Making the Right Connections? Take a Fresh Look at the Pieces.

Too often we think we’ll find success if we just meet the right people. Sometimes that’s so.

"Hot Dog" limited edition serigraph by John Gaydos

But we can waste a lot of time cozying up to influencers, just to discover that they aren’t interested in doing anything for us.

Our success comes from demonstrating that we know how to connect the dots and get results!

Put the pieces together

We make “right” connections when we come up with ideas that:

  • solve a problem or settle an issue
  • develop a profitable product or service
  • build or improve an essential relationship

They are a function of you, using your insights and initiative, to put the pieces together, in ways that showcase your:

  • Understanding of  business needs
  • Ability to collaborate and/or partner with individuals or groups
  • Problem-solving capabilities and risk-taking tolerances
  • Willingness to take the lead and own outcomes
  • Ability to communicate in ways that attract support and sponsorship

The pieces only fit correctly if you understand what’s needed to make them connect. Think of a jigsaw puzzle and how, if you force pieces together that aren’t a match, you’ll end up with a distorted picture. The same is true at our jobs.

Think of the coworkers where you work who are the go-to people whenever things are out of whack. They’re successful because they take the time to identify the:

  • underlying problem, not just the surface symptoms
  • solution that will get things up and running without causing other problems later
  • strategy for a long-term resolution that minimizes cost and disruption
  • players who need to participate as collaborators and/or partners

Our career value is determined by how willing and effective we are at solving problems by connecting needs and solutions. That recognition can vault our success.

Hot doggin’ it

Last fall, our local, non-profit arts council held its annual fundraiser–an “affordable art for everyone” auction. The executive director in collaboration with one of the board members came up with idea.

They put the pieces together, creating the right connections, collaborations, and partnerships, by:

  • Attracting artists to submit work for a 50-50 sales split, over 200 pieces
  • Securing an “historic” local hot dog eatery as a sponsor and building the event’s theme around it
  • Commissioning a well-known, local painter to create an original piece called “Hot Dog” (which sold for $1,300; needless to say, most other pieces were significantly less!)
  • Attracting a strong bidder turnout and press attention

After the auction, the owners of the hot dog business suggested making a limited edition print of the original painting. Here was a chance to initiate more “right connections.”

Again the executive director and board member put new pieces together by:

  • Securing a fine art printer to create a limited edition serigraph at an affordable price
  • Making arrangements with the artist to partner on the effort
  • Identifying an art business that would mat and frame the piece for an attractive price
  • Engaging other board members and social media followers to promote and/or purchase the print

Making the right connections bonds you with everyone you engage. That’s how you build your own brand, attract followers, and expand your leverage. Each initiative builds on itself in expansive ways.

Finding intersection

Success is not linear. It’s a function of our choices and our ability to know which way to turn when we face an intersection.

The “hot dog” auction and print experience connected a non-profit organization with individual artists trying to make a go of it. It brought about the involvement of a food business, a print maker, and a frame shop along with art fanciers and a gallery owner.

The old image of the path to career success was a ladder. The idea of climbing steps in a row doesn’t work much anymore. It’s all about connecting and arranging opportunities in creative ways to get the job done. Hot dog!

Career in a Rut? Partner Up and Push. | A “Business Fitness” BOGO

Careers are personal. They’re about what we want from our work life and what we’ll risk to get it.                

Navigating our career path can be lonely. What it takes to be successful isn’t always clear. The messages we get may be vague or conflicting. Our coworkers may have agendas that don’t include us. 

Going it alone is how many manage their careers. That makes about as much sense as trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or master tennis without a support system. We all need someone in our corner to keep us going; they need us too. 

A rescue offer 

I wrote Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way to make managing your career easier and to get beyond the fluff. 

If you’re ready to get serious about your career planning, I’d like to make it easy for you get (re)started: 

For all of January 2012, I’m offering buy one get one (BOGO) free, signed copies of my book.  

Just go to my website “book” tab and add one (1) copy to your cart for $19.95. (I’ll know to send two by your date of purchase.) Shipping is free in the continental U.S. 

A great career development strategy is a powerful thing. Here’s how you can us the book to build yours.

The power of partnering 

When building your career, there’s real value in partnering with someone you trust and respect, someone to hold you accountable for setting goals and staying the course for success. 

There reasons galore why we benefit from the support of a partner: 

  • It’s difficult for us to see ourselves objectively. We need a filter. 
  • It’s difficult to stay motivated when things go awry, when we’ve been disappointed, and when we lose our optimism. 
  • It’s difficult to stay up when our self-confidence wanes, self-doubt haunts us, and opportunities have been missed. 

