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Managing Social Interactions & Networks
22 September 2015
This article is based on a presentation I gave at the Executive Assistant Network Brisbane Conference 2015. It covered:
1) being more aware of networking.
2) paying attention to networking and how those they assist do or don't network; and therefore
3) looking at how to be more strategic in their networking efforts. And finally,
4) manage their social interactions by way of understanding a model of influence.
The following is an excerpt of the notes from that presentation:
An exceptional EA or PA keeps the Executive connected to the people they need to be connected to, and not merely who the Executive likes to be connected to! Furthermore, the exceptional EA or PA helps the Executive stop getting stuck in the ‘busy work’ and works to help facilitate the Executive to build networks and maintain connectivity.
This ensures that when, not if, tough times emerge the Executive has got the essential connections in place to more effectively manoeuver through those tough times. It’s who you know! And, who knows you! This applies for getting a job, and it applies in situations of sourcing advice, support, expertise and solutions to problems.
The most robust organisation is the one that has no more than a few degrees of separation in its connectivity. ‘Kevin Bacon and your 6 degrees of separation’ is nowadays too many degrees of separation! (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Degrees_of_Kevin_Bacon)
It’s not about the organisational chart; it’s about the connectivity. Your role is to help your Executive create, nurture and maintain connections. To do this, you need to know the business, the real business. Ask yourself, what are the hot topics being discussed in the boardroom, or in the meeting of the heads of department? Could you name the hot topics, month to month as they emerge? When you know these you can be more strategic in helping your Executive’s connectivity.
Two models that can help you and help your Executive’s social interactions and networks: The Networking Map and A model of Influence.
1. The Networking Map
From the EAs and PAs perspective: You will usually complete a networking map for yourself, in this instance you are creating a networking map on behalf of your executive and then overlaying that with an action plan to help your Executive build, nurture and maintain connections. The template over the page can be completed in a number of different ways.
From the Manager, Leader or Executive’s perspective: You will usually complete a networking map for yourself. It’s truly more valuable to do this with your EAs or PAs assistance. Their support role can ensure you are keeping ‘coffee-meeting’ and strategic networking opportunity alive, when necessary, and even when you don’t feel like. Your EA or PA can help keep you above the weeds so you can ensure healthy connectivity across your organisation, with industry peers, and customer groups, etc.
I’m a huge believer in encouraging you to create the map as it makes sense for you. For me, as an example, I would start with my name in the centre and have branches stemming off the centre to groups and individuals who are my connections. I would add relevant information to that branch. Keep reading for more ideas on how to complete your own map.
Making the strategic networking map work for you.
Start with the obvious connections, add them to your map, be sure to add notes. Those notes could include:
• how regularly do they / we meet
• last time they / we met
• shared projects, tasks, roles
• potential opportunities
• key people within the group to create / nurture relationships
• type of meeting you will set up / invite to build a relationship
• reason why you / your Executive needs to build and strengthen that connection
Once you have added the obvious connections, consider others who may not be quite as obvious, e.g.:
• People you / your Executive have met at company events, training programs
• Project staff
• Ad hoc, project, industry or regular meeting attendees
• Personal contacts
• Education contacts
• Industry peers (e.g. Executive Assistant Network)
• Union representatives
Options for using the arrows/lines/branches:
• Along the arrows you can add important relationship information; e.g. on one side of the arrow write the name of the connection who is relevant to your Executive. On the other side of the arrow write the name of the relevant person who you know can support the Executive’s connection (i.e. your connection).
• Along the arrows you can write down how often you / they meet, e.g. monthly, weekly, quarterly.
• Along the arrows you could write a score of how strong the connection is e.g. a strong, well nurtured connection could score 10 while a new or potential connection could score a 1 or 2. This could help you decide priorities when considering your (Executive’s) networking action plan.
Be sure to transfer this information into relevant databases and event diaries, etc. The value of networking is priceless: advice, opportunities, expertise, support, new work, promotions… you name it.
Be sure to share this with your peers, your Executive, your Executive’s peers: whomever you deem would value being informed and involved. Work together – the EA or PA and the Executive – to complete the map and then create an action plan to implement when and how you’ll create, build and nurture networks.
2. A Model of Influence
Conversations to help your Executive’s connectivity relies on your communication skills, the relationship you have with your Executive and your ability to influence. Influence is built on:
Self-coaching questions to help you build self-awareness about your influencing skills:
Clearly I can’t help you in your area of expertise, you are the PA or EA. That is on you. Competence is a fundamental requirement for influencing; it’s the price of admission. You need to be, and be seen as, competent at the tasks at hand, creating and executing plans, etc.
Is your knowledge and skill as a PA or EA [or Manager, Leader, Executive] sound enough for someone to support your ideas?
You also need to know your strengths and weaknesses, more specifically the strengths of your ideas. Acknowledging the weaknesses of your idea and potential workable solutions, before others, can help build your credibility. Credibility is all about how others, those whom you wish to influence, perceive you.
If I want to help my Executive create and nurture a new connection/network, what are the benefits and what are the potential pitfalls? What actions could overcome those pitfalls?
If you’re not clear on what you want and why you want it, then it is even more difficult to convey the value and importance of it.
What is the real value of my Executives [or my own] networking and connectivity…
… to his/her role?
… to his/her department?
… to the organisation?
Is there a bigger picture to this network that I need to consider on my Executive’s / my own behalf?
Successful negotiators, and influencers, spend considerable time in understanding and considering all the parties’ positions and concerns, more so than their own.
Regardless of the level within an organisation, maintaining relationships with others in the organisation is key to successful influencing.
Your positive, open and trusting relationship with your Executive’s networks is going to go along way to helping fast track actions. The key to build trusting relationships, is as simple and as difficult as being trustworthy: it’s simple because you are trustworthy, it’s difficult because you’ll be relying on another to be trustworthy (just as they are relying on you). It’s incremental and it’s fragile.
Who do I need to speak with to create or further nurture my Executive’s network? What questions can I ask to establish rapport? What are our similarities (or similarities with my Executive)? What are our common opinions and values?
Who could I be a valuable connector for: helping others connect (irrespective of level) without it being of any direct value to me, but valuable to others and the organisation? [This makes you invaluable.]
To be seen is to be remembered. This applies to you and your Executive.
Who needs to see me more often?
Who needs to see my Executive more often?
Who are our respective stakeholders and why?
What are my opportunities to speak up, volunteer, publish or take on leadership roles?
What is happening in my organisation that my Executive may not be aware of? What opportunities are coming that could help my Executive?
I will post a link to the video of the presentation once it has been edited [and they make me look like a supermodel]