Picture the last time you walked into a networking event. Perhaps you were a bit nervous and you gave yourself a list of tasks like – sit down, introduce yourself to at least two people at the table, then get busy sipping coffee, reading the event program and checking your phone.

Recently I attended a big family gathering with people I haven’t seen in a million years, and a few I have never met. I knew I was going to have to put my best schmoozing and networking skills to use, because even if I was surrounded by family I still wanted to make good impression. I could tell that my Grandmother was eager to brag about me, as all grandmothers do. What really surprised me, and what I have taken away as a masterful lesson in networking, was in the approach she took.

Social Proof is a Powerful Influencer

How many times have you met someone, only to hear them say “Oh I work for so and so, it’s such a busy job! I’m so busy doing brag brag brag”. Call it a humble brag, or whatever you want, it’s one of the few but obvious ways that someone can talk about themselves without sounding too self absorbed – because you asked!

At this gathering, instead of jumping up with “I’m so proud, did you know that she…” my smooth and sophisticated grandmother simply asked me, while in a small group “so how did your speech go?”

This question created a bit of mystery in the room, but I was excited to give her the details of my keynote address at a large fundraising event. Well, now the questions started and she had masterfully engaged a whole room of people through their own curiosity.

Engage the room with curiosity

This is the phenomenon of social proof. It’s the same psychological effect wherein we perceive a user on Twitter with a million followers as more trustworthy and reputable than a similar user with a thousand followers.

But when you’re at a networking event, even if you have a million Twitter followers, no one is likely to know that. And you don’t have to bring a room full of devotees as a personal entourage to feel confident.

Bring a Buddy

Social proof goes a long way in earning and cultivating that feeling of authority. You only need one other person in a group, or in a room, to be your ally.

You don’t need an entourage to feel confident – you only need one ally

Further to social proof is the multiple source effect. This effect occurs when people give more credence to ideas that are stated by multiple sources. We live in the “testimonial economy” now, where what a candidate says about themselves, including in their resume and cover letter, has less influence on us than ever before. We demand to see the testimony of former managers, colleagues, vendors, and customers, and that carries the most weight. This is why platforms such as LinkedIn are so successful with skill endorsements and testimonials.

In the “testimonial economy” you benefit from showcasing positive endorsements

This effect is so powerful, that you could pay someone to walk around the room introducing you, all the while telling people that they were paid to do this, and you would still benefit from social proof!

Be An Ally

One thing I’ve vowed to do when I go into networking events or big meetings, is to really “advertise” the skills of other people I work with. My thinking goes, if I champion them to people that don’t know us, I’ll at least look good by association, ie — look how smart and talented my coworkers are! You should think that about me too!

It’s (emotionally) easier than talking about myself, and often gets a little banter going like “oh, yes — did you know that she has….”

During that gathering I reconnected with people that I’m very glad to have in my life. Those are the same goals that most people are trying to achieve at any networking event. It really was a masterclass in networking and social proof from an unlikely source!

Author: Jasmine P. Ramratan

Jasmine has over 15 years of human resources and progressive management experience in government and the Department of National Defence.

Jasmine is a positive, high energy and gregarious person who enjoys pushing her limits in new and exciting realms. As she transitions to a second career following nearly 15 years of service in the Royal Canadian Air Force, she is seeking new opportunities to exercise her leadership, HR knowledge, and love of public speaking.

In her spare time, Jasmine serves on the Board of Directors as the Vice Chairperson for the national charity Courageous Companions which provides service dogs to military veterans and first responders who have physical and/or psychological injuries from their service. This cause is very close to her heart as a military veteran, spouse of an injured veteran and dog lover.

She is looking to expand her leadership roles by engaging in opportunities to mentor young human resource professionals to continuously have a positive impact on the industry within Alberta. She firmly believes that philanthropy is one of the most rewarding and personally fulfilling ways to use her talents and has committed to dedicating a portion of her time to these endeavours.

