Author’s note: This article is adapted from my forthcoming book, Network Beyond Bias.
Professional networking is essential for the longevity of your career and your company. Yet, many people cringe when the subject of networking comes up. If you are new to networking, you may have no idea where to begin. My advice is to start building strong relationships with the people closest to you. In this series, learn the five critical connections you need to maintain for growing your career, your CHAMP network.
CHAMP is an acronym that stands for Customer, Hire, Associate, Mentor, Protege. Your CHAMP network is important because it’s the people you choose to have in your professional life. And if it is true that you are the average of the five people closest to you, then you must be intentional when filling your CHAMP network.
Customers: Your key to first-hand market insights
Regardless of your industry, company / organization, or specific role, you need to understand your customers. Customers will know things about your company and your industry that you do not. The best way to understand your customer is to build a strong, professional relationship with one of them. First, let’s define who counts as a Customer, and who does not.
What is a Customer?
Real Customers have a choice and may (or may not) choose to pay you or your company for the goods and services offered in an open market. If you work for a college, your Customer is any adult who wants to learn. For a bank, your Customer is anyone in your community who has or needs money. If you work for an insurance company, your Customer is anyone who owns a home, automobile, or business.
Your customers’ customers may also be your customers. For example, if you work for a newspaper, you may sell ad space to a local bakery. The bakery is your Customer for the ad space you sell. In turn, the bakery is hoping to reach its Customers through your newspaper. The bakery’s Customers are hungry people in the metropolitan area. Should your newspaper lose sight of the needs of hungry people in the metropolitan area, you may also lose the ad revenue from the local bakery.
Anyone who could be buying your product or service is a Customer. If they are buying from you, learn about their experience working with you or your company. If they are buying from a competitor, find out why. How is your competitor differentiating its products or services? What can you learn from your Customer network about trends in the market, the competitive landscape, and the quality of your products and services?
What about internal customers?
People inside your company are not Customers. They are your business partners, working in collaboration with you, on behalf of the company, for the benefit of its stakeholders. There seems to be a push in business to talk about “internal customers.” I hate this term. “Internal customers” don’t have a choice and don’t give up their money for your goods or services. (More on this in a future post.)
Even if someone working for your company purchases the company’s goods and services, don’t count them as the C in your CHAMP network. They have access to the same insider lingo you do. They likely have the same blind spots and biases that you have. And they do not have the unique “outsider” perspective that you need to see your industry or your company from a fresh point of view.
Hire: Filling your network with talented people
Almost everyone, at some point in their career, needs a little help finding a job. The better poised you are to help them find a good fit, the more goodwill you will create in your network. I am not recommending that you hire your friends to fill your team. Instead, I am suggesting that when you meet other professionals, you should consider whether you to include them in your Hire network.
If you are a manager
If you manage a team of people, you will inevitably find yourself needing to hire someone. Rather than hope for the best when the open position goes online, you should be working now to build a pipeline of people who could join your team. Talk to the people in your industry, as often as possible, about their strengths, recent successes, and career ambitions. When a spot opens up on your team, make sure you get the word out in your Hire network. You’ll be able to fill jobs faster and with better-qualified people.
Also, if you are a manager, you likely work with other managers quite a bit. When those managers are hiring, find out what skills, capabilities, and qualities they are hoping to find. Making connections to talented people in your Hire network will help everyone involved.
If you are not a manager (yet)
Even if you’re not a manager (yet), you need a Hire network. Someone in your network is probably hiring right now. Someone else in your network may be a perfect fit for that open role. Are you positioned to make that connection? If so, provide a “warm transfer” referral by introducing the two individuals to each other. Referrals are as good as — and possibly better than — hires. (No one wants to network like a CRAMP, so the word that started with H won the spot in the acronym.)
In addition to referrals, you can be building your Hire network for the day when you are the one building a team or interviewing for a colleague’s replacement. Many people who are managers today did not set out to become managers. Yet sometimes an opportunity or promotion is just too good to pass up. Those that come into management with a strong Hire network are well ahead of the game!