Adventures in Networking

world-1264062_1920As a young professional, I believe networking is one of the most important aspects of looking towards the future regarding my career. I will be graduating in about  a month, so relationships and connections are ever-present on my mind. The important idea to remember is that networking is a two-way street, and giving more will often get you more in return. The topic of networking has come up several times for me in the last few weeks, including facilitating a discussion on the topic for a group of undergraduates, so I decided to put my thoughts down here to help prepare.

  • Networking: To me, networking is about sharing information, contacts and ideas with people you are connected with based on past experiences, affiliations and other individuals.
  • LinkedIn: This is an amazing tool for networking, especially when looking for a job. It is used by so many that I feel it has become your online resume; your profile often comes up as a top hit when Googling an individual. Keeping it updated can be extremely important because you never know who is looking at it. LinkedIn can be used to find connections you would have never known about, as it shows all the links and connections for you; based on the information you provide, your affiliations, groups you join and people/organizations you are connected. There are many resources on how to put together a great LinkedIn profile, so I will not get into that here. I suggest that you add everyone you are connected with as you never know how they may be able to offer you in the future. This includes friends, family, coworkers, clients, etc. However, I would only add people you know and only add those you feel appropriate.
  • Volunteering: I feel volunteering is one of the most rewarding personal experiences and a great way to give back to the community. Volunteering can be an excellent networking tool because you will likely be connected to others who have the same general outlook on life regarding giving back. By putting yourself out there and meeting others who are volunteering, you open up an entire new network of people. As you volunteer more and more, and move up into being on a board, this network just continues to grow.
  • Professional groups: Professional groups are another great way to meet people and expand your network. I recommend only joining groups you have an interest in and not waste your time on something because it is the thing to do.
  • Business Cards: Business cards are a simple way to provide all of your relevant contact information in once place. Even if you don’t have business cards for work, you can still make personal business cards for almost no cost. I feel that people should wait to be asked for a business card before giving them out. Some may disagree, but I feel it can come off as pushy when people just sling out their business cards.
  • Staying connected: Once you have made a contact, make sure that you keep up with them. Depending on the circumstances, some individuals don’t need much in terms of relationship management. I have reached out to people who I haven’t spoken to for years because of the way the relationship was built. However, not all relationships are like that and I follow-up much more regularly with many in my network.
  • Giving and Getting: Now when it comes to actually using your network, I feel there are best practices to consider. I have found that giving to your network is a great way to build credibility; not asking for a favor for yourself, but someone else. That is most of what I have done over the past few years. When it actually comes time to ask for a favor from someone in your network, be honest and upfront.

I have been very fortunate with how large my network is, but it has only developed through the work I have put in to make sure it continues to grow.

If you would like to introduce yourself and find out ways we can network, contact me here.

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Building The Bridge As You Walk On It

QuinnI just finished reading the book Building The Bridge As You Walk On It by Robert E. Quinn for a class on change. Like most of the other books assigned by this professor, I walked away with new insights on an idea I had previously felt well-informed. There were so many revelatory ideas in the book, at least to me, that I found it difficult to limit myself to just describing a few. Below are the top concepts that came to mind, but I recommend checking out the book for yourself to find what speaks to you.

