An introvert's attempt at networking showman

Coffee and networking
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If HR professionals are still grappling with defining and delivering employee engagement in their own companies, do they have the emotional intelligence to make networking a valuable exercise when let out to play?

I attended the 2016 CIPD Employee Engagement Conference to find out if I can switch from introvert to showman to stand out from the crowd.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to read your own and other people’s feelings and emotions, and use this information to guide your thinking, behaviour and actions.

According to Myers-Briggs, I am quiet, serious, dependable and matter-of-fact. Good personality traits for the office, but not so useful when networking, especially as humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones (Microsoft, 2015).

I would have to dig deep and rediscover the inner flirt that existed before social media changed how people connected.

The British Medical Association was the venue for the conference. I wanted to know if HR got people’s hearts pumping or whether they were looking for a career transplant to be HR customers instead of HR innovators. But before exploring people’s career goals, I had to play second fiddle to the selection of refreshments.

Networking begins at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food and coffee while checking emails.

I would have to dig deep and rediscover the inner flirt that existed before social media changed how people connected.

"Everyone take your seats..."

The conference begins.

Yay, HR finally has a place at the table, but which table will I choose? There are about 90 attendees from across the UK to share their ideas on designing the employee experience, upskilling line managers and how to measure engagement.

Between sessions I learned where my tablemates work, what they do and why they are happy not working in London. I will never know what connections I would have made if I sat at the table where everyone seems to be having fun and making friends for life. But that’s just my unconscious bias and what if fantasies polluting my mind.

‘Those who want respect, give respect’ is my mantra for 2016.

Networking begins at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food and coffee while checking emails.

I feel lost in the moment as corporate videos with pumping soundtracks and power statements fill the screen. It may be the singers making me feel like a superhero, but I believe in the companies that have adopted the soundtracks to convey success.

Music might be the secret to networking with a purpose. Everyone coming together in a musical mindfulness to find the missing link between employees and productivity.

The believers jumping off stage into the arms of their peers who carry them towards the corporate nirvana of 100% engagement.

I believe employee engagement is creating a synergy between company goals and employee motivation to build a sustainable organisation that can adapt and thrive in the changing world of work.

HR should focus on building resilience, developing effective communication channels to deliver the engagement strategy, and embedding a results-driven culture that incorporates health and wellbeing.

‘Those who want respect, give respect’ is my mantra for 2016.

What happens after the conference

The fixation with understanding Generation Y makes me think that networking will soon be a fleeting encounter in cyberspace with conditions attached to make it worth their precious time.

They may be the generation that tackles ‘busy being busy’ and ‘meetings with no purpose’.

Networking will become important in a flexible job market where reputation matters and everyone is your potential customer or stepping stone to a new job.

To be a good networker, you have to understand people.

Come 4pm, I understand that people want to go home. I met some committed and skilled HR professionals at the conference and joined an email action learning set. No-one has viewed my LinkedIn profile yet, but I do have a very common name and according to LinkedIn there are 25 Paul Carters more successful than me.

But success depends on what you want from life.

What do you think? 

About Paul Carter

Paul Carter, Insolvency Service

Paul Carter is an independent HR blogger and Senior HR Consultant who has worked in HR for six years after spending 10 years in communications and committee management. He is CIPD qualified and writes HR blogs to encourage debate on how to make the world of work a better place. He has studied journalism and screenwriting and is always interested in meeting new people and exploring new opportunities.

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18th Feb 2016 16:32

"HR should focus on building resilience, developing effective communication channels to deliver the engagement strategy, and embedding a results-driven culture that incorporates health and wellbeing."

Sounds good. And good usually means expensive, one way or another. So I'm curious.

What do you mean by 'building resilience'? Why is that the workplace's consideration? Surely you'd expect to hire people who displayed whatever you consider as 'resilience' and then expect them to continue displaying it once they're there.

And since when has it been down to HR to develop effective communication channels? If people can't manage to talk to one another in this day and age, there really is no hope for them. Written letters, email, face-to-face, teleconferencing, instant messaging, phone, texts - we can talk to each other over great distances or just to the other side of the office with essentially zero effort. If you're hiring people who can't or won't communicate using the numerous tools they already have, I'm unsure what new idea HR's going to bring to the party.

Delivering the engagement strategy is another one I'm unsure falls within the purview of HR. If my manager's engaged, and his manager's engaged, and her manager's engaged, then I will be too, or I know several people will be asking pointed questions about why I'm not. At that point, the opinion of HR on the matter will be irrelevant.

Embedding a results-driven culture - what results are those? And nobody ever 'embedded' a culture into any organisation. Culture comes up through the grass-roots and is surprisingly resistant to change. It can be changed, but you have to have something close to what you want to change already in place, and start making small changes to it, so it grows organically over time. It takes solid leadership, and an adherence to the values of the new culture at all levels of the organisation. People will emulate what they see; what they want to be like, and it is often amazing what people will give themselves permission to do, once they see other people doing it too.

Incorporating health and well-being. 40 years ago, this might have had some meaning, but the current crop of legislation that provides rights to holidays, working time, etc. pretty much takes care of all that.

So what is it HR should focus on, again?

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By PCPaul
to Mr_Lizard
20th Feb 2016 16:16

Mr Lizard, thank you for your response. I welcome any constructive feedback on my articles as I want to make sure my suggestions for improving HR practice and business productivity are credible in the real world.

Every individual needs to be resilient to cope with modern life and as work is such a big part of life, employers have a responsibility to promote resilience in the workplace. You may want to listen to CIPD's podcast on resilience or type 'resilience in the workplace' in Google to find out how HR can help people deal with work-related stresses, such as managing upwards, tackling poor performance, challenging bullies and succeeding in a new role. I'm sure many talented professionals have to rebuild their careers after losing their job, being bullied or failing to meet expectations. You have to be resilient to get through that.

HR teams are already taking action to address the mental health stigma at work, and building resilience is another form of creating a positive working atmosphere. In the future, as understanding of mental health increases, so will the expectation that people bounce back and get on with life.

Building resilience is a personal journey, but if your manager and HR can help then they should do. Action plans and focus groups may not deliver resilience. I believe it emerges once you are good at your job and have the support of your management team and/or peers to fight your corner.

The above links to engagement as you want employees to be good at their jobs, stand their ground and be supported by their managers and colleagues. Again engagement is a very personal feeling, but like it or not, HR does have to improve its engagement and communication capabilities. The employee surveys, focus groups and information we gain from advising on employee relations all have to be used to shape our language and plans in communications and strategies.

I love the word 'embedded' so use it whenever I can. Maybe it was the wrong word to use in this context, but publish and be damned on this occasion. I think people are tired of 'this is how things are done around here' cultures as it is often just an excuse not to take on any additional work or learn new software packages etc. I think chief executives and powerful managers can embed a culture into the heart of an organisation. There might be some resistance, but they will have their way.

If health and wellbeing are done and dusted then there wouldn't be so much media coverage on presenteeism, mental health and the impact that physical and mental health have on productivity and attendance. I know there is legislation but we have to see the bigger picture.

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