I read Jeannie Gardner's earlier post on not having a network when she moved from consulting to an energy company. Her advise is spot on. I moved to Houston eight years ago and I didn't know anyone. The Women's Energy Network helped me to build a professional network and some great friendships too.
But then what? Now that you have a professional network, what do you do with it? Once you have your network, you need to start focusing on getting sponsors - that's right, more than one sponsor. I am often asked, “How do I get a sponsor?” Based on my book “Energy and the City” where I share the learning lessons of 31 successful women in the energy industry, I developed an approach to build mentors and coaches in your network with the intent of earning sponsors. I am going to share that approach with you along with a Network Matrix (©Joan Eischen 2012) that will give you a visual overview of your network as it stands. I’ll also include the necessary steps to build the contacts you need for a successful career. I know this works as I've shared this matrix with several women's groups in Houston and everyone has walked away from the workshop realizing they need to do a little work on their "network."
Before moving forward, it’s imperative to differentiate mentors, coaches and sponsors.
- A mentor will take a long term personal interest in your development. Your mentor will tell you “why” you need to communicate differently and “why” you need to develop a support system at home, while also sharing his or her personal experiences. Because of the personal nature of the conversations I recommend that your mentor is NOT your boss. It should be someone who you trust and have a personal relationship with. Because a mentor can become a sponsor, the more power and influence your mentor has to “lean in for you” within the organization, the better the connection for you long term.
- A coach provides the “how to.” A coach is concerned with on-the-job performance. A coach is more likely to become a sponsor as they are seeing you perform at work and are typically invested in your performance.
Now, on to sponsors: how do you develop one? Remember that while you can ask for a mentor and request some coaching, you cannot ask for a sponsor. A sponsor is developed through the relationship and credibility you develop with an influential leader in your organization. A sponsor will take a risk to provide you with a role you may not have considered. The Harvard Business Review stated that there can be a 30% benefit in advancement (pay) realized with a sponsor!
In order to get a sponsor you need to cultivate your network. The Network Matrix© I developed (that is attached) will give you an overview of your network and where you may have the opportunity to acquire a sponsor. In the matrix there are columns you will need to fill out:
- Who are the individuals in your network? Write their names in the column.
- Where are they located; inside your company or external
- What benefits do the interactions provide? Depending on your response you should realize what role this person is playing in your network. Is this person a mentor, coach or a sponsor?
- What benefits do you provide them? Remember, it is a reciprocal relationship and not all about “getting.”
- How energizing are the interactions? (Positive or negative)
Now is the fun part – Diversify, eliminate and cultivate!
- Get rid of those people who sap your energy or develop a new strategy for interacting with that person.
- Reduce the number of people in your nine categories to focus on those people most likely to become your sponsor.
Once you think you have the list complete, ask yourself: who within your network is a strong candidate to become a sponsor? If you could not identify a potential one you need to diversify your network. Write down 3 professional goals that you want to achieve and the people who could help you achieve them. Try to map individuals to your goals and start inviting them to coffee to mentor and coach you. These individuals could become sponsors in the future.
Let me know about your network. When you did this exercise, did you find a sponsor hiding in your network? If not, what is your plan to get a sponsor? I look forward to hearing from you