How to build a go-to network

The ultimate manifestation of go-to-ism in the workplace is finding and fostering a network of go-to people. Whenever you find go-to people, you want to approach those relationships with a service mindset. What can you bring to the relationship that will make that person want to work with you again in the future? There are five steps to being a service-minded 'customer' to your colleagues.


 Step One: Learn who's who in the zoo.

I learned this from Mary Trout, who is one of my favorite CEOs in the making and, obviously, a total go-to person. "You have to learn who's who in the zoo," she says. That is, who are the teddy bears? The tigers? The snakes? Get to know the players in all the different areas of the organization-- up, down, sideways, and diagonal--their strengths and weaknesses, their work proclivities, and how to work effectively with them. Figure out how to find your go-to people and how to get what you need from them.

That's doubly important if you are relatively new in an organization, especially one with a long history and lots of longstanding personnel and internal networks. Or, if you are one of the longstanding personnel in an organization that is now bringing in more and more new blood.


Step Two: Start with the people you know.

If you start with people you don't know, then you have to get to know them and figure out if you have reason to trust them. If you start with the people you know already, you can zero in on those you trust to find your go-to people.

Start with your own best customers. You should always be looking around the corner with them, anticipating upcoming opportunities to be of service to each other. Which of your own best customers might be go-to people for you? Do you know enough about their world?

You already know what you can do for them, how they operate, and how to do business with them. Do you know what they can do for you? Where do their tasks, responsibilities, and projects meet up with your needs?

Give them opportunities to add value. And then be an amazing customer for them.


Step Three: Study the hall files.

Your go-to go-to person may not always be available. Or maybe the people you know best don't do exactly what you need.

But maybe they know somebody who does. Ask your go-to people for referrals. And use your extended network, too. You might get the name of someone's friend of a friend. It's someplace to start. You can always get a second opinion about the person, and a third. Shop around a little. Find someone who really delivers.

Referrals and second and third opinions are all ways into the personnel "hall files." Everybody has a hall file--their informal reputation. This is what people who have worked with them whisper about them in the halls. The good and the not so good. This is informal reputation data held in the opinions that colleagues have about each other. Consider the hall file just another repository of real influence.

Some people have a hall file that says, "This person does such great work and is so great to work with: you want to work with this person." Others have a hall file that says, "You don't want to work with this person." Some are full of stories and examples. Others are vague. Be careful how you use hall-file data, but don't ignore it. Even when it sinks to the level of gossip, never forget that gossip is data, too--and that it isn't always true.

Ask around. You'll learn a lot. And don't believe everything you hear. Get second and third opinions.


Step Four: Study the organization chart.

Finally, when all else fails, you can always use the organization charts and employee directories. I'm amazed at how many organizations have great charts and directories that are up to date and available to personnel, but which few people access and utilize.

To find go-to people where you need them, you need to know exactly who's who in the organization and who exactly to go to for what, why, how, where, or when. Then study the org chart. Study the employee directories. Learn who does what, why, when, where, and how. Make the connections. And keep up with the changes.


Step Five: Be an amazing customer.

Once you find your go-to people, be their most amazing customer. What does that mean? First, you give your go-to people a lot of business--your own and through your referrals and recommendations. Maybe the amazing customer sometimes overtips or errs on the high side when it comes to discretionary contingent pay and other rewards. But does an amazing customer overpay? No. Unless the relationship is somehow corrupt, the amazing customer pays a fair price.

But there's a lot more to being a great customer than giving somebody your business and paying good money. You also give them positive word of mouth, business referrals, comfort, ease, and trust in dealings. And who knows? The person selling (or helping you with) something today could be your customer tomorrow, or your boss, your direct report, colleague, teacher, friend, or uncle-in-law.

And because great customers have a lot of offer, they get a lot back. Great customers get all the best deals, the free samples, the speedy deliveries, the emergency rush jobs on a weekend or holiday. Why? The best customers are also great to work with. That doesn't just mean just being polite and familiar. It means that you:

  • Go to the right person about the right things at the right time (hint: with plenty of advance notice).
  • Go prepared and make good use of the other person's time.
  • Go vertical first and check for alignment, so you don't have to come back later and say, "My boss said we have to make this change" or "My direct reports/my team says we have to make this change."
  • Tune in to your own ask: put your asks in the form of a tight proposal.
  • Answer the "no gate" questions on the way in:
    • Yes, it can be done; it's possible.
    • Yes, it is allowed.
    • Yes, it should be done; it has good ROI.
  • Make yes easy by setting out a simple plan: here's how I will help you help me.
  • Always follow up and build the relationship: send a supersonic thank-you. Do an after-action review. And look around the corner so you can plan the next collaboration.

Want more tips like this?

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