Don’t Leave a Wake

Be aware of your bad moods!!

Several years ago when I was a General manager at Macy’s, I had one of my direct reports approach me after I was having a particularly difficult and stressful day and told me something I’ve never forgotten. It’s helped me be a better manager and leader and it’s something I now often share with other leaders when needed.

I’m the type of leader who likes to circulate around the floor or office and visit with my direct reports (as a GM for approx. 100 people at Macy’s) and co-workers (as an HR Professional).  My goal is to build relationships with the people I work with by talking about both business or personal things and get to know them better.

It’s called Management by Walking Around.  It allows the leader to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s really going on in the organization. When you build trust and people see and know that you are interested in them and what they are doing they are more willing to share information with you that may be important to your department and the organization.  Please understand that I truly love getting to know people and building relationships and am not cynically trying to extract information from people to use against them.

Generally all is good after I make my rounds because it energizes both me and, I like to think, my direct reports and co-workers.

I learned, however, those same people are also very aware and sensitive to all of your moods – both good and bad.

On this particular day that I mentioned at the beginning of this post,  I had been doing what I normally do – circulate around the floor- and after doing my rounds, one of my direct reports came up to my office and asked me if I was OK.  I, of course, said yes and asked her why she wanted to know.   I try to maintain an even level at work and thought I was doing so that day.

Apparently not.

She told me that I was leaving a wake with my bad mood as I visited each person.

What?!?!

Apparently it was obvious that I was having a bad day and everybody was picking up on it.

Because I was unable to mask my bad mood, the wake I left that day made my employees nervous and uneasy which affected their performance and morale.  I don’t even remember what was making my grumpy, but it was enough for my team to pick up on it and enough for my direct report to tell me.

People typically assume the worst.  So with me Managing by Walking Around and circulating while in an obviously distracted and in a bad mood, my team assumed there was something going on that might affect them.

Was it a reorganization, a RIF, hours being cut, or any number of things that cause concern?

So the point of this post is, as a leader, we must always be aware of the fact that our team watches us closer than we realize or like to think.  We are constantly under their microscope and they pick up on anything and everything we say and do.  And if there is unusual or incomplete information, as there typically is, they often fill in the blanks with negative thoughts.

It’s also important to be self-aware of your moods and attitudes on any given day.  If you are having a particularly difficult day, be aware of it and don’t go out and leave a wake.  Despite how hard I try, I can’t completely hide my moods when I’m at work and in my experience It’s a very rare person who can.

So my advice when you are having a rough day is to not leave a wake.  If you are like me and practice Management by Walking Around, don’t do it that day.  Hole up in your office or at your desk and get through all the stuff you’ve been putting off.

To wrap up my little story, I had to go back the next day when I was in a much better mood and did some damage control.  Looking back, I’m sure I’ve left wakes before but was never called on it like I was this day.  But ever since that day, I learned to be more aware of how I was feeling and make every effort not to spread my bad day around unnecessarily and leave a wake.

Building an HR Foundation

Establish your credibility, competence, and trustworthiness

HHHR Photo

The most important thing an HR professional who’s moving into a new job or department can do is to build and establish a rock-solid foundation of credibility, competence, and trustworthiness. Today, I’m going to discuss how to do this.

There are two things an HR pro typically does when starting a new job at an organization or transferring to a new department.

  1. They come in with “guns a blazing” and immediately start changing the way everything is done and immediately start introducing HR initiatives. They focus on quickly making a big splash introducing HR initiatives and impressing senior leadership.
  2. They come in and take the time to get and know the employee’s, their team, processes, and culture. They focus on providing outstanding customer service to their client base and getting a good lay of the land and culture before making significant changes and introducing big HR initiatives.

Yes of course, sometimes you have to come in with “guns a blazing” and get things fixed quickly. The situation, and leadership, demands it because they need things to be fixed, and fixed yesterday. While it seems to make sense at first, it’s not. It will mostly cause significant chaos and business disruption. It certainly does not establish the credibility, competence, and trustworthiness for the new HR pro!

The best and most effective way for the HR pro to establish their credibility, competence, and trustworthiness in the eyes of their new company/department is to take the time to get to know and understand the team, processes, and culture before making any drastic changes. Build that important and critical foundation.

Remember, Human Resource pro, you are dealing with humans and, as such, you need to build a foundation of relationships first before you will be able to accomplish anything with any credibility and trust. Everybody in your organization is watching what you are doing and how you are doing it.

