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Strengthen Your Network Through Personal Equity

April 26th, 2007

Fifty Dollar BillNote from Jason: This is the second guest-post from Pete Johnson, who is the HP.com Chief Architect. His first guest post is You Never Know Who It’s Going To Be. Pete, thanks a ton for your guest posts!

Can you lend me $50?

Seriously, I’m good for it, I swear.

I mean, I post replies on JibberJobber all the time so you probably know who I am. So go ahead and show me Ulysses S. Grant.

No? Why not?

You probably have no incentive whatsoever to lend me money, and that’s my point. Having a network of people you know is one thing, but having a network of people who feel compelled to help you when asked is a whole lot better. A key to influencing the behavior of others is what I call “personal equity” and in order to utilize it fully you need to make deposits early and often.

As an example, let’s look at a typical office scenario. Suppose a boss has to get across to an employee that a certain task has to be completed by a particular deadline. Consider these two different, and opposite, approaches:

“Finish those TPS reports by 4:00 pm or you are fired!”

Or

“You know, I’m getting pressured from above to get these TPS reports finished off by 4:00 pm and I’d really appreciate it if you could get yours done on time. Also, say hello to your mother for me. I hope that extra time off I gave you last week was helpful.”

Admittedly this is a bit contrived, but either approach would probably produce the desired short term result. The former is easier but relies on a very serious threat to induce the expected behavior. The latter is requires more foresight and uses indebtedness based on a prior favor to influence the employee. In other words, personal equity.

Which one builds a better long term relationship, the threat or the reminder that a favor was extended? The favor does by a landslide. If someone has already done something to benefit you in some way, you feel more obligated to return the good feelings than you otherwise would.

Case in point: this very article. In January, I connected with Jason based on a guest article he wrote on another blog. During a rapid email exchange, we soon both discovered we had a mutual goal of helping people with career development. He had this well established site focused on job search networking and I was just starting out on my blog dealing with the non-technical aspects of careers in engineering. It quickly became apparent that it would benefit me greatly to tap into his vast knowledge of the blogging world.

After realizing this, I used my day job expertise as a website builder for a Fortune 10 company and pointed it at JibberJobber.com. I praised him for what he has done well with its architecture and made a few suggestions where he could be doing things better. Whenever I can, I sing the praises of JibberJobber in blog comment areas too, which he’s aware of since he’s set up the metrics tracking of his site well enough that he knows where his referrals come from.

Low and behold, a few emails later I got the big question from Jason, “What can I do to help you?” I didn’t even have to ask him, he offered. The best job search is the one where the hiring manager knows who you are and comes looking for you. The same is true of any favor and by laying early groundwork, the return offer came looking for me.

The key to building these relationships is in the sincerity of the effort. Yeah, I started doing little favors for Jason with the hope that he’d return them to me, but I genuinely care about what happens to his site and believe in what he’s trying to do with it. Had I just been in it for what the relationship could do for me, he’d see through that quickly and I’d just be an annoyance to him instead of an asset. Instead, personal equity has developed between us because of this authenticity and we’re both better off as a result (although, he might not just give me $50 either 8)).

While you have to be wary of situations where you are making more deposits than the benefits you are receiving (or could potentially receive) dictate, it’s better to put into a relationship first and set the stage for a deeper interaction. That way when/if you do need something, you have some leverage to tap into based on that personal equity you already built. If you have already given to them, people are much more likely to give back to you and a broader set of career opportunities can be the big payoff.

5 Comments »

5 responses to “Strengthen Your Network Through Personal Equity”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! This is one of the really key messages that is expressed in “Never Eat Alone.” I also find it extremely cool that Jason Practices what he preaches in this regard. Not only is this blog one of the most beneficial, least self-serving blogs I have ever seen (not to mention that it helps people whent hey really need th ehelp the most)… but Jason has been great about taking me under his wing in so many ways. Crap… I gotta go before I start crying or something :)

  2. Nerd Guru says:

    There was a nice article over at The Brazen Careerist, by Yahoo Business columnist Penelope Trunk along these same lines today that caused a bit of a stir.

    What if your act of kindness plays on a stereotype?

    In the case of Penelope’s article, she simply suggested you might want to bring cupcakes to work every once in awhile. She got a surge of angry comments on how that reinforces a negative stereotype of working women. The thread of comments is an interesting read.

  3. Brandon says:

    It nevers hurts to show you care. Whether its cupcakes, homemade cookies or just recognizing the underappreciated with a simple ‘Thank You,” it all makes a difference and comes back to you. Karma my friends.

  4. […] Ah, the dawn of the microcelebrity.  Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine describes a microcelebrity as “the phenomenon of being extremely well known not to millions but to a small group — a thousand people, or maybe only a few dozen.”  Becoming a microcelebrity is inherently good for you and your career, because people start gravitating towards you.  It’s a pull rather than a push to grow your network, and that means you can work on strengthening your network rather than extending it. […]