Monday, July 6, 2009

Grassroots Relationships

I met up with a Tim Tyrell-Smith of SpinStrategy and Quixoting fame this past week for a cup of coffee. We spoke about how we can help each other in our networking and then moved to the personal stuff. This is the part of my conversations and relationship building that I really enjoy. I'm a firm believer that if you want to really get to know someone, ask them what they do in their free time, what they do with their families, and how you can help them on a personal level. It's a simple axiom and one that deserves a "no, duh" comment from some of you out there.

In any case, the conversation eventually veered to what this new economy, with its added incentive for workers to build strong relationships, will mean for our future professional and personal lives. Tim made a very good point: we may be seeing the onset of local, grassroots or, to borrow an overused terminology from Marketing, guerrilla relationship-building.

Finding your next position through your network and relationships is nothing new, but it seems it's now widely practiced for all types of positions. These days you may have to lean on your relationships for landing anything from an information worker, meaning anyone in the line of business, up to senior management. It's all a sign of our times.

This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. There seems to be just enough people in need of tapping the hidden job market to drive substantial traffic to and promote the services of networking sites such as LinkedIn or professional coaches around the country, not to mention self-professed networking gurus. This, of course, has its dangers, such as paying for services of quacks that don't know any more about networking than Joe Blow down the street, or for information that you can readily have from any one of the many LinkedIn groups gratis.

If you've read my blogs you know what I'm about to write: the opportunities and the potential upside in all of this. I think the opportunity is very clear: if you have any expertise in networking, then you can put it to use by introducing the novice to the art of relationship building. You could use your newly-developed expertise do good for the larger local population, such as what Sven Johnston is doing with We are Orange County group on LinkedIn. All of this will insure two things happen:
  1. You help another professional with their career or new business search
  2. You build a stronger network of people who think of you as the "Go To Guy"

And this last point is the ultimate upshot. Today's economic conditions is actually helping us refocus on our personal, LOCAL relationships. Living in a world where meritocracy is the ONLY method of distinguishing yourself doesn't cut it anymore.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying landing your next position, getting your next promotion, or landing your next big sale depends purely on your relationship. No. However, it's not JUST what you know anymore either. It's also who you know and how much they trust you. Your word now must carry weight again. When building relationships, if you say you're going to do something like make an introduction, develop marketing material for a friend, help build a marketing website, you better deliver. Otherwise, you're creating the wrong buzz for yourself.

Here's the crux of what I'm proposing: as the free market is gaining momentum and most of the folks in the market begin to land, few things will happen:

  1. The newly landed marketers, developers, salespeople, HR personnel will have an understanding of how to rely on and leverage their network to land any future positions
  2. Due to their newly found professional friends, they can listen for rumblings in the market in various industries. This'll help them build their sales pipeline, hire new employees, or get the word out on their products
  3. This new breed will have a huge advantage over those fortunate enough to have remained employed over this past downturn: because of their relationships and their newly acquired skills to leverage them, they'll quickly rise in the ranks, possibly faster than they would've if they hadn't made a transition

So, if you're out of work and already in search of a new role, build your strong, local relationships and know full well what advantages you'll have in this new economy. If you're already employed, I suggest reaching out and meeting some of these fine candidates and ambassadors of grassroots networking.