“How would you describe your day?” I asked.
“Hectic, long, and comprised of e-mail pruning, endless meetings and conference calls. I often work straight through meals at my desk,” answered Steve, a senior executive I’m currently coaching on his strategic relationship development efforts and personal online branding.
“Pretty typical of people in my role, isn’t it?” he continued.
“Sadly, yes,” I replied.
The fundamental difference is that Steve has come to realize that although his functional expertise has helped him reach a certain professional stature, he has reached a career plateau. His peers are getting promoted or being asked to take on greater and more interesting opportunities. What he lacks is a proactive approach in identifying, nurturing and leveraging win-win personal, functional, and strategic relationships.
What I’ve found is that most people understand the importance of relationships.What they don’t understand is how they affect their personal and professional growth and ultimately, their success.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start, and you don’t have to be an executive to pay closer attention to this critical part of your world.
Let me take one of the easiest parts of your day – any of the (ideally) three meals you consume. What do most people do during the week? You either:
- Skip it all together because you’re too busy getting caught up on emails;
- Go grab something and inhale it in 10 minutes or less at your desk;
- Or, go sit for 20 minutes with people you already know and have the same drab stuff everyday.
Here is what I want you to think about:
- Mindset – It’s never about the meal! The meal is a means to an end, which is to disengage from the minutia and invest those resources – time, effort, and capital – to build or nurture a valuable relationship. Mealtime is the perfect opportunity to get away from the piles of paperwork, the never-ending e-mails, and the constantly ringing phone. I promise the earth will continue to rotate. In fact, it’s been mathematically proven that you’re considerably stronger when facing a challenge after you’ve taken a break from it for a while.
- Toolset – Here is where social media can help. Scan your LinkedIn contacts for anyone who has recently changed jobs, been promoted, moved lately to a new town or simply updated their profiles. (You can get this information from the weekly updates e-mailed to you or from the home page of your LinkedIn account.) Invite them to breakfast, lunch, or dinner to catch up with each other. Intentionally keep your meal times open and use scheduling tools, such as Tungle, to allow them to schedule a time that’s convenient for them.
- Roadmap – Do the math – three meals a day x five business days = 15 opportunities each week. I’m personally protective of dinners with the family, so that gives me 10 opportunities. Let’s conservatively use four meals each week x 50 weeks = 200 chances for you to connect with others. Invite two people who would appreciate getting to know each other as well and you’re up to 400 people who can expand the diversity, quality and quantity of your portfolio of relationships.
It doesn’t have to become a production. Despite all of the excuses we use and have heard, everyone has to eat, and what a fun way to get out of the office and away from your list of to-dos, and engage and influence others.
Here are five other tips I want you to try:
- Do your homework – I mentioned LinkedIn is a good starting point, but if they have a blog, read they’ve been writing recently; check out their Twitter and Facebook pages; Google their name; or, if they’re important enough to you, reach out to a mutual friend and get an update. Remember, relationships are an investment, so do your research before you show up.
- Reciprocate first – Go to these meals with the intent to invest in them. Ask compelling questions and gauge what they are trying to accomplish. Aim to add value and improve their condition. It’s a simple concept, but many people show up with their hand out vs. giving a hand.
- Update your contact info – Even if you think you have all the info about them, or they already have your business card, use the meal to double check the contact info you have. Is there a new cell number, or with so many people changing jobs, is there a secondary / personal e-mail address (e.g. Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) in case the first one bounces? Cool tools here are the “Bump” or “BC Reader” apps on the iPhone, which allow you to take a picture of them and their business card to scan into your contact list.
- Try some place / something unique – Stop going to the same old places. Try Sushi or Thai restaurants, a new sandwich shop around the corner or a Persian restaurant. You’ll both enjoy a new experience, you can post a new location on Foursquare, and they’ll remember who introduced them to that new place long after your initial meal.
- Follow through – Follow up is a transaction; follow through is a process. Send them an e-mail and a personal handwritten note as soon as you get back. In the e-mail, stay tactical with a summary of action items or next steps you both agreed to. In the personal handwritten note, genuinely thank them for their time and express your heartfelt appreciation for getting a chance to catch up. Put a note in your calendar to touch base with them again in six months.
“It’s amazing how often we need to be reminded, much more so than we need to be taught,” Steve said about a similar discussion we had.
I smiled and said, “Common sense isn’t often common practiced.”
For more Relationship Economics tips, follow me on Twitter @davidnour.