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Networking for Product Leaders: A Giving Mindset Approach

Personal Growth
Collaboration
Impact

30 September, 2020

Caroline Parnell
Caroline Parnell

Director of Product Innovation at PhotoBox at PhotoBox

Caroline Parnell, previously managed product teams at O2 and Vodafone, emphasizes the importance of networking for product leaders and giving in return some value to her peers.

Problem

I was never particularly good at networking and I thought of it as going out to events and handing out business cards. When I took on the role of a head of new product innovation, I realized I would have to approach networking more purposefully. I wasn’t an expert on innovation and wanted to know more about innovation methodologies within large companies that could help me in my role. I could read up on the theory, but without exchanging ideas with my peers I couldn’t best practice what other large companies were doing.

Actions taken

I read an interesting book that prompted me to think about who I knew leading innovation teams in other industries. I didn’t know anyone. But, I was resolute to change that.

First off, I told people I already knew on LinkedIn that I wanted to meet people in a head of product innovation role across different industries. Not long after, I had scheduled meetings with people who worked in energy or financial services in a similar role, but also with product consultants who had interesting ideas about different methodologies and case studies that they had seen in different companies. I even met some authors of books on innovation who also had ideas about what could work (or not) in different companies.

I also used LinkedIn to find people that I wanted to meet. I extensively searched for interesting innovation leaders and would message them to see if they were interested in a quick phone chat or a coffee catch up. I was very clear about what I wanted to learn or discuss with each of those people and had a list of topics and questions prepared in advance.

I made sure I understood what their challenges were and what they were struggling with so that I could share some useful advice. I kept a record of who I had met, what their challenges were and any agreed next steps from our conversation so I could track it. I would also circle back in a month or two and share resources that I thought they would find useful.

When meeting with peers from other industries I would ask about other people worth meeting within their network. I met around 25 people in a role similar to mine and some of my best successes were implementing methodologies they had shared and learned from events and books my peers had recommended to me. My networking was hugely successful and noticed by people in my company who saw I was well connected with other people who did innovation jobs elsewhere.

Lessons learned

  • You can learn an incredible amount from people who are working in different industries.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to people on LinkedIn as long as you are polite, clear why you want to speak to them and what you can offer in return. Most will be very forgiving of the cold approach.
  • Keep track of your conversations and your network rather than rely on memory alone.
  • Approach networking with a giving mindset. If I got invited to interesting product innovation events, I would also pass these on to people in my network that I knew would also benefit. They will be grateful that you reached out to them and that will keep you fresh in their minds.
  • My networking endeavors also helped me with hiring. When I was recruiting product innovation managers for my team, some of the people I met were interested in applying for this role or sharing it with their network.

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