In 2008 my team leader, who was new to the company, asked me about my network. “Well,” I told her, “I have connections in most of our US manufacturing plants, and quite a few people at our corporate centers.” When she asked me who they were, I could list about 18 people that I would connect with on some regular cadence.
That’s when she surprised me. “OK’ that’s great” she said. “But what about your network of people outside of Kimberly-Clark? Professionals who do what you do but have different experiences that you could pull from and learn from?”
I had none. Well, maybe a few who left and I maintained contact with, but they don’t really count.
So I started to explore the online world. I was already reading HR Blogs and commenting here and there, but I didn’t see it as a network at all. I had a LinkedIn profile and at least two dozen connections. Staggering, right? Then I dove in.
I started a workplace safety blog, Safer By Choice, and then added a Twitter account and eventually Facebook – but that was purely for personal and family reasons.
Today, my Facebook feed is predominantly from my connections in HR that arose 100% from these starting points. And, according to LinkedIn, my network is now in excess of 18 million professionals – although within the last week it seems they have stopped informing me of the size of this network.
How Big Does Your Network Need To Be?
Eighteen million? Really? Well, of course that is some calculation that includes all the 2nd and 3rd level connections and is only relevant in terms of how I might get introduced to one of those people. We all get that.
At this point I can say that I have no doubt that gaining those connections outside of my own company has been immensely important in my ongoing development. By interacting with these people online and at various events I have benefited greatly. Their generous sharing of their knowledge through blogs, postings, comments and the occasional real life contact has brought me to a new appreciation of how much we all benefit from dialogue – both virtual and actual.
Earlier this week, Chris Ponder wrote here about network management – about curating your network. About managing the value in what you take the time to look at. About not caring what others think about your decisions to include or exclude them from your view. I realize that I don’t do this by un-friending or even using “ignore” features – I do this just by passing by what I don’t value. Although, to be honest, during the last election I put several people on ignore because they were no longer sharing ideas, they were pushing ideology.
That’s not what I want in my network.
Today, I wouldn’t have a list of 18, but easily 118. People that I would not hesitate to email or call with a question or just to get a fresh perspective. And the best part about it is the breadth of those connections. There isn’t redundancy in that list. They are each and every one unique in what they bring not only to their employers, but to the HR community at large.
I don’t need 18 million, but I am grateful that I had someone nudge me out into the world outside of my employer.