Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Houston: My Net Isn't Working

Aside from the frustration experienced by job seekers from what feels like the "black hole" in responding to postings on job boards (and there is enough on that subject to provide fodder for posts for the next year!) the next major pain point often seems to be around the dreaded word for anyone in transition: networking.

Yes, they have read the stats be they from our own Executive Job Market Intelligence Report or a zillion other sources all of which report that at the executive level somewhere between 50% and 80% of the time, networking is what made it happen. Our own experience has been consistently at the 70% level which is one of the reasons we invest so much time and energy to provide our members with the ways and means to expand their personal and professional networks both on and offline.

[And BTW, ExecuNet networking meetings around the country and in Canada are open to anyone, be they a member of ExecuNet or not].

In any case, armed with all this overwhelming data, why is it that I continually hear from people who say to me, "Well, this networking stuff may work for someone else, but it sure as heck isn't working for me."

After talking with such a person for a while, it usually becomes pretty clear pretty fast that they are still on a learning curve when it comes to really understanding what networking is. They are still at the stage where they think that networking is a noun.

In their mind networking is a "thing." They haven't quite gotten the message that really effective networking isn't a program ~ it's a process. Said another way, networking isn't a formula that you plug in and a job falls out at the other end. What is it? Short version: It's a process of building a relationship.

As you might guess when I say that, heads nod in agreement, but when we talk further it becomes clear that the "agreement" is really more about "understanding" the concept on an intellectual level not on a "personal/emotional" level, to which I usually says something like: "This just in, real relationships are personal and are based and built on trust not concepts."

After that, not a lot of time passes before I hear something like: "Okay Einstein, and I do this how"? To which I usually respond by asking some questions like: "How have you built relationships in the past"? "Were these relationships where you weren't worried about getting something"? "Did the relationship start with you trying to help this person"? "Where was your focus - on them or yourself?"

So what I am trying to do here is actually stumble to a point: behavior is driven by attitude.

If you enter a relationship where "getting" comes before "giving" people will sense it and if that is the attitude they continue to see, what you will have, best case, is an acquaintance and probably not one whose face will light up at the mention of your name.

I know this sounds horribly naive, but I can't help it; for good or for ill it seems to be in my DNA. To over simplify, at a macro level, I think there are two types of people running around the planet: givers and takers.

Now for sure, the "takers" get more ink (think too big to fail?) and I don't have stats to prove it, but my life experience suggests that at least when it comes to making a career move, the "givers" make changes a lot faster than the "takers."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Technology Is A Means, Not An End

Like many other businesses with a major online presence, we do lots of "live" programs which means there is no time for a do over. A few weeks ago, we experienced a techno glitch during one of our online programs. It was a sold out show and halfway through, our web meeting provider lost our connectivity. Not only was access lost, so were a few pounds from the stress.

Fortunately, these problems have been few and far between. Since ExecuNet was founded in 1988, obviously the business was built on the old fashioned forms of communication. We migrated online 15 years ago when the Internet was still a fledgling outlet.

Having gone through this migration, over the years we have seen firsthand how the Internet has the power to bring people together. Our members report deep and long-term networking bonds with each other, without ever having met in person. I also doubt that any of us would argue that contacts, referrals, introductions and advice are instrumental to getting help with both business issues as well as career management challenges and I would be lying if I didn't say that is has been deeply rewarding to be part of an enterprise where one of the fundamental goals is to help foster these relationships.

On the other hand, incidents like this one when we got "unplugged" serve to remind me more than ever, that as wonderful as all the technology is, businesswise or career wise, it is still about relationships that are built on trust.

This is one of the reasons why, even with all the electronics today, we still tell people, there is no substitute for face to face. It is also why our networking meetings are open to anyone be they members with us or not. Indeed, the whole purpose of the meetings is to give all those attending one more venue in addition to everything else one would hope and expect they would be doing to expand their personal and professional network.

All we ask is that people come with the attitude and spirit of helping each other. If you haven't checked out a meeting, come join us. You can always check out the upcoming events in your area by just clicking here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

It's Getting To Be That Time of Year

I don't know about you, but in my case I can tell you that when they were passing out the genes for creatvity I was either sick or on vacation. It's a good thing for me that my wife got more than her fair share otherwise both our house and my home office would look like it was decorated in an "early Salvation Army" motif, and that's only on the personal side.