  • Fundamental State of Leadership: One of the main elements of the book is the idea of the fundamental state of leadership; the state of mind where individuals “enter into a creative personal state that gives rise to a creative collective state.” In order to enter this state, we much change the way we approach situations.
  • Change ourselves before others: The main theme of the book comes down to this simple idea; we must take charge in first changing ourselves before we can hope to change anyone or anything else. I view this idea in several lights; being that we have to show others we are willing to take the necessary steps and being seen as genuine in our efforts. When reading the book, I look back and see that I was truly only able to make change when I had allowed myself to put purpose as the priority and not myself.
  • Increased integrity: Something Quinn mentions is that integrity is the “alpha and omega of leadership.” I feel this is a powerful statement as I agree that integrity is a process, not a destination. In order to address and lead change, we must confront our own gaps in integrity; what we say we do vs what we actually do. We have to monitor our own integrity and address our own hypocrisy. This self-reflection allows us to focus on purpose, rather than ourselves. This allows change and Quinn describes his 8 leading change characteristics converge on integrity.
  • Addressing our own hypocrisy: An idea that really struck me was this idea of hypocrisy; first having to address the biggest hypocrite – the one we see in the mirror. We often go into situations and don’t like what we see, but try to change everyone else, but not ourselves. A major example of this idea is of a CEO going into an organization and telling everyone below them to change, without willing to change themselves first.
  • Group discussion: A specific idea that I have been involved with and hope to continue to refine is the idea of using a group of individuals to share ideas and provide feedback. Working with entrepreneurs, I see this a lot, but would like to see it more with groups of managers, owners, etc. In a closed environment, trust can be built, and real solutions and advice can be shared. Quinn refers to these groups as being in a “sacred place.”
  • Real-time learning: Change is not a matter of applying past actions to a present situation. It is about being able to learn in real-time and create the solutions that are needed for those particular set of circumstances. For me, this helped me to redefine how I approach situations requiring change. It is not about applying traits or actions, but adjusting to ask the right question(s).
  • Not being present for the initiation of change: The last element I will discuss here is the idea that change agents must accept that they are likely not going to be present for the change they work to implement. Most organizations and leaders are comfortable where they are and proposed change is fought against. Change agents are often fired for attempting to alter the status quo, but the lingering questions and seeds planted from their attempt remains. This requires leaders of change to be more centered on purpose than themselves.

These are just a few of the great ideas I took away from Quinn. I would encourage anyone looking to help enact personal or organizational change to read the book. It is just as important to read the words, as it is to reflect on your own past actions to come up with plans to improve your processes for the future.

Check the book out by clicking here.

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Change from the Middle

change-1076220_1280A topic that has been on my mind for the last year is the idea of change coming from the middle; people like myself who have about ten years of experience, but don’t have a title with the authority to make change without approval. There were several case studies I read in my Organizational Behavior class and a few experiences from my own career that have kept it consistently on my mind. With a course about change coming up in the final semester of my MBA program, I wanted to write my thoughts about the subject now and then reevaluate in several months.

With millennials now over 50% of the US workforce, I am in a category of individuals who desire to make positive change, but are up against an older generation with different perspectives on many issues. In this situation, change can come slowly, if at all. So, how does one go about making change then? These are my thoughts.

  • Become a leader: This doesn’t have to come with a title or position, rather the feeling of those around you. Take on added responsibilities and/or volunteer for projects, don’t take shortcuts, do what is right and not what it easy. These are the practices that others see and understand the value of positioning themselves alongside.
  • Be the change: As is stated in my favorite quote from Gandhi, we have to be the change we want to see. What this means to me is that if I want something to be different, I have to put myself out there and set the example and take the risk. An example of this is challenging an established culture and choosing to blaze your own trail, such as working hard because that is what should be done, as opposed to doing the minimum because no one is looking over your shoulder.
  • Define the change: Even though those from a different generation may hold different perspective, it does not mean they won’t understand and consider change. I think it is a matter of sharing in terms they will be able to understand. An example from a conversation I had with a client not too long ago comes to mind. He didn’t understand how spending time and money on being environmentally responsible would also be profitable. I explained that by being environmentally responsible, a different group of customers would be attracted to his business, which would increase revenue. A bit simplistic, but an example nonetheless.
  • Data: When all else fails, take the time to run the numbers and show what change can mean to the bottom line. This can result in more motivated employees, a more efficient sales force, better ways to reach potential customers and so on. Put together projections and reports using relevant data and let the numbers speak for themselves.

These are the best methods I have found and used to create change in my own environment. Now, I just have to see what new tools can get added to my “change” tool-belt this semester. I have big expectation from my professor, Dr. Bret Simmons, whom I have had for two other courses.

What other methods of positive change have you tried? Please add what has worked for you in a comment below.