Jasmine holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Royal Military College of Canada, and the Certified Professional in Human Resources designation (CPHR) since 2014 and has native language abilities in French and English, and a working knowledge of Spanish and German.

2 Replies to “A Masterclass in Networking and Social Proof From an Unlikely Source

  1. Apparently without knowing it, you have illustrated fairly clearly just why startup CEOs “hate HR”: Your thinking and writing are heavily about social this, psychological that, emotional whatever, people nearly always, various parts of person to person relationships, gossip, etc. Well, you are a ‘people person’. You refer to job qualifications as “skills” and maybe “talent” — nonsense.

    Well, I’m a startup founder and definitely not a ‘people’ person. In hiring, I care about what people can actually do and get accomplished in essentially just technical work. To estimate what they might do in such technical work, I look at their technical backgrounds and accomplishments. By ‘technical’ I mean much of the best in the fields of STEM — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, especially the first and last. For more on how to estimate, I don’t care hardly at all about what you emphasize.

    So, there’s a big divide: You are a ‘people’ person and I’m a ‘technology’ person.

    As an employee, and I fear as an employer, HR will shoot my recruiting in the gut: In early telephone interviews, HR will interview like they are trying to hire a ‘people’ person receptionist, not like, reject, and offend technical people. If the interview process does continue, then the HR people will ask questions about the candidate’s ‘skills’ and ‘talents’ that again will be poorly formulated questions, like the poor answers, not like the good answers, and offend the good candidates. That situation will continue through the hiring — for the technical work, HR will be a ball and chain around the organization.

    Sure, for organizing the Christmas party, HR wil be terrific! For settling cat fights between the secretaries in different departments, HR will be good. For hiring secretaries, receptionists, PR people, etc., HR will do fine. For helping to hire the technical people that are crucial for the organization, HR will be a disaster. Why? HR is full of ‘people’ persons and doesn’t understand technical work.

    So, HR will have some rules: For candidates, smile and be nice. Ask no questions about qualifications. Never ask a candidate anything that might be related to their qualifications for the job. Help with benefits, expense accounts, where the rest room is, the interview schedule, etc. but under no circumstances communicate by any means opinions on the qualifications of the candidates. Help with coffee, tea, soda, water, smile and be nice. Help with lunch and dinner and smile and be nice. Offer a snack, a candy bar, some fresh fruit or nuts, etc. Be helpful with travel arrangements, hotel arrangements, and smile and be nice.

    Got it?

    1. HR can be your greatest ally, if you let it. I will keep shouting that from the rooftops, because it has been proven time and time again that HR is a force multiplier and that’s very good for business.

      There are several factors to an individual feeling energized with purpose, many of which are firmly within the realm of what an HR person can enable and what they actually specialize in. The rest are things that HR can definitely set the groundwork for. These include:

      A company having and championing strong values that a candidate identifies with (what attracts a candidate to apply to a company in the first place) (In my experience as a military officer, I can speak to an individual sense of purpose and contribution to a greater cause. This is why military members are so loyal; they feel a deep sense of purpose. Companies have a harder time espousing the right values that make people feel that they are contributing their efforts to something worthy and greater than themselves).

      Fit within an organization (a sense of being the right person for the right job)

      Challenging work (engaging in work that is intrinsically motivating to the employee)

      Being recognized for your efforts (Feeling undervalued is actually the leading cause of stress in the workplace, and one of the top causes of turnover and low engagement)
      HR has a dichotomous reputation — too “emotional” while at the same time being too process oriented. My explanation for this is that nearly always, HR practitioners make leaps in logic by talking about “emotions”. We leave out the data driven, best-practiced based analysis that we have gained through education, experience and data.

      We know that good candidates lead to good teams → good teams get to tackle bigger and more engaging challenges → being challenged and engaged at work is what most employees consider to be high job satisfaction or happiness. HR knows that if you take away any of those steps, you get lesser results in the end (less productivity, less profit, less happiness).

      If you think about it, HR is the only department within a company whose job is 100% focused on the internal workings of the company. Even the CEO has her attention divided between product development, sales and marketing, strategy, and vision of the future.

