Each year, my holiday newsletter is a small publication written by an international cast of characters gerbil-herded by Jennifer Wilding, my good friend and stakeholder engagement goddess.
In a moment, there will be important networking lessons for us all. But first, some background.
Jennifer has been producing this annual 32- to 40-page opus for so long that I can’t remember when it started or how/why/if I know everyone represented in its pages.
I’m sure the same is true for everyone else who contributes to the newsletter. Yet, like me, with more or less nagging, each Yuletide they crank out poems, short stories, reportage from the fields of broken and unbroken dreams and, when all else fails, detailed answerage to a personal/cultural survey that Jennifer gives us to keep us involved even when we’re pressed for time, out of the holiday mood or convinced that everyone else has a more interesting life than we do.
Jennifer would argue that the key reason we snap to is her innate charisma, and I’m sure that accounts for some of our collective dedication.
But I think her success also illuminates some key lessons regarding how to organize and motivate networks to help you achieve your goals (in her case, the opportunity to mock and contradict our writing in various parentheticals and marginalia):
- Have a central purpose for your network, but don’t be afraid to let that purpose shift or evolve over time. In the case of this newsletter, it began with a core group of people primarily from college wanting to keep up with each other. Over time, it has become an annual Newsweek (Newsyear?) for a weird and wonderful collection of many people on many paths.
- Provide your network(s) with understandable, doable tasks or responsibilities – and what the reward is for coming through. In this case, I have to turn out a piece of copy once a year or face Jennifer’s relentless editorial pursuit. In return, I get peace of mind, some ego gratification, an entertaining read and membership in an interesting club. In other words, I can easily assess the cost/benefit ratio of network membership and specifically what I must do to be an active member.
- Don’t over-burden your network with demands; call on it commensurate with the engagement of its members and in line with their assessment of what’s important to them. I suspect (or perhaps am merely projecting my own misanthropic tendencies) that the group of contributors to Jennifer’s newsletter would rapidly dwindle if it went to a quarterly or monthly publication schedule.
Most importantly, the key lesson to take away from this holiday newsletter is that successful networks are ones in which every member is made to feel that his or her role and contribution is important.
In our case, continued participation over a number of years has swung into play a powerful sense of tradition. I’ve got to confess, a creeping sense of mortality seems to have made us a tighter band of brothers and sisters when it comes to cranking this out.
And when all else fails, there’s always Jennifer there telling the reluctant among us that it wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t represented. And you know, we believe here.