June 9, 2016
The word “networking” has always bothered me. Living in Washington, D.C., networking often seems more like sport. It is aggressive, full-contact, and people want the W. At many receptions, I have often thought it should be called “net-gaming,” because so many people treat it like an athletic competition. It is a running joke in the DC area that the first question people ask someone new is “What do you do?” so they can decide if it is even worth learning their name, or move on to the next person they are already noticing over the first person’s shoulder.
Far too many individuals are focused on the instant reward, how fast they can work a room, and the number of business cards they can acquire at an event. Yes, there is something to life being a numbers game, especially in a big city where even knowing someone slightly can help place a resume in front of the right person. However, what is often overlooked in the networking game is actually developing some of that network into a genuine relationship – i.e., being a friend – someone who is trustworthy, genuine, and giving.
A good egg is a good egg, regardless of his title or job. In the age of virtual relationships, that real relationship can mean far more, both personally and professionally.
Think more Vanguard, less Pay Day Loan. A person wants to invest in another person, wants for that investment to grow, and would even take it paying back dividends at some point. Note the order of that: giving, growing, possible return.
In my opinion, it is often the relationships with depth and substance that will go further in the long run, not the width of the network. A network connection can get a resume into the right hands. A person with a deeper relationship can get the resume into the right hands AND put in a solid reference.
In surveying Capitol Hill staff, some like when groups come in to talk or provide an update, without always wanting something during their visit. However, several more staff advised people not to overdo the meet-and-greets. They simply do not have the time to regularly sit down for somewhat forced conversation, and if the issue is important, they will likely work on the ask anyway because it was brought to their attention. The pace of their job requires them to be more in the network mode of gathering business cards. So amidst the hustle and bustle, how can that relationship develop?
This goes back to giving without expectation of a return. Advocacy is not a done-in-a-day project. It often is void of instant gratification. Relationships stem from all sorts of different situations. They take time to grow and the necessary methods can, and should, vary widely.
Do a Hill meeting and/or meet-and-greet. Next, instead of popping in every month to say “hi” and gain facetime (several staff suggested no more than 2-4 meetings a year if there was nothing pressing), add some value to the staff member’s day. For instance, follow-up after a meeting with an email or short phone call referencing something from the earlier conversation. Send a relevant article or useful study to that staff person with a short note on why it is valuable to them. Visit the official at a town hall meeting. Be the reliable resource that they need.
However, do not just say, “I’m here to be a resource for you.” If I had a quarter for every time I heard that from a group, I would be retired. Staff do not have time to call around and guess which “resource” might have what they need (often because they are worried they will be pulled down a rabbit hole on something else while other items are urgent). Take it a step further by quickly and specifically stating resources you have and ways it is applicable to them. For instance, “I hear that trucking legislation is headed for committee or the floor in short order – we have a one-pager on the positive impacts of that bill to our community if it is helpful.” Or, “I know this is not the issue we just discussed, but I noticed that legislation X is moving. We did a study of our members – all whom live in your district – which found it could really negatively impact employment. If that would interest you, I could send it.” Needs are now going both ways and a relationship is born!
Anyone who has flown knows that a person is supposed to secure his oxygen mask before assisting others. In the world of advocacy, it is often better to assist the other person first.