I find that it happens often here in the region with other consultants, who appear to think that the fact that I know their name is enough to be “networking.” This issue afflicts foreign and local consultants alike, but the impact on local professionals is higher because the business conditions are much more difficult.
Now and again I get the desperate call or email from someone asking me “if I know about any work or project opportunities.” I know them, and I might like them, but I actually don’t know them in a professional capacity — to their detriment. In other words, I cannot qualify them because they have done none of the legwork with me to give me a first hand experience of their thinking, their abilities, their skills or how well they can work together with me.
The problem is that they then drop off the radar altogether… never to re-appear until they need some more leads a few months later.
Recently, I put together a project that required 10 consultants to perform a specialized, public training. The stakes were rather high and it just could not fail.
I found myself reaching back to professionals in the U.S., partly due to the fact that my network of consultants in the U.S. is a rich one, and the fact that I could qualify their abilities to execute to some degree. They were used to delivering at a high standard, and this was a program that required nothing short of flawless execution.
There was no-one I could think of who was based in the region who I trusted to have the skills to deliver the project.
Part of the problem is that while I know people here, I don’t know their skills — so that disqualified many. But as I thought about it some more, I realized that none of them were taking the steps to build the kind of bridges of trust that are needed to be staffed on larger, more difficult projects.
I think that the primary obstacle is the kind of peculiar “professional fear” that our region’s professionals have of being “taken” — that someone will steal their ideas, their relationships, their projects, their livelihood, etc. In a prior blog, I spoke about the willingness to have the ideas in this blog stolen and used wherever possible.
I think there are some simple ways in which other consultants in the region could network more effectively with me, a fellow consultant. I would advise another consultant in the HR field to:
I write 2 blogs, my firm sponsors CaribHRForum, and I regularly ask for sources of new ideas. A fellow consultant could easily join in online discussions, ask questions, give ideas for future content and make public comments, just using the channels I have set up for myself. I other words, they should become a pest to me and others who are either delivering or paying for consulting engagements in the different fora that already exist.
Very few people ask: “How can I help?” If asked, they infrequently respond affirmatively to opportunities to work with me in a volunteer capacity. The truth is, that I work with people I trust, and that trust can be developed easily by stepping up to help when our livelihoods are not at stake.
- Ask for Project Advice
I think that reaching out for help when projects get difficult is a great way to build bridges. I spent an hour with a consultant doing just that a few months ago, and even if he didn’t use any of what I suggested, I thought that it showed a willingness on his part to learn and to think out of the box. (N.B. Just remember to close the loop after the project is over.)
- Request Project Collaboration
Sometimes it is useful to bring other people in on projects just because the alliance would make you both stronger, and possibly lead to further opportunities. It costs real dollars to do so, and it takes some risks, but the value created from sharing the work can surpass the short term cost.
- Say Yes!, Even When You Must Say No
Another recommendation would be to demonstrate enthusiasm to the idea of being asked to work on projects when I happen to call. It may be that the project is not a good fit, and may not work, but the enthusiasm goes a long way.
- Don’t Drop Off the Face of the Earth
I recently staffed a project with a consultant that I had completely forgotten about. He only came to mind when the client mentioned him as a possible candidate. What they could have done to stay in my awareness was to find some way to stay in touch. I had to hunt them down through other people, because the contact information I used was already old. Plaxo.com, a contact updating system, is a powerful and free tool for getting this done.
In addition, I send out some 500 Christmas cards each year — at great expense and effort — to contacts from all over, in an ongoing attempt to remain “top of mind.”
Unfortunately, a consultant who is not prepared to do the activities I have listed above is only making it harder on themselves.
One of the activities I am undertaking this year is to deliberately deepen my own network of HR consultants. We plan to offer a training in the Lights!Camera!Action! techniques later this year — probably free of cost — in a hope to do just that. More information on these techniques is available as a free download by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org