We all know about the value and power of the police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services to help us when we are in trouble or support us when we need help. Most of us are happy to invest in these services through our taxes and also possibly through fundraising and volunteering for them. What we often forget is that in the world of work and outside of work there is a fifth emergency service we should all be investing in and supporting -- our Support Networks.
As co-chair of my company's Parents Network I am exceptionally privileged to have met some incredible people who are looking to progress their corporate careers, while also trying to find some balance in others parts of their lives. It really doesn't matter where these people are in an organisation a key to their progression has been the conscious development of a robust and flexible network of support to provide both practical and emotional support. If like me you are a bit 'Type A' and are secretly superwoman dressed as a normal person then now is the time to embrace others and accept you just can't do it all yourself.
These networks can consist of peers within your organisation, mentors, sponsors (if you are lucky) as well as managers past and present. It is important that this internal network includes both women and men.
Building up these networks is especially important if you are planning a career pivot or are about to take an extended leave of absence, for example for parental leave. By prioritizing the building the of your internal network alongside building up your skills and knowledge base you are also well placed to find the next step in your career. It also means there are far more people who know you and could potentially spot that new opportunity for you.
A point of caution around internal networks - as with any of the emergency services if you do not invest there is service to be provided. Similarly any network you do build up needs to be tended to on a regular basis, this can mean both in terms of maintaining the network but also growing it and possibly also changing those who are part of your network as your career developments. This is especially important if you do take an extended period of time off, in which case keeping in touch with your network will make your transition back to work so much smoother.
Your personal network is your foundation of support. Depending on your personal circumstances it most likely to be made up of your very close family, members of your local community, parents of your kids friends and someone you just bumped into at your gym/pub/coffee shop. Whatever the make up you need to make sure that your life network is covering all your bases. It's great to have someone to giggle with when something amuses you at work but you also need people who will give you solid advice, which sometimes you don't want to hear. What about when you are running late to pick up your kids, knowing there is someone there who can help you out is an amazing feeling. By making sure that you have a diverse life network you are giving yourself the best chance to have a solid base to allow you to focus on your work network.
Having robust and flexible life and work networks allows you to then curate your personal board of directors. These are the best of the best of your networks and will change and adapt over time as you face new challenges and opportunities. Your personal board are the people who will talk straight to you, who will open doors you didn't even know were closed and most importantly will give you wings at moments when you think you have no hope.
All opinions are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.