Focus your networking in your community, not company

Throughout a career, networking will be an essential topic and effort that is put forth. Many organizations will find pockets of leaders or department heads that need to be part of your inner circle for career success or achieve that next promotion on your list. The traditional approach of corporate networking is short-sided and primarily benefits the organization and rarely the person putting in the effort. More importantly, it often only helps the career within that organization. 

Work should be something that helps support living and not the latter approach of living to work. Understanding this approach builds on the importance of focusing more on networking within your community and the place you live. Establishing relationships that will always be available whenever needed, regardless of location or time, is a stronger networking foundation. This networking approach of the generation before us developed loyalty and supported civics. It shaped and built the towns as we see and live in them today. 

In most organizations, a large part of career development and progression is focused on networking within the company. These promotion seekers are reaching out to partner with other leaders in the organization to create what is often referred to as synergies. Is it something that leads to career success, and more importantly, does it lead to results? Often the answer is no. The effort or partnership often dilutes before it can transition to actual results. It is rare to hear that someone was promoted simply because they knew or partnered with someone. 

A mind-shift must occur regarding networking and how it leads to longevity and other measurements of a successful career. The mind-shift is really about who will be there to support your career. Will it be the organization getting ready to lay you off? Is it likely you will spend your entire career with the same company? If part of the purpose of a job is the return received from your experience and career growth, your community will be the consistent passenger. 

There are so many challenges faced throughout a career. Some of those challenges are presented by the firms and companies. Others are due to the events and people that surround us, things that impact our families. Examples from our communities may be schools, the local economy, recreation, politics, and all the changes that shape and evolve a community. Your community will be there hand in hand throughout all the challenges faced.

Networking in partnering within your community will lead to the loyalty and civics that support long-term success in a career. Working with neighbors and local business leaders to build up and support your community will develop the network needed when times become challenging or when it is time for a promotion. Civics will be the work that creates the results required. Civics is the responsibility and obligations we hold towards our neighbors and community. The work is very similar to what it looks like within the walls of any business. The skills and experience gained are completely transferable.  

Your neighbors and friends, and community business leaders are always watching. They see how you always show up and follow through. They see how you support and contribute to those around you. They were there when you helped their son or daughter get their first job or how well you coached their kids through sports. When the high school debate team needed help with the fundraiser, your community watched how you created a plan, worked with others, and achieved the goal. All the skills developed in supporting and fulfilling community obligations translate to career success. 

What legacy is achieved through efforts to network with individuals who may have no influence on your life within the next few years?

Building a network within your community is more than just being a good neighbor. It takes the same intent, planning, and follow-through needed to network and develop a career within an organization. Some great ways to get involved start with your chamber of commerce. What events or even development classes are they offering? This can be a great way to meet local business leaders and understand the unique local challenges they are facing. Let’s look at some other great ways to partner and network in your community:

Look for a bipartisan city club or group. Traditionally these groups have social lunches and dinners with speakers who discuss local issues and the actions to address them. 

Attend and participate in city council meetings. Often these meetings address changes that are coming and challenges the city is facing. It is easy to establish new relationships and get involved. Who knows where it leads. There is a lot to gain from attending city council meetings. Reviewing the city calendar may show other significant events to attend. 

Attend school board meetings and or join your child’s school’s PTO. Education and all the decisions surrounding it will directly impact your child’s education. This impact is not just true for a child’s educational learning but also for how they develop socially. 

There are many ways to network and engage with your community. It may sound like a lot of additional time or energy, but shift the energy and time that would have been exhausted in your professional environment. I remember hours spent talking and networking with people, especially if it was some work event after hours. I would try and catch as many people as I could. This time can be very unproductive, yielding little to no results. It is essential to create balance, there are work hours, and those hours are used to achieve the specific outcomes and goals outlined by the detailed role description.  

There is a clear line between acceptable efforts and a curriculum supporting development towards career growth. A significant opportunity in almost all organizations is creating transparent and clear paths that lead to a promotion. What legacy is achieved through efforts to network with individuals who may have no influence on your life within the next few years? In most cases, the work completed by individuals speaks for itself. The ability to leverage tangible skills and translate them into sustainable results should be the first consideration in who is presented with the next promotion. Unfortunately, there are many times when intangibles will be the driving factor in promotion decisions. 

Most people never leave the community from their childhood. So when building a long-standing network to support the longevity and legacy of a career, your community seems to make the most sense. When times of change come, who will be there to support you? It will be the people who have seen the example of your commitment and follow-through, the people you have supported and taken care of, and your more extensive organization, your community. 

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