On the business side they simply have stopped asking what I think about the design of anything be it print or electronic. After all, back in the day, I thought the Edsel was cool looking.

All of which is to say that I hold anyone who has design talents in awe. Not just because of the professional talents they bring to what they do, but also because of the frustration they must feel in dealing with something so subjective. How they ever get clients to agree with anything is beyond me.

If you have read this far you are probably wondering (and rightfully so) what, if anything, this has to do with the title of this post? Such as it is, here's the link:

A few days ago we got a notice from the Connecticut Food Bank that a donation had been made in ExecuNet's name (specifically on behalf of our VP & Executive Director Lauryn Franzoni). The donation was made by Rob Hudgins the president/creative director of a graphic and web design firm down in Florida called 50/50 Design. Rob has been a prime design resource for us for years.

As it turns out, Rob's company marked their 10th anniversary this past July, and to mark that occasion rather than spend lots of money on self-serving hoopla, he decided to go to each of his clients and have them select a charity of their choice to which he then wanted to make a donation on their behalf as his way of saying thanks to the companies who have helped bring his business to where it is today.

When I learned all this, it got me to thinking that before any of us know it, the holiday season will be here (Sam's Club has Christmas stuff out already and it isn't even Halloween!) and lots of businesses big and small will be thinking of how to say thanks to their customers/business partners, etc.

While it is true that the economy is slowly trying to pick itself up off the floor, as we all know for millions of folks through no fault of their own, getting off that floor is still many months away.

So, if your company is looking for a really nice way to say thanks and give some extra help to those in need, you might want to borrow Rob's idea when someone asks "does anyone have any ideas of what we should do this year."?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Members vs. Subscribers

One of the really interesting things about having been around as long as we have is that we have experienced what it is like to be part of a community both on and off the Internet.

As many who read this blog are aware (i.e. both of you) I started ExecuNet in 1988. Hell, now that I think of it, there were fax machines then and we still thought technology had gone beyond amazing and then along came CDs and left us speechless. Time flies as they say.

In 1995 we silently and with great trepidation turned on our website, we were concerned about a lot of things, not the least of which was losing the relationship with our members who up until that point could not become a member without actually talking to a real live person and/or getting hundreds of emails a day from high school kids with nothing better to do.

The email overload turned out not to be a problem then, but it is now with the never ending SPAM for Viagra, Rx offerings from Canada and easy money opportunities from the President of Nigeria.

While executives can now join online, we have held firmly to our belief that really effective networks/communitites (be they for business or career or both) are built and based on real relationships not simply a collection of Vcards.

I was reminded of this recently when I thought about a panel I was on some years ago wtih Craig Newmark of Craigslist and Laurel Touby, the founder of Media Bistro. The subject we discussed was the building of online communities.

Even though none of us had talked to the other about what we were going to say. The common thread was that each of our sites had grown by personal referral and personal involvement with our "community."

“Word-of-mouth” is obviously impossible to actively control, but when it works in your favor, the positive results can be quite powerful. ExecuNet was, as mentioned above, formed well before commercial Internet usage, and obviously at that time we relied heavily on referrals from our members.

Now nearly twenty-two years later, we still credit recommendations from our members for much of our success and longevity.

In today's world, the value of word-of-mouth buzz is compounded by the speed in which news travels over the Internet. My desktop blinks constatly as the "tweets" pour in.

No matter how people get here, however, I have always felt that personal referral was the most powerful advertising there is, and that is evidenced by the fact that the community we have with ExecuNet is based on the commitment that comes from being a member. That was -- and still is -- the key factor in why personal referral remains the way most of our members get here.

One of the first questions many people who contact us for the first time ask is how we measure our effectiveness as a resource for senior-level executives? My response is usually along the lines of "How did you hear of us?"

The answer more often than not is "A friend of mine told me about you." To which I then respond, "Well, you have now found a good part of the answer -- by reputation. Most people I know don't refer people to something unless they feel there is value there. I don’t, and I wouldn't expect you to either."

There is a real difference between being a member of something and simply a subscriber. Subscribers transact; members TRUST.