Start building a solid foundation so that you will be seen as a credible HR expert. Make sure there are minimal mistakes made with the basics like payroll, benefits, answers about polices, etc.

Here are the steps I recommend to build a strong and stable foundation that will establish your credibility and ability to effectively manage the HR function in your new organization. I think we all know this but often forget as it is the blocking and takleing.

  1. Most importantly – get to know the team. Get out of your office every single day and CIRCULATE around the office(s), store, plant, etc. and chat with your fellow employees. Learn your employee’s names and what’s important to them both personally and professionally. This helps them see HR as a part of their team, not the Grim Reaper that only makes an appearance when something bad is about to happen.
  2. Study and know the employee handbook (I know, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) and other policies and procedures. You’ll need to be able to answer policy and procedure questions from employees as you circulate and as they come by your office/desk.
  3. Dig into the HRIS and make sure all the data in there is complete and accurate. It often isn’t. Make sure it is so that everything that feeds from the HRIS (payroll, benefit integration, etc) will also be accurate.
  4. Become the expert in the health and retirement benefits your organization offers. Make sure enrollments are completed with 100% accuracy. Build great relationships with your brokers and ask lots of questions.
  5. Respond quickly, accurately, and politely to all manager and employee requests and questions. Remember, you are a service organization supporting the other functional areas of the organization. Don’t ever be condescending because you think they should know the answer. You are the HR expert, not them and they are coming to you for your expertise – the reason you have the job!

By doing these five basic steps, you build the foundation of a successful HR function in your new organization. These are the basics that will establish you as a credible and trustworthy HR professional in your employee’s eyes.

Yes, I know every senior HR professional, and leadership team, wants to do the exciting strategic stuff but without that important foundation, the strategic HR initiatives will fall flat because you will not have the credibility and trust from the very people who need to buy in to those initiatives.

You absolutely must have a solid and effective foundation in order to effectively build the strategic framework that your leadership, managers, and employees will embrace. This will ensure your success in your organization and allow you to more easily have your strategic HR initiatives be successfully adopted.

Dealing with National Politics in the Workplace

You can’t get away from it these days. It’s all the media is talking about, it’s all over our social media feeds, it’s on all the award shows and entertainment programs we’re watching, it’s overheard in the stores and coffee shops we are visiting, and it’s in our workplace. Political discussions are everywhere and we are more politically polarized than I’ve ever seen in my life.

With today’s massive megaphone of social media and the 24 hour news cycle, many people have expressed their passion about the political issues and their candidates. And there’s something to offend just about anybody with the current hot-button issues such as race, class, gender, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, terrorism, religion, etc.

I would venture to guess that we have all witnessed some very heated exchanges between family, friends, and coworkers regarding today’s political climate. I’ve seen people I respect and care about say or write some pretty horrible things about others based simply on their political beliefs.

People are more polarized in their positions like I’ve never seen before and those positions are making their way into the workplace and affecting morale and productivity.

In addition, many of today’s issues swerve into employment law. Political discussions about issues that affect working conditions such as minimum wage, equal pay, and paid leave might be protected by federal law.  While, on the other hand, political discussions about race, gender, and religion may lead to harassment or discrimination claims. And it only takes one person to pop off during a heated discussion and alienate another employee and/or cause a hostile work environment or a potential harassment claim.

I make it a practice not to discuss politics at work – especially these days. I hear enough of it on my Sirius radio when I commute to and from work and when I’m home trying to catch up on the news. Frankly, I’m exhausted of it all and don’t want to have to deal with it when I’m at work.

But, I’m HR, so I have to deal with it at work.

As such, I’ve come up with a couple of proven recommendations to help keep things under control.

First and foremost, HR must remain neutral. This is my number one recommendation. Whatever your beliefs, HR must be neutral and not take a side in a disputed conversation about politics. HR absolutely should not engage in a conversation with other employees expressing their political opinions and joining in with them bashing a side. I guarantee that you have employees on the other side who will hear or overhear what you said which will erode your credibility with them.

The purpose of your neutrality allows all of your employees to feel safe coming to you with their concerns about potentially uncomfortable or hostile political conversations they overheard or were part of. It’s HR’s job to make sure employees feel safe to surface any concerns they have from conversations they’ve had or overheard that make them feel uncomfortable or offended.

Second, Establish and communicate ground rules. Meet with your senior leaders to determine what political discussions your organization is willing to tolerate/accept at work. Will you ban it entirely or will you allow some as long as their respectful, appropriate, and inclusive of all beliefs?

