent him accurately but provide a reference that’s relevant to the position.

When we’re asking a colleague to provide a reference we can follow the same process.  We call the colleague and ask if he is willing to provide a reference for a specific position (or opportunity), why we want to work for this company, why we think we’re a good fit, and offer specific examples of when we’ve done similar work with him.

If our colleague is willing to be a reference, we let him know we’ll be sending him an EMAIL with the background information and, during the call, schedule the quick follow-up.  This insures we’re aligned on what the reference will contain.

It’s important to let our references know the outcome of our candidacy, regardless of whether or not we get the position.  We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in the position where the next call we make to them is to ask for another reference, referral, or introduction.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Ferndina Beach, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  

Leveraging Our Network: Referrals

Referring someone for a position is an opportunity to assist not only them, but another member of our network who’s looking for a person with that specific set of skills, talents, and knowledge.

It goes without saying, however, that referring someone or a company when we have reservations about their ability to succeed can not only contribute to their failure, but reflect poorly on the person who gave them a chance, and damage our credibility.  The good news is, when we’re called by a colleague and asked the proverbial, “Do we know anyone who is looking for a …”, if no one immediately comes to mind we can usually honestly say we don’t.

When we’re seeking a referral, we have a better chance of getting the one we want if we carefully define why we’re seeking the referral, what we have to offer, what company needs that product or service, and who in that company can make the decision.

For example, we read in our Linkedin feed that Smith’s Engines just won the contract to design and manufacture engines as a sub-contractor on a multi-billion dollar defense contract.  Our company is in the business of providing aerospace design engineers and has had success augmenting the staff for several other defense contractors.  We believe the person who can either make or influence the decision is the Vice President of Engineering.

We could certainly figure out who that individual is and place a cold call … but so could every other engineering firm in our space.  Instead, we check through the simple database we keep of the more than 500 members of our network and find a 1st Connection who knows the Vice President of Engineering at Smith’s Engines, then call that colleague for his advice on the best way to get in front of him and for his referral.

Recently I was leading a consulting engagement and two members from another team became available.  Their project lead called me and asked if I could find a place for them for a few weeks while she worked on securing another opportunity.  She wanted to be certain the two of them would be available for additional work if she was successful.  We chatted for a few minutes about each of their capabilities and figured out how they could temporarily contribute to my engagement.

They turned out to be two powerhouses who came in and after ten minutes of introduction got right to work.  Because of those two capable people we were able to exceed my clients’ expectations.

That other project lead put her reputation on the line when she referred two members of her team.  Her willingness to do so; however, said it all.  In an industry where we’re all independent practitioners, referrals are risky because while one bad referral won’t end your career, it can cost you the good will of someone who would have brought you work down the line.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Fernandina Beach, Florida and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups

Building Our Network: Professional Organizations

Building a network within our industry or profession is another method of networking.  Most industries or professions have at least one professional organization and many have a wide selection organizations who would love to have us as members.

Finding a professional organization where we fit takes some effort.  We can get online to do the research and query our peers and advisors for information about their organizations.  If there’s a local chapter we can often attend one or several meetings as a guest and consider whether the organization’s purpose and approach works for us.

There are many models for professional organizations. One model is as a business whose purpose is to provide education, training, and certification in a specific field.  These organizations work to legitimize the need for the certifications they offer and attract new members who will purchase the training to earn these certifications.  They typically have a paid professional staff that facilitates their efforts and produces conferences that are educational and offer networking opportunities for their members.

A second model is used by organizations formed to work on issues that are common to their profession or industry and advance the collective knowledge.  They often publish a periodical with articles of interest written by or of interest to their members.  Companies who are suppliers to the businesses within the industry, or of interest to the members of the profession, often sponsor annual conferences attended by hundreds of members.

A third model is an organization formed solely to allow their members to network.  These run the gamut from meet-ups open to the public to those with memberships limited to specific groups. The costs associated with membership range from a small fee to attend each meeting to an annual fee of six figures for a professionally facilitated meeting of CEO’s or business owners.

Whatever organization we choose we need to determine whether the time and price of participation has value One method is to join an organization for a year and take stock when it’s time to renew to determine if we’ve been interested in actively participating or found reasons not to attend the meetings.

If not, why not?  Is it that the organization isn’t a good fit with our goals or interests?  Are we at stage in our lives or careers where we can’t or don’t make the time to participate?

If, however, we’ve found a good fit we can renew the membership and continue to look for ways to actively participate and build our network.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

The Executive’s Network: Building our Peer Group from Previous Organizations or Affiliations

Peers with whom we’ve previously worked, attended school, or worked toward a common purpose can be valuable members of our network.  Our shared history provides a common ground and a known resource for information, references, and referrals.

