It’s That Season Again – the 2009 Lean Conference (Networking) Marathon
From now through early November weâ€šÃ„Ã´re on the road again, meetinâ€šÃ„Ã´ and greetinâ€šÃ„Ã´ our Lean colleagues from around the country.
Morning mail brought a reminder that itâ€šÃ„Ã´s that season again. Yes, time to hit the Lean conference circuit until you canâ€šÃ„Ã´t stand (afford?) it anymore. Not to single out AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) for any particular reason, but it was AMEâ€šÃ„Ã´s 12-page color brochure which outlined five key benefits I would receive (and you too!) by attending their 2009 Lean Conference. Of the five, networking only placed third. Hmm?
Quoting AME (emphasis added) on the benefits of networking:
â€šÃ„ÃºBuilding a social network of like-minded people is an important part of the Lean journey. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s well established by over 30 years of scientific research that the best performers and the most profitable companies invest in social capital. In the world of Lean, establishing relationships is the catalyst for success. A company with rich social capital produces outstanding business results – higher sales, better quality products, more satisfied employees and greater profits. To accelerate your Lean efforts you must continually meet new people, leverage trusted resources and build stronger relationships. Having the right people included in your sphere of influence will help you cut your way through all of the noise about Lean and provide not only ongoing support but the right support. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not just what you know and who you know that counts â€šÃ„Ã¬ but also who knows you that is important to your success.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve got to find out who writes their advertising copy! As an executive search guy who specializes in recruiting Lean Executives for the Sustainable Lean Enterprise, I couldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t have said this better myself. Networking makes major sense for every Lean Executive, including you.
Incidentally, the AME flyer specifically did NOT mention that networking is an ideal way to position yourself for long-term career advancement. Sure, your current employer may not be struggling with layoffs, salary reductions or other recession-induced issues â€šÃ„Ã¬ now. More about this below. Just remember, â€šÃ„Ãºwho knows you â€šÃ„ ¶is important to your success.â€šÃ„Ã¹
So, how to maximize the benefits to you from conference networking? A few observations and suggestions. Not by any means a comprehensive list, but maybe enough to get you energized.
Plan. Before getting on that plane, think about why youâ€šÃ„Ã´re attending the conference. What is your purpose? What objectives and expectations do you have? What outcomes do you hope to achieve? I personally believe that in todayâ€šÃ„Ã´s world of â€šÃ„ÃºThe Brand Called You,â€šÃ„Ã¹ building your personal network should be a key purpose in and of itself. But beyond that, is it professional development? Is it soliciting input about a specific business issue youâ€šÃ„Ã´re facing, and information about how others have tackled similar problems? What will you need to accomplish at the conference so that you receive true value-added for your time and your employerâ€šÃ„Ã´s financial investment? Get clarity on this.
Prepare. Who do you think youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll want to meet, and speak with, and why? What will you say to them? Think about what insights and perspectives you can offer your prospective conversation partners. What ideas might you be able to share about Lean, your companyâ€šÃ„Ã´s business challenges and successes, yourself personally and professionally? You donâ€šÃ„Ã´t need a prepared â€šÃ„Ãºsales pitchâ€šÃ„Ã¹ but make a few notes in advance. Most effective of all, think about some questions to ask of the people youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll meet. Powerful conversation starters. Have some.
Bring tools. As the Amex folks say, donâ€šÃ„Ã´t leave home withoutâ€šÃ„ ¶business cards! Your business card is valuable currency because you can exchange it for the other personâ€šÃ„Ã´s business card. That way youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll have contact info so you can follow-up after the conference. And youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll want to do that. I am absolutely amazed at the number of people I meet at virtually every event who donâ€šÃ„Ã´t have a business card. Why did they bother showing up?