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The Business of a Nonprofit

InnovationMy favorite class from the fall semester was Social Entrepreneurship. It brought great perspective and clarity to many topics of interest to me. The one I want to delve into here is regarding the viewpoint of nonprofits; what they are and how they operate. Several different speakers highlighted one simple idea – nonprofits should use their status to their own advantage, but still look at themselves as a business. I see this through the lens of innovation and using creativity to find or increase success.

The first idea that was brought up is that of using the “fee-for-service” model. This option can take on several different forms. Boys and Girls Clubs of America offer a fee-for-service in providing an after school option, but at a highly subsidized rate. The Executive Director for the Truckee Meadows clubs discussed how this income helps to offset some of the organizational costs incurred through operations. While this idea wasn’t new, it really stuck a nerve about providing regular income to the organization.

Another aspect of fee-for-service is reimbursement, which I feel adds to the ability to become sustainable. Life Change Center, located in Reno, NV, provides recovery services for addiction and is reimbursed for those services. The executive director spoke about the center’s success rate as a result of running the organization as a business; investing in experienced professionals and further investing in keeping them engaged in their work. Their website shows their success rate of 72%, as compared to a national average of 55%, which has been partially attributed to their business mindset. A key difference the executive director pointed out was that the profits are being reinvested into the organization, rather than being distributed to investors, stockholders or other owners.

The third speaker who really hit this point home was a co-founder of Zawadisha, a nonprofit focused on providing microfinance to women in Kenya. These loans are for acquiring household items that are safer, healthier and increase available time throughout the day to focus on other aspects of life, including small businesses. One of the ways Zawadisha has been able to find success is by creating an efficient and effective supply chain. The co-founder who came to speak with us also sent me this article on the subject of nonprofits and business, which I felt was also interesting.

In each of these cases, the organization has used its nonprofit status to their advantage while operating with a mindset that they are still seeking profitability. The point where I would like to go deeper into this topic is finding ways to apply this to existing organizations, as well as helping new organizations better plan using this business mindset. That, however, will be a post for another time.

What are your ideas for implementing business solutions to nonprofit organizations? Please post in the comment section below.

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Make Their Day – FISH! Philosophy

make their day2Of the four elements of the FISH! Philosophy, I saved this topic to write about last – make their day. The reason is because it took me the most amount of time to truly wrap my head around the concept in terms of applying it to my everyday work life. As part of my personality, I tend to help others and take time to create a positive work environment. The concept of making their day, however, can come very close to working against a leader if they overdo it with the need for affiliation with coworkers (McClelland’s Need Theory). What I have found is that there is a happy medium.

Below are the things I try to do for those around me. These are not necessary over-the-top actions, but I find that it is often the smallest actions that have the greatest impact.

  • Take time to say hello to everyone in the morning and stop to ask how they are doing.
  • Reference an earlier conversation on an important subject to them.
  • Offer to help with tasks that are not my normal responsibilities.
  • Ask follow-up questions when someone is obviously having a noticeably good or bad day.
  • Noticing something new or different, such as a haircut.
  • Share positive feedback with them in front of the team.

What I have found is that making someone’s day has to be part of who and what you are. People have to understand that you are doing something nice with no expectation of a return. When that is not the case, people question the motives and usually will not accept the action as intended.

For many years I considered myself a “nice guy,” but that didn’t really evoke the right feeling. I now like to describe myself as a good person. That is what allows me to show kindness and make people’s day because they trust who I am and what I am about.

There are wonderful payoffs when making someone’s day. While that is not the objective, it can certainly be an outcome. Last November, I was walking to class and stopped to help a student who was having trouble carrying some boxes. We were headed in the same direction and struck up a conversation. It ended up that she was an intern in the office I was applying for a job (my current position). While she was not in a position to help get me the job, it was a coincidence that helped buy me credibility before I even started.

You never know who or what is around the corner, so it is always a good idea to be kind and choose to make their day.

What is the best example from your own professional career of someone making your day? Please share in a comment below.

