Last week, we kicked off our two-part series on social capital, stressing the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone to build connections. Social capital—or the “who you know”—is what can put you in rooms with the movers and shakers who can invest in your business and shape your career. It’s also what can grow a community.
Unlike general networking events, which are commonly described as inauthentic or ineffective, building social capital requires intentionality and a genuine desire to make lasting connections. It’s more than mindlessly giving out business cards to everyone you meet at a networking event; instead, it’s using each encounter—whether at a function or in your workplace—to find common ground that will make for a potentially fruitful relationship.
Think about it: how many piles of business cards do you have stacked beside your office desk? To take it a step further, how many times have you exchanged platitudes that ended in, “Let’s get together sometime!” with both parties fully aware that you’ll probably never see them again? Not only is that wasted time, but it’s aimless networking that doesn’t actually build social capital. That’s “ineffective” networking that’s often prompted by broadly-themed and “inauthentic” networking events.
In order to successfully build social capital, one thing to consider is the end goal: Are you looking to connect with other entrepreneurs for business advice and resources that will help with operations? Are you focused on building relationships with community organizers so that you can increase your philanthropic engagement? Or maybe you just want to connect with Suzie Q in HR because you hear she’s a local socialite and you’re eager to see more of what the city has to offer?
Whatever it is, make sure you’ve thought about your end goal, and then take the proper steps to connect yourself with the appropriate people and/or organizations. Additionally, remember the golden networking rule: In order to be interesting, one must first be interested. This is critical for success in building social capital.
I’ll break it down for you. A common misconception is that in order for someone to want to connect with you, they must know everything about you before they agree to exchange information. As a result, many incessantly ramble about themselves—experiences, achievements, interests, etc. The reality is, though, that a good networker is more interested in the person with whom they’re speaking. They do the asking, expressing a genuine interest in learning as much about the other person as possible. After all, we’re hoping for common ground and a genuine connection. If you’re lucky, you’ll be speaking with another networking pro who’s also set out to learn as much about you as possible. The equal exchange of information makes both parties feel good about the balanced conversation, vibrant discourse, and hopefully, shared interests.
It’s these types of connections that Kym Grinnage, Vice President and General Manager at WWBT/NBC12, prides himself on prioritizing. Grinnage builds genuine connections that focus on who he is, not what he does, which have proven to have more longevity than simply making connections to climb the corporate ladder.
“I’ve never been a climber,” he explains. “Every promotion I’ve gotten has been the result of someone asking me to do the job, and that’s because of the social capital I’ve built with my colleagues and within my corporation.”
Grinnage considers himself a “natural networker,” whose focus is building relationships that benefit those around him, whether in the workplace or out in the community. He seeks opportunities to offer up his gifts, talents, and resources, remaining focused on providing knowledge, information, and experience to help others advance. While titles are nice, Grinnage realizes that they’re simply “what you do.” “Who you are” holds far more weight, and is what we should strive to put forth when meeting and connecting with others.
“There are a few reasons social capital is important,” he explains. “First, if someone were to ask, ‘What do you think about Kym?’ I don’t want them to say that I’m a good guy because I’m the VP of NBC12. That’s my title, yes, but I want them to say that I’m someone you can depend on, or that I’m only involved in things I put my heart into, like mentorship.”
Not only does social capital allow others to serve as your ambassador in your absence, as Grinnage describes above, but it also expands your network of reliable resources when it comes to launching initiatives and events here in Richmond.
Kelli Lemon, a social entrepreneur who’s dedicated her life and career to being “Loyal to Local,” believes that social capital is critical when building upon the growing brand of RVA. It’s no secret that Richmond is rapidly evolving and the opportunities to shift the culture are growing in number. Thanks to a beautiful marriage of her vision, foresight, and social capital, Lemon has launched events and initiatives that continue to fill a void she felt upon moving back to Richmond after graduating from the University of Virginia.
“I didn’t even know I was building social capital,” she laughs. “There were just so many things I wanted to do and events I wanted to attend. I watched my age group get disappointed with their social life, so I started creating the things I wanted to see around Richmond.”
At first, Lemon admits, her position wasn’t clear. While some assumed she set out to be the face of social entrepreneurship or social justice in Richmond, Lemon is clear that she simply wanted to answer questions she and many others had: Where can we eat in RVA? What festivals are happening here? Are there any kid-friendly events? If my parents come in town, what can we do? She simply built genuine connections and partnerships with local businesses to spearhead events and projects that answered those questions. Before she knew it, her passions produced paychecks that allowed her to become a full-time social entrepreneur.
“I look at social capital as the networks and relationships that create opportunities for these types of things to happen,” she says. “For me, it all happened organically. Now that I’m in it, though, I like to tell my story so that others can be intentional about relationships they’re building and what they’re doing for this city.”
Whether you’re focused on community initiatives or are looking to advance your own personal career, the consensus is that authenticity is key. Remain true to who you are, and seek the truth in others. It’s only then that you can develop social capital that’s more fruitful than any contrived networking effort.
Kym Grinnage agrees. “Genuine relationships are lasting,” he advises. “The ones you build just so you can climb the ladder don’t last. Focus on building organically, and the rest will fall into place.”