Whether careers are exotic or mundane, they often progress in mysterious and unpredictable ways. The only aspects we control are the choices we make, the capabilities we develop, the chances we take, and the relationships we form. 

Along the way, we need to  build momentum around our efforts until the pieces take shape and a picture of our career emerges. A “business fitness” partner can keep us on track.

 Keep pushing 

Finding career success isn’t easy. It means always pressing forward. Funny, how we continually need to push and be pushed. So give this approach a try: 

  • Select a single partner or small group (no more than 5)
  • Agree to meet at a set day and time (at least twice monthly)
  • Use your first meeting to establish ground rules, particularly confidentiality around information shared. Then share what kind of success each of you wants right now.
  • Assign one chapter from Business Fitness to be read and discussed at each meeting. Agree to share answers to the inventories at each chapter end.
  • After all the chapters have been discussed, go back and (re)write your career goals and share. Hold each other accountable for specific statements.
  • Use each subsequent meeting to review progress on goals, provide insights and support, and identify ways to help each other move forward. 
  • Make the meetings and the process fun!

This process is part book club, mastermind group, and individual mentoring/coaching. As you progress, you’ll come up with endless next steps that will build your capabilities, strengthen your self-confidence, and deepen relationships. 

Career building takes discipline. There are no shortcuts that are sustainable. When we’re at our best, we feel business fit. To get there, we need each other.

Are Internal Customers Frustrating You? Change Hats

Everyone at work wants something from us. Meeting their expectations takes our time and talent so they get what they want. 

That’s what we’re paid for, right? Maybe yes, and maybe no. 

It’s all in the name of service. 

Lots of us are in service jobs like human resources, IT, finance, legal, marketing, communications, and admin. 

We’re expected to use our specialized expertise to remove clutter and obstacles for department managers and coworkers—our internal customers.

Managers, especially, want us to pull a rabbit out of a hat even though we aren’t magicians. They aren’t happy when the trick fails. 

We can sense when we’re out on a limb with our internal customers every time we find ourselves: 

  • Apologizing for something
  • Being second-guessed
  • Putting up with diva behavior
  • Being unacknowledged or overlooked 

It’s baffling to know that we’re providing requested information and deliverables but things aren’t progressing.  

Time to hit the reset button 

I led a management training group once where each employee was responsible for working with designated department managers on their annual training plans. 

It didn’t take long to figure out that certain internal clients were “playing” them by resisting the planning process or trying to off-load it. The remedy was for each of us to take off our “I’m here to serve” mantle and put on an internal consultant hat. 

The fix was in the pages of Peter Block’s classic book, Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used.  

Block woke us up with his line, “You are consulting any time you are trying to improve or change a situation but have no direct control over the implementation.”  Wow, that was us! 

All service providers (consultants, advisors, guides, subject matter experts) need to build a collaborative relationship with internal customers, so each is equally invested in what needs to get done. 

Block explains that there are two role traps we fall into that must be avoided: 

1. The Expert Role 

Our egos love it when a manager says, “I need to find better software for this process. You’re a software expert, so I’d like you to find me a better product.” 

This request gets us all pumped up until we find the software, show it to him/her, and then hear, “No, that’s not what I told you I needed.” 

2. The Pair of Hands Role 

We love to feel we’re the best one to complete a task when an internal customer says, “I don’t have time to analyze the data for the annual report, so please complete it for me by Friday.” 

We sideline our other work, dig into this assignment, and submit the analysis on time only to hear, “This isn’t the way I wanted the data presented.” 

In both cases, we’ve been had. The internal customer set us up for a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote on our work. In the old days, we would’ve ended up as lunch for lions. 

Get on equal footing

Everything turned around as soon as my group adopted Block’s winning approach

The Collaborative Role 

No matter what his/her rank, everyone we support with a service needs to commit to shared involvement. It’s about partnering. 

Whether it’s finding new software or analyzing data, there are mutual obligations that need to be established up front between us and the internal customer. 

We need to start the conversation this way: 

“Let’s clarify how we’ll work together on the software exploration. Who will do what? What’s our process? How will we arrive at a collaborative decision and measure our success?” 

Block writes that when we adopt a collaborative role, we “don’t solve problems for the manager.” We apply our “special skills to help managers solve problems.” It’s key that “the manager must be actively involved…and, finally, sharing responsibility for success or failure.” (After all, the internal customer owns the situation, right?)

Hold your ground 

Service jobs position us to partner with internal customers throughout our companies. The more collaborations we form, the richer our relationships and the more likely they will lead to other opportunities. Learning to be an effective internal consultant has an enormous upside. How about giving it a try?