Once you have that established,  conduct an all hands meeting and follow up with an email reminding your employees to be professional, respectful, and tolerant of other employee’s political beliefs. Remind them of the process for airing their complaints and how they will be dealt with and what the consequences will be for violating these ground rules. You must, as HR, clearly communicate to your employee population where you draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You can’t be ambiguous.

It’s also important to understand that you can’t ignore the issue at work. Ignoring it will only make the situation worse because these conversations may escalate into profanity and direct threats. Other employees who want to stay out of these discussions may also be unwillingly dragged in.

When you overhear a controversial political discussion happening at your workplace, and you’ve established the accepted ground rules, you simply remind the employees engaged in the conversation that they are not behaving in an acceptable manner (professional, respectful, or tolerant). If they continue after your reminder, you simply begin your organization’s disciplinary process.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you keep your workplace professional, respectful, civil and ultimately productive! Also, if situations arise where intervention of a third party is required to ward off office politics, expert help and counsel on several matters can always be available at Labor Law Compliance Center. Feel free to reach out to them.

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The New Overtime Rule Has Been Blocked. Now What?

My advice on what to do until a final decision is made.

Overtime, Office Binder on Wooden Desk. On the table colored pencils, pen, notebook paper

A federal judge in Texas gave something employers could be thankful for just a few days before Thanksgiving. On November 22, he issued a preliminary injunction on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) overtime rule change that was to go into affect on December 1. It came about from a lawsuit brought by 21 states challenging the DOL’s authority to raise the salary threshold. This was pretty big news for us HR folks. Huge news actually.

Many small organizations, however, didn’t even know the rule was going into effect. I was at a meeting a few weeks ago with a payroll provider who told me that the majority of their clients didn’t know about the new rule when asked about it. It would be safe to say that most managers and small business owners are too busy operating their organizations and don’t keep up on these types of things.

In order to bring these organizations up to date, the rule was supposed to double the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) salary threshold for determining the exemption from overtime from $23,660 to $47,476. This is where we get the exempt and non-exempt employee classifications which I define in this post from my introduction to my series of the FLSA overtime classifications. In addition, it would also automatically adjust the threshold every three years based on the 40th percentile of the weekly earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census region. The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) has publicly opposed the new rule as it will hurt nonprofits and smaller organizations and have a negative impact on workplace flexibility and employee morale.

It’s important to understand that the preliminary injunction is not permanent and that the current overtime rule will still be in effect. The court needs to review the merits of the new rule and issue a decision which could take several more months. The fact that an injunction was issued in the first place, makes me think the new rule is doomed.

For those organizations that didn’t know about the rule, they can just go on about their business and not worry about it until a final ruling is issued. For those businesses that knew about it and were making plans or already made plans to comply with the new rule, things may be a little more complicated and until we get a final ruling, here is my advice:

  • Fortunately, the injunction was issued on November 22, before the payroll period in which the December 1 deadline fell. I had advised my clients to make their changes effective Sunday, November 27, the first day of the payroll period. By following my advice (Because I’m so smart, LOL), the re-classification of their exempt employees to non-exempt can be postponed until that final decision is made.
  • If the organization already re-classified their exempt employees to non-exempt, the organization will need to evaluate how the decision was accepted by the impacted employees. Did they take it well or did they take it poorly? If they took it well, the organization would be wise to leave the re-classification in place. If they did not take it well, the organization might benefit by reversing the re-classifications but need to make it clear to the employees that it may be temporary until the final ruling is issued.
  • If the organization already increased (or announced an increase) their exempt employee’s salaries in order to maintain their exempt status, it would be wise leave those increases in place. There will be a great deal of confusion and a big hit on morale if they reverse this decision. An organization can certainly reverse their decision but it will be at the cost of employee goodwill and engagement.

It will be very interesting to see how this case will eventually turn out. As I said earlier, I think the new rule, as it is currently written, will never come to pass. I think the judge issued the injunction because he thinks the challenge by the 21 states has a very good chance of being successful.

However, for those who made plans to comply with the rule, don’t toss out all the work that was done in preparing for it as the court may still issue a decision in favor of the DOL. At the very least, I anticipate that the rule will be scaled back with more gradual and less extreme salary threshold increases.

For those who didn’t know about the rule and didn’t make plans to comply, they’ve been given a pass for the time being but need to be ready to address it if a final ruling is made in favor of the DOL or a scaled back rule is issued.

How to Ruin the Christmas Holiday Party

It is the middle of the Holiday season and organizations are having their annual Christmas Holiday Parties.