      A good HR practitioner should spend a lot of time doing Internal Analytics. Using data driven analysis, it is possible to use leading and lagging KPIs to figure out what’s really going on within a company. A true HR professional first sets the correct KPIs and data tracking mechanisms, then analyzes the data, figures out the trends, and assesses the KPI performance. Then comes up with strategies and solutions to fix problems, or do more of what works best for the company. This is where we get the bad name of being too “process oriented”.

      There are certain KPIs that have best-practice tested process-based solutions. Let’s take a look at just one of the factors that I listed that contributes to an employee connecting based on purpose — fit. There are many KPIs that can be used to get a sense of how, or if, the proper groundwork has been laid to set that employee up for success, and ultimately to cultivate their sense of purpose within an organization.
      For example, consider the KPI of first year retention, a measure that I believe is going to continue to grow as a recruiting metric.

      Imagine an HR practioner was spending about 50% of their time processing termination paperwork and 49% processing new hires. The other 1% trying to get everything else done.

      If you knew, through data analysis you might see that approximately half of the turn-over happened not just within the first year, but within the first 90 days on the job. This company would exhaust hours recruiting, training (each employee often receives dozens of hours of training before starting work), and coaching, only to see all of that effort wasted. The data may also show that if an employee made it past the 90-day mark, or maybe the 120-day mark, they were significantly likely to stay for a year or longer. (Just like in sales, knowing that if a customer buys product 1, they are likely to buy products 2, 3, or 4 — you know you have to hook them with product 1 and work to convert them for future sales. Just like a customer who buys the wrong product for their needs and then complains about it is a waste of marketing effort, hiring the wrong candidate only to have them quit within 3 or 4 months is a huge waste of recruiting effort).
      There’s many solutions to these kinds of problems that HR can either facilitate or solve. Let me elaborate on the kinds of data-backed solutions that should be available to a CEO, to know that their KPIs are leading real process improvement and change within a company.

      An HR practitioner could undertake any of the following stratgies to change that KPI and ultimately save the company time, money and very precious resources (make no mistake, employee turnover is VERY expensive to any company):

      A more realistic job preview- people leaving after 90 or 120 days is a big red flag indicating that the job doesn’t match what their expectations were. HR can set the stage for a more accurate job preview at every stage (job ad, phone screen, interview, job shadow, etc) Having unrealistic expectations (ie — not based on reality, not just delusions of grandure etc) leads to employee frustrations on day one. (My favourite example that I take from The Office (American version)— imagine being hired for the job “Assistant Regional Manager” only to find out on day one that you were actually hired to be the “Assitant to the Regional Manager”.

      Manager engagement in the hiring process- It’s a huge misunderstanding in small companies that HR practitioners lead the hiring process. A better description is that they enable and faciliate the process in areas outside of their expertise (highly technical etc), so that SMEs can ultimately make the best hiring decisions from the candidates that have been sought out for them. I firmly beleive that having managers who not only join in the selection process, but actually lead it, is key. SMEs who develop questions to probe candidate skills will always pick better people that can actually do the job required of them.
      Team engagement in the hiring process — An HR manager could also set it up so that their future team interviews them, or that the process includes a 2-day job shadow so that the candidate works directly with the team. Using those methods, the team can assess a candidates technical acumen, but they can also look at team fit. If a person feels like they fit in at work, they’re more engaged and less likely to bolt a few weeks later.

      These same kinds of strategies can be looked at across many aspects of People Operations. For example, employee engagement is a big time worry of employers, who fear that they are losing up to 70% of employee productivity, because they can’t figure out how to motivate employees to care about working hard. Employee disengagement is also VERY expensive to a company.
      The right HR processes take all of this data, and create plans and work flows with regular feedback loops to monitor progress.
      You’re right, many HR practitioners are not given the right amount of authority to make changes. But even the most crusty CEO, the one who acutally thinks it’s HR’s job to “just” plan the office Christmas party, can’t refute the data.

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