Show up; noâ€šÃ„ ¶really, show up. Youâ€šÃ„Ã´re at an off-site for a reason. If not for that reason you could have spent less time and money at a Webinar instead. That reason does not include responding to emails and phone calls from colleagues back at the Gemba; or fine-tuning a future-state map; or sneaking out for a round of golf. Go on the plant tours and to the workshops you signed up for. Attend meals, coffee breaks and cocktail hours. Come early, mingle, and chat (see below). Stay late. Yes, you can eat too. But only with other attendees.
Mingle. AME indicated that Northrop Grumman is deploying a team of 30 to this yearâ€šÃ„Ã´s conference. Wow, 30 people! Hereâ€šÃ„Ã´s some advice for those NG participants and you as well: Donâ€šÃ„Ã´t all sit at the same table. Networking isnâ€šÃ„Ã´t about dancing with the partner you brought; itâ€šÃ„Ã´s about learning new steps from the guy or gal snapping their fingers to an unfamiliar beat out there on the dance floor. So meet and talk to people you donâ€šÃ„Ã´t already know. Then, youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll get to know them, and they you.
Say hello. Take the initiative to start a conversation with the unknown colleague sitting next to you at the supply chain workshop or a few of the Medtronic folks lining up at the salad buffet across the room. You might ask the person walking alongside you on the Miller Brewing tour why they chose it instead of the one over at Proctor & Gamble. Or, even start a chat about the weather (just kidding) with that executive over there wearing a name badge from a customerâ€šÃ„Ã´s or competitorâ€šÃ„Ã´s plant. What might you learn? What else might you learn? Go ahead, engage.
OK, I know what else you were thinking aboutâ€šÃ„ ¶ If you are indeed actively seeking a new position, stay below the radar. Even if you followed my advice and youâ€šÃ„Ã´re NOT sitting at the same table with the gang from back at the office. Latest statistic I find from the Department of Labor is that 64% of all jobs found last year were through contacts. Youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll be making good LeanConnections, but be discreet about your job search. That dance is a three or four-step affair, not the one-step typical at professional conferences. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s unlikely anyone youâ€šÃ„Ã´ve met will actually be able to offer you a job. Contacts will lead you to information, other resources and still more contacts. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s a time and place for everything. For job search discussions that would be during your post-conference follow-up. More about how to do that in another post, coming soon.
Oh, and donâ€šÃ„Ã´t bring resumes; almost no one bothers with paper any more, and itâ€šÃ„Ã´s the very definition of not being discreet.
A final conference thought. Many conference promoters invite you to bring along a spouse and even schedule â€šÃ„Ãºsignificant otherâ€šÃ„Ã¹ activities. OK, if itâ€šÃ„Ã´s winter and you, like I, live in Chicago, and the conference is in Maui, wellâ€šÃ„ ¶ But Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve been attending conferences for almost 20 years now and for pretty much every situation other than the Maui thing I have one word of advice: donâ€šÃ„Ã´t. Focus on your purpose, avoid distractions. And treat your significant other to a great dinner upon your return home.
Post-conference follow-up. Much as Lean must become part of your companyâ€šÃ„Ã´s corporate culture in order to deliver sustained benefits, networking must fuse with your DNA to live up to its greatest potential for you.
Decide who you want to reach out to after the conference, then do it (rule of thumb: sooner is better, later may as well be not at all). Who will you call? Who will you email? Who would it make sense to meet with in person? After that initial connection, how will you continue to stay in touch?
Remember that networking is a long-term process which leads you into building mutually beneficial relationships. But not in just a few days. You have to work at it continuously and, eventually, youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll form the networking habit, along with an awesome professional network at your disposal. Thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s how youâ€šÃ„Ã´ll wind up getting the inside info on all the best Lean ideas, innovations and industry trends before you read about them in Industry Week or Manufacturing Engineering. Not to mention those great career opportunity leads.
A final, final note. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve just been Googling on the words â€šÃ„Ãºconference +Lean +Six Sigma + TPMâ€šÃ„Ã¹ +â€šÃ„ ¶(well, you get the idea) and count at least 16 in the US alone before Thanksgiving. Get crackinâ€šÃ„Ã´ and happy networking!
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