Coast-to-coast flights are a terrific time to put thoughts down on paper. This time, I am on my way to Orlando, FL. This is the beginning of a six-day trip that will take me to Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, New York and Illinois, before returning home to Nevada.
I have the great fortune to provide leadership for a group of import parts specialists from all over the country called S.I.P.S., the Society of Import Parts Specialists. There are 30 members in this organization and they span the U.S. from California to Vermont. One of my responsibilities is to produce a newsletter periodically, usually every other month or so. It's a lot of fun to do, but just like writing these articles for this magazine, you need a consistent supply of good material.
The best way to acquire good material to stay fresh and current is to network with others. Other people from our industry are great resources, but people from outside of your own industry can provide excellent perspectives that are sometimes more objective. They can see the forest from the trees, where usually we are a little too close to look at our situations objectively.
This trip will allow me the opportunity to network within my industry, but it will add the dimension of sharing information with my peers from other parts of the country who are in very different markets. I have great anticipation about learning how our member in New Jersey approaches his market compared to another member in central Florida. There will be different personalities, different markets and probably many unique philosophies of how to get the job of serving the import specialist installers in their communities. Who ever said that "parts are parts"?
The same way you exchange information with your colleagues within your store, you can gain valuable information by speaking to and learning from others outside of your company.
Most would tell you that the key to effective networking is to be a good listener and I certainly would not argue with that logic. But, it is just as important to be an active participant. Simply stated, to get something, you've got to give something. It irritates me when someone suggests that when they are in a group setting, they should keep their ears open and their mouths shut. Doesn't the word "communication" suggest having a two-way conversation?
I am all for maintaining company secrets and keeping personalities out of it, but really, how would you hope to be engaged in a meaningful learning experience without offering some of your own? My personal philosophy has always been that good ideas, when shared, improve our entire industry. If the future of our industry is important, and we all understand that it is, it is critical for us to learn to work together to improve the quality of our products and services.
It is not necessary to divulge every detail of a situation when sharing something you have learned with someone else. Keep the names and places out of it. When an associate shares something with me and I later discover an opportunity to help someone else by sharing the same information with them, I don't offer where it came from. In addition, I don't take personal credit for someone else's terrific idea. It's not as difficult as it sounds.
Let's say you have been elected to attend a computer seminar in another city. During a coffee break, another participant indicates that he is having a problem tracking where his cash sales are coming from. You remember that just recently, a friend of the owner of your company had mentioned that he designed a series of cash accounts using all of the different zip codes in his market. Now, when a cash customer purchases something, he starts the sale by asking what zip code the customer lives in and he uses that as the cash account for the sale. Eventually, he will be able to track where every cash sale comes from . . . or doesn't.
You could really help the other computer seminar participant with his problem by sharing this information, but it is not necessary for you to tell him where it came from. Just simply say, "We used to have that problem too, until our management learned to track cash sales by Zip code designation." Wasn't that easy? Now that you have provided that person an excellent idea for how to solve a problem he was having, how receptive do you think he will be to offering a suggestion for a concern you might be facing?
Remember the comment, "keep your ears open and your mouth shut?" Through experience and the interchanging of ideas with others, you'll learn the many values networking can provide.