Monday, June 23, 2008

'Playing the Game' or 'Politics'. How do women approach networking in a large company?

"If you go out to build a network, people can see you coming from a mile away".

This comment came in response to a question I asked last Thursday evening at the excellent event at HSBC's offices high above Canary Wharf.

The question, "is networking in a large organisation different for women to men and do women need to be more proactive or act differently in any way?", was prompted by a comment made in conversation a couple of weeks ago. A business colleague, formerly a senior woman in a male dominated industry, told me there is a strong need for networking support for women in corporates. When she was in post, she and a colleague had been told that to succeed they needed to 'play the game'. The person who said this meant that they should build a network but the way it was phrased put both women off networking for a long time.

In a recent 'Inspired Leaders Network' event, Kanya King MBE, founder and CEO of MOBO talked about how essential networking had been to her career, and how she had almost got it wrong herself in her early days at work. "One of the worst mistakes I made was to stay head down in the business in the early days and not go out to events and network with others in the industry."

During last week's presentations, we were similarly left in no doubt of the importance of network building for women in industry. The main speaker, Lois Grady, a former Executive VP of the US finance company Hartford Life, told how she would build her connections with everyone she worked with, "from the security guard to the President of the Company." Talking to Lois afterwards, she told me how she followed this ethos throughout her career, showing respect and consideration for people of all positions and engaging whereever she could.

A key thread thoughout Lois's talk, was about the importance of working in an environment and culture which fits with your own outlook and working preferences, and then immersing yourself in that culture.

"If you're there, give your best.What the heck, otherwise you're just breathing air", said Lois. ""You have to know the company's business and operations. Know your boss's agenda and your boss's boss's agenda."

Meanwhile Kirstie Galloway, Global Head of Cross Products and Cross Utilities IT at HSBC, gave her three top tips to succeed as a woman in a corporate environment. Once again, the importance of networking underpinned everything she said.

Kirstie's three tips were:

"Be brave. You need to take the opportunities that come your way and, although you won't always succeed, you will be noticed.

"Always act with respect. You don't have to like everyone you work with but it is important to find a way to get on with them. It is important to always treat others with respect. Don't burn your bridges, even if you think you will never meet them again - people talk, and your reputation can proceed you.

"Build your network of contacts. Knowledge of your industry should be as wide as it is deep."

The networking theme continued as Karin Cook, Global Head of Derivative Operations at HSBC told us of the importance of role models, whether above or below you in the organisation's hierarchy. "Look at them, learn from them, ask them."

With such an emphasis on networking throughout the evening, I expected quite a lively response to my question.

I was surprised at the response. The panel looked dumbfounded at the question and responses surrounded social events, sports and being friends with workers rather than the importance of feedback, mentors and building connections across departments.

Is this where the issue is with 'networking'? Talk about 'building networks', 'developing connections' or even 'social capital' and you are on firm ground. As soon as you speak about 'networking', it is seen as a forced, even false and manipulative activity for one's own end. Maybe this is why it's seen as a 'game' or 'playing politics'.

I discussed this with Lois Grady after the event. I explained that, to me, networking is about sharing expertise, ideas, experience and connections to raise each of our potential above that which we could achieve on our own. Lois burst to life, agreeing completely with the definition and its importance in the workplace.

How can we change the perception of networking in the workplace so that it is seen as a positive, constructive activity rather than manipulative and self-serving? Do women need to 'network' differently to men in the workplace, or should everyone simply take the common-sense advice we heard last week?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Live in London this week - The Art of Networking

I'll be speaking at Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London on both Wednesday and Thursday this week. Both events offer the chance to both improve your networking skills and to connect with a range of people in the UK's event industry.

The talks form part of the 'LondonLaunch:Live' event at Earls Court on 25th and 26th June.

On the Wednesday afternoon, I will be speaking at a special VIP reception hosted by ISES - The International Special Events Society. Entry is free, you simply need to book your place with Steph Laing at to secure your place.

At lunchtime on Thursday, I will be presenting one of the 'LearnShops'at the main LondonLaunch:Live event. You can register for the exhibition at their website.

See you there!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Find out the secrets of SUCKSESS

Yes, it's time to come and see the World's Number One Sucksess Guru - Guru John Popolini.

Guru John is wowing the crowds at London's Leicester Square Hippodrome for three nights only in a couple of weeks. You don't want to miss it if you don't want to transform your life.

See you there!

Monday, June 16, 2008

C'mon Over Campaign on Facebook - The Northern Ireland experiment gathers pace

Can a Government Department succeed in engaging young people on Facebook? In April I discussed how the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DELNI) had become the first Government Department to launch a Facebook page as part of their C’mon Over Campaign, their attempt to encourage people to move to Northern Ireland to work and study.

An initial fear was that an ‘Establishment’ presence on Facebook could turn people away and DELNI could be faced with an embarrassing failure as few people would be willing to sign up as ‘Fans’ and the content on the site would be too dry to engage.