Since we’re no longer in the same organization, and in some cases, not even in the same geographical location, finding a method for keeping in touch that benefits both parties can be a challenge.

Social media, EMAIL, and messaging have largely replaced telephone calls and the U.S. Mail as the channels for staying in touch.  However, the investment in time required can be significant and often, impersonal.

The good news is, believe it or not, most of us have this issue in common – we really don’t have the mindshare and focus to support a huge network.  We can, however, support people in our networks on an individual basis when we have the opportunity or wherewithal to promote their corporate image.

Consciously looking for opportunities to endorse, introduce, reference or refer a member of your network is a surefire method of maintaining long-term relationships with our peers.  Even when someone doesn’t reciprocate it keeps the line of communication open between the two of you.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.

Building A Peer Group Within Our Current Organization

If we look at a traditional organization chart, everyone on the same rung of the ladder we occupy can be considered a peer.  The thing we have in common, in most organizations, is there are fewer positions at each level as we climb to the top of the ladder.

To remain on the ladder at all we have to contribute to the success of the organization.  However, even if we’re a superstar and our part of the organization is humming, unless we collaborate with other departments it’s difficult to affect the overall performance of the organization.  To do that we typically must collaborate with our peers.

This can be a challenge, due to the inherent competition peers face.   In many organizations, it’s not unusual for the senior executive of a functional area to work independently, with her subordinates, and with her boss, and only interact with their peers at a weekly staff meeting or on projects where they’re representing their functional area.

Because this is the norm, executives who develop peer relationships within their organization that transcend one or the others departure is the exception rather than the rule.   Even though it may involve stepping outside of our comfort zone it can be well worth it, particularly if we consider it the distinguishing trait our boss would look for in his successor.

  • Seek Their Counsel and Collaborate for Success

When we demonstrate to someone that we respect their opinion enough to seek their counsel, particularly as it pertains to their area of expertise, we’re opening the door for collaboration.

One opportunity to do this can be when we’re drafting a presentation or plan to make a change in how our department or organization does their work.  Calling or visiting a peer for their perspective demonstrates respect.  It also builds trust.    After all, if every time we are going to propose a change in our area of responsibility that affects one of our peers, they know we’ll run it by them and consider their perspective, we demonstrate we can be trusted.

When we look for opportunities to collaborate with our peers it changes our perspective from. “How can I be successful?” to “How can we collaborate to insure our mutual success”?  If we can align on an approach we also have a greater opportunity for success.

This approach is not without risk.  We’ve all had situations like this backfire, some of them with long-term consequences.  Being prepared to diffuse a situation when a peer makes a derogatory or inflammatory comment is essential as often our initial reaction is to respond in kind.

  • Promote Their Corporate Image

Looking for opportunities to remark upon contributions our peers make is an attractive professional trait.  During a presentation or conversation we can often find the opportunity to attribute ideas we received from a peer or comment positively on their contribution as instrumental to achieving a goal that’s important to the organization.

Conversely, when we’re disappointed in the performance of a peer or her organization, the only person we should discuss it with is that person.  One organizational dynamic that never leads to success is when we disparage someone’s reputation explicitly or implicitly.

That doesn’t mean we have to disingenuously endorse someone who’s not performing.   It does mean we have to disengage from conversations that can be damaging to their professional image.  We’ve all had such conversations and although it’s sometimes tempting to “dish the dirt” those statements can come back to haunt us.

  • Provide Honest Feedback

Most of us feel uncomfortable providing unflattering feedback.  When we do it out of genuine concern, or because we’ve been asked, particularly with our peers, we have to tread carefully.

One method of doing this is to start the conversation by making positive statements about their experience or the approach they’ve taken.

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the principles he articulated in 1936 still apply today.

He advises us to: “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.”  This can be easier if we rehearse our opening prior to discussing an issue with a peer.  In the quiet of our own minds we can usually find genuine positive attributes.

He also offers the suggestion that we “Talk about our own mistakes.”  This demonstrates our understanding that we’re all just “works in progress” and also goes a long way to showing that you’re genuinely concerned in ensuring this person’s success.

He goes on to recommend that we, “Ask questions instead of giving direction.”   For example, “In the competitive analysis you’ did a great job of showing X.  What did you find out about Y?”

Like any relationship, peer relationships grow deeper over time.  By not being in a hurry and giving peers the opportunity to collaborate you can develop relationships with peers in your current organization.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.