“Secret Networking” Your Employees

    Paula Fulghum

    I am a wall-flower and don’t enjoy business networking. That surprises a lot of people who know me when I say that, however, it is very true. I attend business functions out of necessity, not desire, and actually consider it a painful process.

    That said, I attended a business networking event last night. As I was talking to various people, I started to wonder if employers have any indication of how their products are being promoted when they aren’t around. As I spanned the group, I saw great diversity amongst the crowd related to experience level and also industry. Some people were pro’s at confidently walking up and making an introduction followed by their one minute pitch about what they do (which sounded as though they had put a lot of time and thought into it). Others appeared like they were jumping into networking for the first time and looked like I felt inside and hid in the corner. Some were dressed professionally, and some were not. Some asked me about what I did for a living and some only wanted to tell me about themselves. As a business owner and employer, I started to wonder how my employees represent my brand when I am not around. What do they say when someone asks “What do you do?” We’ve all heard of “secret shopping” and that makes sense if you own a retail establishment and can easily do that, but what about “secret networking?” How can that be done? Should you hide in the corner and watch them in action? I am not so sure…at some point, they might spot you over the cheese dip!

    Here is a suggestion…

    Ask a colleague or friend to attend an event and seek them out and see them in action. Make sure they know what questions to ask beforehand. Ask them not only to observe what they say, but who they are saying it to. Does it make sense that they are trying to talk with the people they are talking to or is a waste of time? Have them observe what they are wearing, if they are drinking alcohol (and if it is too much). If they are telling jokes in the crowd, are they appropriate and is it consistent with your culture and business.

    I believe you can learn a lot through this approach about your branding, or lack thereof. And better yet, you are protecting and defending your brand. This gives you the ability to coach and correct and give feedback where needed or kudos when deserved. Your employees may not know they need a one minute pitch, or what questions to ask someone. If you are a larger employer you may want to establish certain conduct and dress code policies for these types of things and establish a training program with a cheat sheet of do’s and don’ts when attending these types of events. Your sexual harassment policy might need tweaking to include these scenarios. You may need to establish a one drink policy or no drink policy depending upon your beliefs and culture.

    In any case, I think putting some thought in to this is needed. As they say, “a first impression lasts a lifetime” and I believe that is true. You hire people who you believe will represent you well, but just make sure to inspect them from time to time to make sure they are. You never know who they might talk to at an event and how that might lead you to a successful new account or how it might ruin your chances of 10 accounts, depending upon the number of people they talk to!

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