Q I find networking hard to do, but I actively did it while I was looking for a job. Now that I'm back at work, I'm facing the challenge of staying in touch with my network. Any suggestions?
A Building relationships while you maintain your own energy will help you sustain a strong network.
The inner game
First, think about why you find it difficult to network. Some people see networking as manipulative, while others are reserved and find it hard to approach people. Whatever the source of your resistance, shift your perspective to seeing networking as a process of creating relationships. At its best, you're making connections with people that will be beneficial and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Once you have a more comfortable attitude about networking, make a list of all the ways you can be in touch with people: one-on-one lunches, professional association meetings, networking events, sending notes. Then rank them by how appealing they sound. Time will limit how much you can do, so include activities that you enjoy and avoid those you find less pleasant.
It will take energy to sustain your networking efforts. Look at your overall approach to managing your energy, assessing your success in avoiding energy drains and building energy. Consider whether you get energy from being by yourself or from being with other people, and make sure your interactions match your needs. Also, develop some strategies that will give you an extra burst when needed, and plan to do your networking at times when you feel more outwardly focused.
The outer game
Planning activities and working the plan will be your primary focus.
Using the top few items from your list, get more specific about possible actions. If you prefer one-on-one get-togethers, make a list of the people you're going to invite to lunch. If you like attending professional organization meetings, gather information about options. Use a variety of tactics to get the most out of your efforts.
Then make a schedule. Keep it realistic; don't plan to do more networking than you can accomplish. Also, develop rewards for yourself for when you complete stages of your plan.
Other tips that make networking easier:
• Keep track of what you've done and what you've learned about each person in your network using electronic tools, a notebook or a Rolodex -- whatever will work for you. Be diligent about maintaining the system.
• Notice information that might be valuable to someone you know. Passing articles or ideas on to others keeps you in touch while providing something of value to them.
• Help people if they come to you. Even if you can't be of significant help, make an effort; it will be remembered and appreciated.
• Follow through! When you aren't enthusiastic about a task, it's easy to let it slip. Try setting a time, say, the first Monday of each month, to review and adjust your plan. That will help keep you on track, and as you complete tasks, your momentum will help you keep going.
The last word
Building authentic connections in ways that are comfortable to you will help you maintain a robust professional network.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at email@example.com, or at 651-398-4765. Questions also can be submitted at www.deliverchange.com/coachscorner.