Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Greg LeBlanc, Assistant Town Manager, Town of Snowmass Village, CO. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.
What I’m Watching: Lost & Found
A Hobby I Enjoy: Birding
What I’m Reading: The Weekender Effect II
The transition from early career to mid-career is a fascinating experience. Seemingly out of the blue, we start measuring our tenure in decades, we realize that we have become experts in certain areas, and colleagues start calling us seeking answers to questions. Despite this change in clout, the transition does not mean public managers no longer need help themselves. If anything, we need it more than ever! As public managers progress in their careers, the need to tap professional networks for advice and wisdom (and to vent!) only increases.
For some, networking comes naturally. For others, it requires a more effort. Being naturally introverted, I fall squarely into the latter camp. It takes more effort for me to reach out, chat, and meet with folks with whom I am familiar professionally. The rewards of networking are well worth the extra effort, and the biggest professional lesson I have learned in recent years is understanding how important networking and professional friendships are. The following makes the case for investing in one’s professional network by detailing how it can benefit the individual.
What Is Professional Networking & Why Is It So Important?
Professional Networking, or simply networking, is a mutually beneficial interaction or relationship that involves the exchange of ideas, information, and stories among individuals connected by a common theme such as careers, industries, or interests. Networking can occur in several ways, but is commonly experienced through events, meetings, mentorship, professional associations, and other forms of digital engagement.
Networking allows individuals to freely exchange ideas and solicit feedback from their peers. This can facilitate the infiltration of new ideas to your organization and encourage creative thinking. For those hitting a wall on a project, tapping a professional network can help you get unstuck by hearing the stories of your peers.
Networking also helps individuals connect with people at various professional levels. For those seeking mentorship, tapping into a professional network can help individuals access people in other levels of a profession. A professional network can introduce you to more experienced professionals, which can be leveraged into gaining additional expertise or even cultivate future opportunities.
Networking also increases visibility and builds confidence. Remember that individuals typically get out of networking what they put into it. Developing relationships is a two-way street and readers are encouraged to listen as much as they speak. Like any other relationship, the goal is to build trust and rapport with your peers, as opposed to selfishly building a personal brand without reciprocation. This is especially true for my fellow introverts. A well-developed network helps reduce the social anxiety associated with meeting new people.
The Power of Professional Friendships
We spend a lot of time at work. Over the course of a career, the average person will spend approximately a decade of time (and for others, it is even longer!) in the office. This is a lot of time to spend with folks who are not your family or in your personal network. Your coworkers likely know enough about your life to form a base-level relationship. Recognizing that we may not always get along with our coworkers, we can leverage the amount of time spent at work into strong professional friendships.
Professional friendships are important because they serve a need not otherwise addressed in a professional setting. Professional friends bridge the gap between personal relationships and colleagues and there are several benefits to having professional friendships, whether they are with coworkers or those within your network. Studies indicate that those who have a work friend are more engaged and are more likely to innovate and share ideas. Other studies suggest that those with healthy work friendships get more work done in less time and report having more fun.
Please note that preferences vary amongst those in the workplace. I encourage my colleagues to experiment and learn what types of interactions work best for them. For some, face-to-face engagement is best. For others, the friendship may be forged in passive chats on the organization’s instant messenger. Interactions can range from short check-ins in the hallway to more formal meetings over coffee or a meal. The important component of a check-in is not the length or content of conversation, but the touchpoint itself. Reaching out to your work friends shows compassion and ultimately contributes to community building, albeit at the professional level. For those outside your immediate organization, reaching out can be a nice way to show interest in the work of a colleague in a different community.
Professional friendships can help you through work challenges. It is important to have someone in your professional network to share about professional challenges, vet ideas, and celebrate wins. This person ideally works in the same industry as you, but in my experience, those in the same type of position (think, manager-to-manager conversations) are equally of value. Personally, the friendships I have developed with my local government peers are invaluable and have contributed to the successes I have been able to celebrate in my career so far.
Being able to talk to a professional friend can help managers vent when going through tough times. For professional friends in the same type of work, professional commiseration is a shared experience. No one will better understand your challenges than those in your network. The value here is appropriately leaning on those who are best equipped to offer advice. While I am blessed with a very supportive spouse, her formal training in healthcare can only help me so much to solve a budget crisis. I would also argue that it is not the duty of spouses to carry the stresses of their partners’ jobs as well as their own. Pay special attention to maintaining these friendships within your network. One never truly knows how much a piece of advice could positively impact the life of a peer. Over the course of a career, our actions have the potential to affect the lives of many within our networks.
Ways To Engage With Your Network
In today’s digital age, engaging with your professional network does not have to be difficult, nor does one have to wait for an in-person event. Consider the following manners in which you can engage with your professional friends:
1) Events & Meetings – The age-old classic. Meeting with peers individually over coffee or in group settings is how most folks engage with their networks. There is a reason this is a time-tested tactic – face-to-face engagement builds a human-scale relationship faster than any other form of interaction.
Attending a conference? Seek out the attendee list beforehand and schedule a time to meet with colleagues. If the list is not available, catch someone in between sessions and either have a brief conversation or make plans to connect at a later time and location. Events and meetings are great for spontaneous engagement. Remember, checking in with your professional network can be done in as little as 5 minutes.
2) Group Texts – My personal favorite method, creating a group chat for your network is a great way to ask quick questions and get quick responses from your peers. The casual nature of texting can strip conversations of unnecessary formalities and yield more honest and raw responses. On a personal note, I am lucky to engage with my professional friends often via text message. In our text chains, my peers freely share ideas and provide honest feedback. A delightful bonus is watching a select few provide real-time commentary on keynote speakers at conferences.
The benefits of a group text can be achieved by subscribing to a listserv or other online-type community. Those who want to participate can, and those who do not can observe passively. Digital forms of engagement such as social media and online communities are great ways to engage with both broad and focused audiences. Many of my colleagues leverage their social media to amplify their voices, or to ask questions of diverse audiences.
3) Mentorship & Professional Organizations – For those of us early and part-way through our careers, building a relationship with more experienced professionals is an effective way to gain valuable insights into our industries. A well-developed relationship with a mentor can often be leveraged into new connections that can lead to new opportunities. In Colorado, local government folks have an excellent network and mentorships naturally form (and last for years) between the many professionals across the state.
Colorado also has one of the best professional associations (Colorado City & County Managers Association) in the nation. Not to brag, but our state manager conference is the best of any state association. What makes the Colorado association so special is not the content of its session, but the ample opportunity for attendees to mix, mingle, and network with one another. Relationships are built through this network that benefits the profession throughout the state.
Maintain Your Network
Maintaining a professional network requires constant effort, but the benefits far outweigh the requisite input. While networking has traditionally been viewed as a necessary evil, I encourage readers to lean in and embrace networking to share the work experience with other professionals. Those who effectively connect with their peers will find that the collective knowledge of their networks is a vast resource full of wisdom, ideas, advice and can even be leveraged into new opportunities. For those just starting out in their careers will learn the value of mentorship and can seek answers to questions they may have about their given professions. And finally, if you’re shy like me, shoot me a message – I would be happy to connect virtually!