When I worked for Former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, at his consulting firm, Carol was the receptionist. I was in awe of Carol. She seemed to be a magician who could make pretty much anything happen. When push came to shove and Secretary Cohen really needed a miracle, it was often Carol, not one of the EAs, he called upon. I used to joke with Carol that I would give anything to have her Rolodex. What I didn’t realize at the time is that her Rolodex wouldn’t have been much use to me. Why? Because Carol had spent years cultivating relationships with the individuals in that Rolodex, not just a name, email address and phone number. She nurtured and grew a network that would bend over backward to help her make miracles happen. She sent birthday cards, flowers for anniversaries, emails acknowledging milestones, and hundreds of other small touches to develop relationships instead of acquaintances.
I have a plaque on my wall at home that reads, “I’m only as strong as the cocktails I drink, the hairspray I use, and the girlfriends I have.” I think the sentiment applies to my work life as well … that I’m only as good as my network. So I took a page out of Carol’s book and consciously work on building relationships.
One of my tools to cultivate relationships is making notes while they are fresh in my memory. A couple of small examples are:
- I’m having lunch with a co-worker. A dessert is being delivered to the next table and they mention that is their all-time favorite dessert. I make a note in their contact file when I get back to the office. Six months later, for their birthday, I send the same dessert. They don’t recall mentioning it at lunch and are blown away I knew that dish was their favorite.
- While chatting with a client as they waited to meet with my boss I learn they are attending night school to obtain their degree and will finish up the following spring. Once they go in to the meeting, I put a tickler on my calendar to send them an email to congratulate them on the accomplishment.
People are pretty good at knowing when you are trying to get to know them just to get something from them, so remember to be authentic and genuine when building your network. Don’t connect with someone just to get something from them.
Don’t have one-sided relationships. If someone has done something for you, when the opportunity to do something for them arises, don’t pass it up. On the flip side of that, if you have helped someone out multiple times, but they have neglected to help you when they could easily have done so, you may want to say no, if assisting them will create a burden on you. While we should not do favors to get favors, we should also understand the power of “not right now”.
Make your network a priority by touching base with your contacts before you need something. If you only reach out when you need help, your connection will feel the one-sidedness of the relationship and might not be there for you one day. Maintaining a beneficial and active network takes thought, time, and creativity. But if you put in the work, it will pay off.