Christmas Holiday parties are intended to thank  employees and make sure they have a good time.  You want to make sure they feel appreciated and great about the organization and the people they work for and with.  As a leader, it’s important to keep in mind the purpose of the party.

When I was a store manager in retail, I gave away prizes at the end of the party through a random drawing. I ALWAYS made sure that my wife and I did not have a ticket in the drawing.  I did not want to take the chance that we would win one of the really nice prizes because it would look bad and send a very negative message to my team.  I also gained an additional level of respect and credibility once employees realized I refused to be included in the prize drawing.

This philosophy was reinforced a few years back at a Christmas Holiday party I was invited to attend.  The party was very well organized with games and events for employees and their families.  People earned tickets by playing the games, similar to Chuck E. Cheese, and put their tickets in a bag for the prize they wanted a chance to win.  There were 12 expensive and very nice prizes including a bottle of single malt scotch and a high end GPS device.  Everybody at the party participated in the games, including the CEO, CFO, and all the VPs. The party was a huge success until the very end when the tickets were drawn for the prizes.

The CEO was very entertaining during the drawing but every single one of the 12 prizes ended up going to one of seven executives – including the CEO – or their spouse.  What made it worse was the executives got caught up in the excitement of him winning and made a big show of it in front of all the other employees.  I was embarrassed for him.  I observed the line employees and middle management become disappointed then angry as the drawing continued.  They were no longer having any fun and actually left the party disgusted with the leadership of the company.

I spoke to the CEO shortly after the party was over and asked him what he thought about what happened and he said that everybody had the same chance of winning and that was just how it turned out.  Tone deaf to say the least.  The execs could easily afford the prizes they won while the line employees and middle management could not.  There is no reason the execs should have put their tickets into the drawing. They should have let the non executive employees end up with all the prizes.

Remember the purpose of the Christmas Holiday Party is to thank the employees and make sure they had a good time.  The party is intended to boost morale.

This party did the opposite.

Three Keys to Being a Good Boss

I came across this blog post over at TLNT, written by Derek Irvine, a few weeks back that really resonated with me.  The post was actually first published in October of 2012 and has been republished a couple times since due to it’s popularity.

I love the simplicity of what Derek sees as the three keys to being a good boss.

Those three keys are Presence, Praise, and Promise.

I’m going to be lazy and simply quote all three of these keys as Derek wrote them in his post.

    1. Presence – You not only “manage by walking around,” you show up to meetings on time to signal that you value the work your employees are doing. When you’re meeting with an employee, you shut off or totally ignore your email, IM, texts and any other interruptions to give your full attention to the employee. If employees need your support to push a key decision forward, you lend your visible presence and direct support.
    2. Praise – You make it a point to give your employees the frequent, timely and specific feedback they need to stay on track and move their projects forward appropriately. You recognize and appreciate them and their efforts that are especially in line with the company’s core values and strategic objectives. Because you are diligent about “catching employees doing something good,” you also help employees receive constructive feedback more readily as they know the feedback is intended to help them advance.
    3. Promise – You help your employees see the future they have with the organization and in their career. You don’t make undue or unwarranted promises of course, but you are committed to helping your team members grow and develop – and they know it. You seek out training and development opportunities for them and encourage them to go. You give them realistic “stretch” goals to help them develop skills.

When I read through these three keys I see one very clear attribute.  Respect.  The boss’s respect for their direct report.

In the Presence Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s time.  Showing up for meetings on time shows respect for the time of those in the meeting.  Giving full and undivided attention to an employee when meeting them one on one shows respect for their time.

In the Praise Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s work and effort.  Giving employees regular feedback and recognizing them for their accomplishments.

In the Promise Key, the boss is respecting the employee’s career.  Helping employees by being honest and committed to helping them grow and develop by delegating important tasks and getting them the training they need.

Showing your direct report the respect they deserve is, in my opinion, one of the most motivating factors in the workplace.  It makes people want to work harder and more effectively.  It makes the employee more loyal to their boss and gives them the sense that they are valued and an important part of the boss’s team.

Co-Working Spaces are Evidence that Flextime and Remote Work are Not Effective for Most

As my readers know, I’m not a big fan of the “flextime/remote work” trend that most of the HR media loves to support and promote.  I just don’t see it as being an effective option for the vast majority of people.  In fact, in my experience, I have found those who most want the option to work from home are those who are least capable of being able to handle and be effective with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some who can make it work well for themselves – freelancers, startup employees, entrepreneurs, and consultants, for example.  Again, I just don’t think it is effective for the vast majority of employees who work for organizations.