However, the early signs are that the experiment could be a success. The team at DELNI have been very proactive in putting up a diverse range of content on the site, focusing on individuals in Northern Ireland and encouraging debate. Videos of students and employees talking about their experiences together with a new ‘’Day in the Life’ feature give the site a warm feel and get the message across in a human way.

My one reservation is that the ‘Day in the Life’ feature, interviewing someone at one of Northern Ireland’s larger employers, does have a corporate sponsored feel, with the company’s logo and contact details at the bottom. Perhaps this would be more effective if it felt more independent.

What these innovations should achieve, however, is create the viral effect that Facebook is so good at delivering. Everyone who is featured in a video or blog on the page will surely tell their friends, or the page will feature in those individuals’ newsfeed. This is how the popularity of the site will grow. Already, in just over 2 months, the page can boast almost 200 fans and 3,000 hits and is attracting plenty of press coverage, including in last week’s Independent newspaper.

Fans are starting to engage on The Wall and The Discussion Board on the page and a look at the people who call themselves ‘Fans’ of Northern Ireland shows a range of people, including a lot of young people and many based across the world, not just in Northern Ireland.

Michael Gould, from DELNI, told me that this is exactly what they wanted to achieve.

“In our bid to encourage skilled workers to move to Northern Ireland, it is vital that our 'C'Mon Over' message reaches our target audience. Our decision to embrace social networking, and Facebook in particular, was based on its increasing popularity and the fact that the site has the same demographic we wish to interact with."

With a new post almost every day, it is vital that the team at DELNI keep the momentum going and what I’d like to see next is more and more content, in the form of questions, offers and content coming from the growing number of Fans of the site. This is starting to happen but is very difficult to encourage given the way Facebook operates.

It’s certainly been an encouraging start though and is beginning to turn a few heads.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Like a Rolling Stone - An interview with the Queen of Networking

The following article orginally appeared in this month's edition of The National Networker

"I enjoy being in touch with people."

That's probably an understatement from the woman who's been called 'The Queen of the Scene' and 'The Queen of Networking' by The Independent newspaper. Carole Stone boasts a database of over 33,000 people, all of whom have crossed her path in a career that has taken her from a BBC secretary to Producer of two of BBC Radio 4's flagship shows, Any Questions? and Woman's Hour, and now a partnership with one of the most respected market research organisations in the UK, YouGov.

The author of Networking: The Art of Making Friends and The Ultimate Guide to Successful Networking clearly takes the subject of friendship very seriously. She reckons that she keeps in touch with 'around 10,000' of the people on her database and, though perhaps it would be impossible for Carole to call them all 'friends', she will argue that she can at least remember them. It probably took two or three meetings before Carole recognised me across a crowded room, but now I'm sure she could place me very quickly.

"I've always kept a good record of the contacts I make," she told me when we met at her YouGovStone offices last week. "Initially it was a Rolodex, just cards going around. Now I'm like everyone else, I have an electronic database."

They're not just names. Each entry in Carole's database has comments alongside that tell her all about that person, where they met, what their interests are, even – in the case of a former Any Questions? panellist – that they like to take a bath when they arrive at an event (to my eternal regret, I never pursued that point with Carole!).

"In certain hotels they make a note of what you like or don't like, whether you like freesias in your hotel room for example. So I started to make a note of my contacts' preferences - if they adored Sticky Toffee Pudding for example.

"I keep notes so that every time someone's name pops up it reminds me of interesting things about them – relatives, former jobs, where I met them - things like that. I don't put anything too terrible down just in case that person happens to be looking over my shoulder as I update their entry."

Carole's database includes many of the great and the good of British politics, media and business. Her Christmas parties have become a legend, growing in size until last year she had to hold two separate events. An invitation to attend is keenly sought-after. Once there, you'll find yourself rubbing shoulders with Lords and Ladies, Government Ministers, Chairmen and Chief Executives of leading public and private sector organisations, and media celebrities – as well as Carole's family and long-time friends, and lots of people who may not yet have reached the top but have taken Carole's fancy.

How do you build a database and reputation of this calibre?

"When I left the BBC I started bringing people together for very simple, informal lunches in my flat in Covent Garden, just to stay in touch with the people I'd met on Any Questions? and with friends and former colleagues. I provided a tuna salad, inexpensive but non-headache-making wine and good conversation with interesting people.

"I wasn't doing anything commercial. Anyone I particularly liked I'd invite them to my annual party or to a lunch." But as Carole's reputation for bringing together her influential network spread, a business opportunity arose.

"Gradually one or two Chairmen and Chief Execs of some large companies said 'Could you bring people like this together for me?'; either because they wanted to stay in touch with what was happening in the world, or because they wanted to talk about a particular subject that affected their companies. And out of that a consultancy business grew."

I first met Carole at two such luncheon events. Two different organisations had asked her to bring together key decision-makers and thought-leaders in their fields to discuss projects they were involved with. In the first instance about twelve of us met to discuss how to engage more young people in enterprise, and a second lunch followed to give feedback on a new social network to help marry mentors with people who needed their help.

Carole's networking never stops.

