Sunday, October 30, 2016

Networking: How my perceptions & practice have changed

Rachel Burnham writes: I am writing this post about networking, as a number of the L&D practitioners I am currently working with have recently raised the topic of networking and its value.

I used to see networking as one of those things I ‘ought’ to do as a professional.  It was always listed as one of those things that an effective and well-rounded professional ‘should’ do. And like many things one feels one ought to do, I could never quite see the real benefit – and just like cleaning out the cupboard under the sink, it was a task that I would put off until I really had to do it.  I saw it as a necessary evil, part of the downside of freelance work, as one strand of developing potential new clients. 

I always associated it with rather awkward events where a lot of strangers would gather eat canapes, exchange business cards and try to sell to one another.  (Or possibly exchange canapes, sell cards and eat … well may be not!) Definitely not part of my comfort zone.  Made worse, by a combination of introversion and lack of practice.  Rather a self-fullfilling, downward spiral.  Hideous.

But no more! Now I see networking rather differently.  Now, it is part of my day to day work.  And I even enjoy it!

So what has changed?

The key shift for me was when I started to see the purpose of networking differently and started to see it first and foremost as about learning.   More and more people are seeing the value of their personal network for learning and you now often hear people refer to their PLN or Personal Learning Network. Why not check out #PLN for many interesting links and references?

This shift enabled me to let go of a lot of baggage and distaste towards networking, as being all about selling yourself and seeking business benefit.  Instead I am able to focus on networking as learning, which fits far better with my values.   Paradoxically, this has also allowed me to reap immediate and ongoing benefits from networking, from the exposure to new information, exchange of ideas, access to resources and opportunity to test out my own experiences against other professionals in the same field.

I have also changed the way that I network.  Using social media is a big part of this.  Using social media to network and particularly Twitter, has enabled me to come into contact with a much greater variety of L&D and HR professionals than before, both here in the UK and across the world.   And, also to make contact with people in other fields too.

I find using social media works well for me as an introvert.  I have been able to build relationships with people at my own pace and switch off when I want to.  It gives me time to reflect before responding  to comments.  And it means when I do meet people in person, I feel far more relaxed and have much more interesting conversations that I ever did before, because we are often building on an existing relationship.  The foundation has already been laid.

One of the things I do now as I network, is to share what I am currently working on. This Working Out Loud (WOL) can give networking much more value and interest.  For me this changes networking from a ‘promotional’ activity in which a glossy front is maintained, with perhaps rather superficial exchanges, to something that is a bit more real, messy and hair let down.  Not that every networking conversation is a deep exchange about L&D practice – sometimes I’m discussing growing carrots or dandelions in the lawn or what music I’ve been listening to (‘cause I’m into gardening & jazz)  – but often when we do talk work it is a bit more honest in my experience, than in those traditional networking events.

My other revelation in relation to networking, is that it is possible to network and meet up one to one!  Not sure quite why the penny took so long to drop for me with this!  I now have lots of one to one networking meet ups for tea/coffee and cake or lunch.  I find I have much more productive conversations one to one or in a small group.

But the funny peculiar thing is, now I have made those changes, I now am much happier in group networking events and so now participate in far more than I ever did before! 
I will write more on this topic shortly and explore the second part of my Sketchnote, which covers some practical tips for networking.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

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