I defended Marissa Mayer back when she reversed Yahoo!’s flexible work arrangements and required all employees to work at the office.  The company was failing and she was tired of the empty parking lot and office and the fact the company’s vpn logs showed light usage.

She was quoted as saying this at an HR conference in LA as part of her reason for making the decision:

…people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.

While I disagree with the first part of her comment that people are more productive when alone (there are many more distractions at home than at the office), I definitely agree with her that collaboration and innovation are better when people are together.

HR media were quick to criticize Yahoo! and BestBuy when they reversed their flextime/remote work policies and required their employees to come into the office to work.  However, the reversal seems to be a trend.  Just recently, Reddit also announced it is requiring all their employees to relocate to San Francisco in order to get all their “entire team under one roof for optimal teamwork.”

These companies are finding out that it isn’t working.  I predict there will be many more reversing their flextime/remote work policies in the near future.

To quote myself last year, I called flextime/remote work a fad:

I think there are only a limited number of people who can be productive working remotely from home. It’s a fad and will eventually be proven as such. People are social beings and work better when with other people.

It’s important to leave home and all its distractions and go to a place that is designed to get work done – the office.

It seems the marketplace agrees.

I came upon this interesting article in the Denver Post the other day.  It’s about the rise of “co-working” spaces where people who work from home or have flexible arrangements with their company can go to an office with others similar to them and get their work done.

The article proves my point and reinforces my opinion about flextime/remote work.

Turns out, we are social beings.  Who knew?  We like to get together with other people and socialize, even at work.  Interaction with other people generates more innovation and creativity.

The article opens with these  sentences:

After two years of working from home, Bruce Wolk desperately needed a change in scenery.

It was “mind-numbing,” the Denver-based freelance writer said, recalling the many days he spent alone in his small home office.

“The truth of the matter is, it’s so incredibly isolating,” Wolk said. “Each hour seems like three.”

“I needed to find a space where I could work easily and at the same time interact with other people,” Wolk said.

“There can be four, five people here, and everyone will be merrily working along and all of a sudden, a spontaneous conversation will break out,” he said. “You really can’t do that at home.”

Looks like Mr. Wolk is finding that he is more productive at the office.

In addition, co-working spaces eliminate the distractions of being at home and help people be more productive.  In the article, Madison Carroll, who has a remote work arrangement with her organization claims she is more productive in an office environment:

The days she spends at Shift (Boutique Workspaces) are “definitely” more productive than the ones spent at home, too, she said.

“You do laundry, you do something else. You don’t work,” Carroll said. “When I come here, I work. I’m here to work.”

Again, it seems like Ms. Carroll is more productive at the office than she was working at home.

My point here is that even those people and professions most conducive to flextime/remote work are finding that they are more productive and creative in an office environment rather than working from home.

Despite the efforts of most of the HR media, I continue to consider flextime/remote work a fad that will never be mainstream.  The marketplace is experimenting with it and finding that it isn’t working.

It simply doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of people in the workforce.  And it doesn’t make sense for the vast majority of organizations.

A Story About Motivating Star Performers (and How I Goofed)

This story goes back to when I was a General Manager for a large department store chain, The Bon Marche (now Macys).

It was the Christmas season, the most important time in retail, and my number one producing Department Sales Manager (DSM) requested a day off that fell on the same day as a very important sales event.  It was for her six year old son’s birthday.

Being a hard driving and competitive store manager who had to obliterate his sales goals, I denied her request and told her she had to work. We had big numbers to make, by god!  She dutifully worked that day but her energy and enthusiasm was noticeably less than normal – a condition that continued on for several months afterwards.

Looking back, I realized what a hypocrite I was.

I had always preached “family first” but denied her the day with her son on his birthday.  She always worked hard and effectively every day and was my top performer is sales, credit, and customer service month in and month out.  But my short sighted quest to make my sales numbers on one single big sale day ended up costing me so much more.

Her morale was dashed and she became disengaged – my number one producing DSM – and I know it cost me more in sales numbers over the long run than what it may have cost me had I let her have the day off.  She remained noticeably disengaged and unenthusiastic about her work for several months after.  Her performance numbers slipped, affecting the total store’s numbers.

Not only that, my credibility was damaged with her and the rest of my store team.  I learned a hard lesson about how not to treat a star performer. I certainly should have allowed her to have that one day off and she would have come back an even a stronger and more engaged DSM because I would have shown confidence and trust in her team and her preparation.

