The power of networks

Joanne Shoveller, Associate Dean, Advancement and Alumni Relations, INSEAD, France shares her thoughts on 360 degree, values-based networking.

This photo is one of my treasures.

After long conference preparation and a successful first continental Europe-based conference for CASE, I was celebrating with two stars in our profession — CASE Europe Annual Conference 2016 Chair Chris Cox (University of Edinburgh) and Closing Keynote Speaker Lorna Somers (McMaster University).

They are extraordinary examples of why ours is an amazing profession. Intelligent, thoughtful, fun, they have dedicated their careers to advancing higher education and engaging the generous philanthropy of our donors. I am honoured that they have become part of my personal network that is tremendously gratifying and fulfilling.

At this point in my 30-year career, I am only now understanding the breadth, depth and value of my network. It is a great privilege to be able to reach out to professionals who have achieved so much for advice and guidance, while simultaneously connecting with those who are starting their careers for their fresh perspectives and insights.

I have realized that fulsome networking is both formal and informal, often with informal day-to-day activities being the most important. While your network is advanced formally through events, CASE conferences and tools such as LinkedIn, the growth of your network is driven by your values and how you live them. Every day, every year, every decade, your daily work, commitment and achievements — the demonstrated proof of your values –deliver your whole presence to all who know you. This accumulates into a vast network of people who know you well, even if they aren’t active in your professional life today. You realize as time goes on just how important they are.

This values-based approach to networking can be summarized through five basic and simple commitments you can practice every day.

1. 360 degree connections:

We rely every day on our whole team to be successful. We are dependent on the perspectives and expertise of our leaders, professional colleagues, colleagues in research, IT, administrative support, finance, campus services, etc.

Finding ways to connect with people who have these various areas of expertise over your career gives you continual insight into different ways of approaching opportunities and problems, touchpoints when you need perspectives with a twist, and a 360 view on the impact of your work. For example, mentoring colleagues at various points creates tremendous 2-way learning opportunities.

2. Say yes:

There is no denying that everyone feels like their dance card is full and filling continuously. But saying yes to specific opportunities opens doors in your network and room can be found on your to-do list. My connection with Chris Cox came through a yes to the planning committee for the CEAC16 and the experience was fantastic. The learnings from Chris and others on the committee were far greater than any investment of time. Say yes carefully of course, looking for opportunities where you can learn, where people will stretch your thinking, where you can exercise a 360 view, and where you can test a new skill set with the support of other professionals.

3. Deliver on promises:

And of course, as with our donors, alumni, volunteers and other stakeholders, it is critical to deliver on time, at high quality and as promised within your team and within your network. A colleague described it as “safe hands”. People want to be connected with those who can be relied upon. It’s also fine within your network to admit when something isn’t going as planned, when there has been a delay or unexpected obstacle. Just advise early, keep people informed and ask for help. In the end, the delivery of promises belongs to many. That is indeed the value of the network.

4. Informal touchpoints:

I asked my colleagues at breakfast what was the most important demonstration of a positive and active network. Unanimously they replied frequent, short connections. They referred to sharing of photos, memories, short updates. One person said that a contact from a CASE conference had shared her best practices on the CASE website so all could see, but she wrote personally to advise that the posting was specifically for her. They emphasized that short responses are fine, 2 lines will suffice. Just beware of ignoring an email, “if there’s no response then I’m done”.

5. Be generous:

An actor/speech coach years ago shared the most important adage of my career “if you have the opportunity to be generous, be generous”. Finding words, actions and gestures that are sincere, heartfelt and magnanimous to recognize your colleagues’ accomplishments, talents, contributions and dedication can have a very long shelf-life.

Be part of the ‘sunshine file’

At the beginning of my career I started a sunshine file — a place to put kind compliments from colleagues, donors, volunteers and leaders. It was an antidote to the day-to-day problems and complaints that arose. A colleague from 20 years ago who lives in London wrote recently: “The reason I thought to contact you after all these years is that I was cleaning out my office and saw my old smile file from Hong Kong. It was SO much fun to look at again!”

Aim to be part of people’s smile file with a sincere and content-filled compliment, there is truly no greater impact or sense of connection.

Recently I decided to move from INSEAD, where I have had a remarkable experience with fantastic donors, alumni, colleagues and an amazing team, to the University of Waterloo which has an extraordinary reputation as Canada’s most innovative university, great institutional leadership, an exciting strategic plan and a very accomplished and exciting advancement team. As I announced this personal and professional decision, I was humbled by the number of emails I received from my 360 degree network. Donors, volunteers, leaders, faculty, staff members, friends and advancement colleagues from as far back as 1992 wrote with excitement about the appointment and to share memories. It has been remarkable to reminisce about those early days filled with challenges and opportunity and realize how we moved through these decades together.

My hope with this posting is to spark ideas of informal connections and a sense of the long journey that we all share. Each daily interaction is a touchpoint, a connection and an opportunity to engage a partner in creating your impact on the valuable work we all do.

Joanne Shoveller is Associate Dean, Advancement and Alumni Relations, INSEAD, France, and will shortly be moving to the University of Waterloo where she has accepted the post of Vice President, Advancement. Joanne was part of the planning committee at the CASE Europe Annual Conference 2016 which took place in Brussels, Belgium.

The next Annual Conference takes place in Birmingham 28 August-1 September 2017. Book your place at the early bird rate.