"The last several years I've held what I call my 'salons'. Again it's very simple – just friends and colleagues gathering to share a glass of wine and good conversation on a regular basis. On the whole, it's nice when you meet people to be able to say 'I'm always there on a Monday night' or 'I'm always there on Friday lunchtime'. Whether it's in a room in a bar, or in your home, you do something short and sharp for about an hour and a half. Any longer and people coming early or late miss each other."

Carole's salons are like the woman herself. She bubbles with enthusiasm and talks at one hundred miles an hour. The experience of one of her salons is very similar.

I went along to Carole's flat in London's Covent Garden earlier this week. Carole and her husband, the television journalist Richard Lindley, push back the furniture and each Monday invite around sixty guests into their living room. Richard pours the wine and Carole networks, introducing guests to each other, and making sure that nobody is left standing on their own.

'Can I introduce Sarah? She's a journalist. Sarah, this is Neil, he's a foreign currency trader' Our hostess knows what everyone in the room does and makes sure that they are introduced to fellow guests to get the conversation started.

The large number of people in such a small area creates a vibrant buzz as people happily move from group to group and introduce themselves with an assurance and confidence that you don't often see at other networking events. Everyone has their own story of how they met Carole and how they've come to be there.

I met authors, fellow speakers, former Members of Parliament, Chairmen of successful dot coms and many other interesting people from a wide range of backgrounds during the hour and a half I was there. And if you escape from the throng, you can spend as much time reading the reams of media coverage of Carole that adorn the walls of the corridor in her apartment.

Last year Carole joined forces with the UK's leading online market research company, YouGov and formed YouGovStone, a branch of the organisation designed to find out what opinion formers think about the most important issues facing the country.

"Last year YouGov approached me and said 'we've got a panel of 300,000-400,000 public consumers, maybe you could form a panel of 'influentials'" Carole explained. "If companies or other organisations want to know what the general public think, they come to YouGov. If they want to know what the 'influentials' think, perhaps responding to slightly different or more in-depth questions, they come to YouGovStone. It adds another string to their bow".

Based on this research, Carole is increasingly involved in arranging debates and discussions with the experts on the topics that interest her clients. It might be globalisation, or 'digital politics', the influence of the new media on political campaigns. Dealing with the 4,000+ people who have joined her YouGovStone panel of 'influentials' is time-consuming, but she's determined that they shall all be treated properly.

With 33,000 names on her database and 10,000 of them being instantly recognisable to Carole, how do you make an impression and get remembered? Everyone's talking about Carole Stone, what makes Carole talk about other people?

"The key is that you must have a reputation for being reliable", she says. "Return calls; when you say you will get in touch do so; send information when you promised you would."

We talked about a speaker in the UK who met Carole at an event they both appeared at. Afterwards they exchanged business cards and he told Carole that he wanted to talk about how they could work together in the future. Carole followed up with an email, but never heard from him again. It's clear that she remembers this networking failure.

"There are too many people who don't follow through, who don't send something when they say they will and who, when they have offered to put you in touch with someone, don't actually do it. Of course there are some people whose contact details you can't give out, but you can always say 'I'll forward it for you'. It's about being generous with your contacts".

"Whenever I come back from an event I always make notes of what I've promised to do, to make sure that I follow up immediately. If you do so daily it's not too big a job, but if you let it pile up you lose the contacts you've made."

It's clear that a lot of time, energy and organisation goes into building up and managing the huge network of contacts that Carole has amassed over the years. Not everyone would appreciate the invasion of their living room on a series of salons, nor look forward to organising London's biggest Christmas party and deciding who out of your 33,000 contacts you want to invite.

But, with the help of a small and enthusiastic team, Carole puts her heart and soul into it and shows no signs of slowing down. The Queen's crown isn't slipping.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Investing in Relationships....the long term rewards

I attended the Hertfordshire Institute of Directors 'Hert-y Breakfast' this morning. The guest speaker was former BBC foreign affairs correspondent and independent MP Martin Bell, aka 'The Man in the White Suit'.

The talk was fascinating, with challenging views on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, sleaze in Parliament, the quality of our politicians and electoral system and standards in journalism.

In terms of networking, one thing that Martin said jumped out at me. I've often talked about the dangers of preconceptions at networking events, looking at people and asking yourself how they can help you. To often we write off people without getting to know them, thinking that their business is too small, they are too junior within a company, they wouldn't be able to afford us. Not only is this limited thinking, ignoring who they might know or influence, it is also short term thinking.

Martin Bell's career, and his ability to get the inside track on what is currently happening in the world, has been profoundly influenced by the connections that his has made, and developed over the years.

"The young officers I knew when I reported on the streets of Belfast in the 60s and 70s are now Generals and retired Generals, and they tell me things they wouldn't tell a young reporter.

"The second and third Secretaries I met in Cambodia and Vietnam are now Ambassadors and ex-Ambassadors, and they tell me things they wouldn't tell a young reporter."

Whether you are chasing a story, chasing a career or chasing new business, the relationships that you make, nurture and develop can make a huge difference for you. You can't necessarily measure the strength of your connections based on the immediate benefits you derive from them, in many cases you need to invest in a relationship over a period of years before the return becomes apparent.