Several months later, I told my star DSM that I used this story in a presentation I gave a at a store manager meeting. She was a bit embarrassed but I could tell it meant a lot to her that I was willing to publicly share my mistake with my peers.  It helped repair our relationship and restore trust.  About a year later she returned from a DSM training week in Seattle and told me that the Director of Stores (my bosses boss) shared my story about her and the mistake I made to her entire DSM class.  She loved the fact the story had such an impact and was being used to help train the managers in the company about engagement.

In my time as a department store General Manager, I found that the Pareto Principle applied in many aspects of my job including my management team. Twenty percent of my management team produced eighty percent of my store’s performance results.  My star performer above was in that twenty percent and by showing insensitivity and a lack of trust in her, I damaged a certain level of her ability to produce the eighty percent of the performance results that she normally achieved.

I should have allowed my Star to have the one day off to celebrate her son’t sixth birthday.  I should have trusted her preparation and her team to make her goals for the day without her being there.  I seriously goofed.  And it cost me.

A Manager’s Most Important Responsibility

What is a manager’s most important responsibility?  It’s quite simple, actually.

The most important responsibility of any manager is to hire the best people they can.

Think about it.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a good hire?  We love it!!

A good hire makes everybody more productive by allowing them to continue their work while being competent enough to do their own. A good hire is somebody who others enjoy working with creating a positive work environment which increases morale and production. It’s motivating when the new hire fits in well  and effectively contributes.

What happens to everybody’s workload when a manager makes a bad hire?  We hate it!!

A bad hire creates more work for everybody as they compensate for the poor performer.  A bad hire can also create a poisoned work environment leading to poor morale and reducing overall production.   A bad hire can make good employees flee the organization if nothing appropriate is done to remedy the situation.  We’ve all made bad, if not horrible, hiring decisions in our career.  I certainly have and have paid the price.

As an HR leader, it’s vital that we train and coach managers on how to effectively recruit, interview, hire, develop, and retain great employees.

So many managers “shoot from the hip” when it comes to these critical steps.  Sure they get it right sometimes and justify their methods by focusing on when they did well.  If they were honest with themselves, however, they would say they got it wrong more than they got it right.

With the huge impact a good or bad hire can have on an organization a manager’s most important responsibility is to hire the best people they can.

What my Five Year Old Son Taught me About Networking

I’m naturally a shy person who used to have a very difficult time in social and public situations.  I still occasionally struggle with it but am much better due to practice, hard work, and putting myself in situations where I have to be more outgoing and sociable.

I know it’s a critical requirement to be successful as an HR leader and in business so I have made a concerted effort throughout my career to be more outgoing and make myself a better networker.

The single best lesson I ever learned about networking was from my son fifteen years ago, when he was five years old.

My family would occasionally visit McDonalds for dinner and the kids would run off to the playland while my wife and I placed our food order.  By the time we sat down in playland to eat, every single kid there knew my son’s name and was playing with him.  Often, some would ask if they could sleep over at our house!

At first we assumed these were kids he knew from school or hockey so we asked him how he knew them.  He simply shrugged and stated that he had just met them there.  Mind you, it was usually only ten minutes from the time we entered McDonalds to the time we sat down to eat.

This went on consistently for a few months until I decided to follow him into playland and observe his behavior while my wife ordered our burgers. What kind of magic did he do to get all these kids to be friends in less than 15 minutes?  It turned out to be ridiculously simple.

He would run into playland with total enthusiasm and run up to each kid there with a big smile and introduce himself by saying “Hi!  My name is Bill! Wanna play with me?”   Of course, almost every kid met his enthusiastic introduction with equal enthusiasm and agreed to play with him.  Of course, he would occasionally meet a kid who would  ignore him but he would simply move on to the next without missing a beat.

Within five minutes he had introduced himself to everybody in playland and was loudly playing tag and crawling through the tubes and jumping in the plastic balls.

Wow, I thought. How easy is that!

In summary, here’s what I learned from my five year old:

  1. Be sincerely enthusiastic about being where you are and meeting new people.
  2. Take the initiative to approach people and introduce yourself.
  3. Ask the people you approach for their name/profession/reason for attending the networking event (you should not ask them if they want to play!).
  4. Make a point to include your new ‘friends’ in discussions with others.
  5. Don’t worry about being rejected.  Quickly move on to another person and introduce yourself.
  6. Remain enthusiastic and positive throughout and have fun making new friends.