Related Posts:

FISH! – Be Present

FISH! – Play

FISH! – Choose Your Attitude

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AAR – After Action Report

AARI recently read a case study about Army General Rebecca Halstead, who became accustomed to writing a short after action report following almost everything that happened throughout her day. This idea really got me thinking about how this process could help me account for and improve my own work. While I believe that I reflect heavily on my responsibilities, I don’t take the next step and truly analyze and record what happened efficiently; what went well, what didn’t work and what I learned. So, I thought I would use a blog post to help hone in on an idea for my own After Action Report (AAR). Below are the 5 steps I have developed for my own AAR.

  1. Initial Objectives: Start by listing the initial objectives of the project as early as possible. Discuss these items with all of the relevant stakeholders and compile a comprehensive list. Make this a living document that is updated throughout the process to keep it accurate. However, an original draft should be kept for later comparison.
  2. Final Objectives: Save a final draft of the objectives and analyze what items changed, or were added, and why.
  3. Failures: What did not go as planned and why? Are those elements likely to repeat?
  4. Success: What went well and why? Are those items likely to repeat in the future?
  5. Knowledge Gained: What was learned from the process? What are elements that should be carried into the next project? What should be alleviated? (Note: All alleviated processes should be recorded and saved.)

Thinking about implementing this process immediately makes me stop and think – how am I going to make this relevant over the long-term? Meaning, how will I avoid this being started and then slowly forgotten. In order to keep this as a “front-burner” item, I will add this to my project listing Excel file that I created to track all of my work. My original goal was to be able to recall what I did last for someone who I haven’t spoken to in some time, but this is a logical addition that provides real value. I can add in those 5 steps and update them as work progresses. Additionally, I will create a new document to compile all the information I have learned and processes that have not worked; this will help develop best practices. Now, it is just a matter of implementation.

Do you have your own after action process? If so, please share it in a comment below.

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Work/Life/School Balance

Blue-Sky-CloudsAs I sit here writing this blog post, I look outside to see a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with a few perfectly formed white clouds in the sky and a temperature of 86 degrees. Why am I inside? Because I am attempting to balance a job, school and life. Now, I will first say that I am not slaving away without a moment for myself. Not too long ago, I stopped to watch John Oliver discuss sports stadiums in the United States. However, working on these three items, simultaneously, comes with its own set of unique challenges.

On the work side, I am very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of autonomy that allows me to mostly work when I want and where I want. Just this morning I revised a future newspaper article and sent it off for approval; all from the comfort of my desk at home. Starting tomorrow, and going through Thursday, I will get to the office a little early in order to take Friday off. As I mentioned in a previous post about working remotely, this puts me in a position to be successful because I am not boxed into parameters that limit my productivity.

For school, the setup is also quite nice. All of my classes are in the evening, so there are generally no conflicts with work commitments. While there are social events I occasionally miss, I make the time to spend with family and friends. However, going to class isn’t as much of the difficulty as the work required once off campus. While I absolutely love my program, there seems to be an endless amount of knowledge to absorb that can take up all of my time – if I allow it to.

Now, the issue arises with balance between the three because of the very things that make work and school great; autonomy and loving my program. For work, I am constantly thinking about what else I can do to help a client, coworker or my office; there is always more work that can be done. That also comes into play with school. Because I like what I am doing so much, I find there is always more information to look at, read about and analyze. That has put a damper on my ability to truly relax. It has come to the point where I often feel bad for taking a few moments to myself; feeling like it is wasted time. And, I have found this only to be an issue when school is in session. None of this is overwhelming, but definitely creates an imbalance in the system.

Traditionally, going to the movies has been my escape. Off-hand, I would say that I have seen fewer movies in the last year than I have since I was not able to drive on my own. The reason for not going to the movies is not necessarily that I can’t make the time, but because I feel bad for going when I know there is work waiting to be finished. To rebalance my mental system, I have to find a way to allow myself to understand that by taking the few hours to go see a movie, I am putting myself in a better position to be efficient for the time I have my eyes on the computer screen looking at business plans or in a book reading about leadership.

Movies are my mental escape to refresh the batteries, but what are yours? Please post in a comment below.

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