Growing Within Your Company: Dragonflies and Pelicans

Pam Lassiter

November 21, 2007

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“I’d like to network with you.” How do you feel when someone says that to you? After surveying a countless number of professionals in my seminars, I see the same reaction: they cringe. People don’t like the concept of being “networked with.” There’s an implication of being used, of being put on the spot, of being asked for names when you’re not sure that you want to share any.

Although we all realize networking is important, we have an instinctive reaction against it when we’re on the receiving end. How do we change that reaction so that both teams want to play ball, especially when you’re the one who is seeking new information or relationships? There’s a tactic and a strategy to encourage others to open up to you, then you can start developing your dragonflies and pelicans.
Where these articles are headed

In these articles in the WITI Career Newsletter, we’re exploring six different strategies for growing within your job and/or your company:

     • The Inverse Security Monster: Recognizing and defending against it
     • WIIFM and BOSOC: Alphabets that spell "Career Success"
     • The Yogi Berra Approach to Career Planning?
     • Killer Competitiveness: Becoming a job magnet
>> • Networks that Last: Dragonflies and Pelicans
     • Building your Reputation: The 5 points of being a star

These six topics build on each other, so you can catch up on the earlier ones with the links. Developing career management skills for the long term can never start too soon. Building a core competency in career management along with your technical and managerial ones will let you start shaping where you’re heading. Watch both your company and you prosper!

Networks that Last: Dragonflies and Pelicans

The tactic and the strategy that encourage others to open up, i.e. network, are straightforward, but have a lot of planning behind them to get it right. To get started with the tactic, however, simply don’t use the word “network.” Don’t use the word and you don’t get the immediate, knee-jerk response. We’ll use the word “network” here as shorthand, but it’s when you’re talking to others that you downplay it. Concepts like “pick your brain,” “cup of coffee,” and “trade ideas” all are more effective, but they require you to think through the strategy first.

The strategy is: start by helping. What can you do to help the person with whom you’d like to “network”? Helping others with their work and their lives not only makes them want to help you in return, but it is also satisfying and sincere, a much more effective approach that gets people to return calls and pursue you instead of your pursuing them. (Read the “Network as the Norm” chapter in The New Job Security for details and examples.) What’s not to like?

As you start building relationships that are part of your career network, you’ll find that they fit into two categories: dragonflies or pelicans. Dr. Herminia Ibarra, a professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, defines them as “long term, high-reciprocity ties,” and “short-term, instrumental ties.” You need both for a strong network.

Before we identify your pelicans and dragonflies, let’s get on the same page about the values behind career networking. Wayne Baker, in his book, Achieving Success through Social Capital (Jossey-Bass, Inc., 2000), could not have said it better. “If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.” Networking is never about using people. Rookies or people you don’t want to hang around may take that approach, but your approach is more honorable: you’re taking the risk of helping first, without a guarantee of any return. Since you can’t help everyone in the world equally, you have to decide where to spend your time, just like you do when you’re developing any friendship.

Now, to the pelicans. Have you ever seen a pelican flying over the surface of the water searching for its next meal? When it spots its target, bam! This bird intuitively makes an immediate nosedive (or is it a beakdive?) into the water. It goes deep, disappearing quickly. Just as you think it’s going to drown, the pelican surfaces with a giant fish in its bill. Mission accomplished. You’ll want to be a pelican with many parts of your network. You’ll want to dive deeply, immersing yourself in your element. Delving deeply into your profession or industry to learn from the experts enables you to become and stay an expert also. The depth of knowledge and connections that come from these long-term, high-reciprocity ties are part of your New Job Security.


Contrast the pelican’s style with the dragonfly. The dragonfly rarely slows down. It constantly skims over the water’s surface, touching down briefly then off again, moving continually from reed to water to a piece of driftwood then away. Staying on the surface when you’re building a network gives you a sense of momentum. These short-term, instrumental ties are perfect as you start a new job, as you’re learning new skills and take on new responsibilities, and, to a lesser extent, during your long term career. How else do you find out that shipments aren’t going out of the loading dock like they were last quarter? How else do you know that another company is going to outsource the payroll work that you’d like to bid on? Short-term, instrumental ties can feed you ongoing, real-time information.

Although keeping that wide-angle view of what’s going on in the marketplace is valuable, you also need the in-depth knowledge of your targeted industries and your profession. Use your networking abilities to network down and into your specialties as well as across the marketplace in general. If you stay too broad, you won’t have the expertise in any one to two areas that people are looking for. Targeted industry insights will sell you and build your reputation. You’ll know what the needs are, which companies are hot, who the movers and shakers are, what the right vocabulary is if you’re changing industries, and maybe even the names of some potential customers for them. You’ve come up with the big fish.

Pam Lassiter, author of The New Job Security, a Wall Street Journal, Award Winning Book and principal of Lassiter Consulting, provides senior-level outplacement, transition and retention services to companies and executives internationally.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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