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Leadership/Management

From the Officer's Desk: The Need for Networking in EMS

EMS Division Chief Bartlett has been informed that your group will be streamlining the delivery of EMS equipment and medications to EMS stations. Chief Bartlett has no idea why his team has been assigned this project. As a senior EMS officer, you have been assigned to manage the project but you are not sure how to best address it. Being in a position to figure things out with no resources to consult may be the result of not taking time to network with others.  

According to a LinkedIn global survey, 80 percent of professionals consider networking important for their success. Networking is an activity consisting of an exchange between two or more individuals for a specific purpose or goal. These conversations may expand to include other individuals leading to the formation of a network. Whether you’re a seasoned or recently promoted EMS officer, there is a high probability that you have participated in networking activities. These activities might include trade show conferences, daily meetings with internal and external stakeholders, community events, and working with vendors and non-EMS professionals.

Having the necessary skills to get the task completed may not be enough, so EMS officers must take advantage of the following networking opportunities. There is more to networking than trying to establish contacts in order to find employment, getting a promotion or expanding business opportunities. EMS officers and organizational leaders must embrace networking in order to maximize its benefits. 

Networking and Networks

A networking event may be a room full of individuals searching for employment, a face-to-face meeting regarding a business opportunity, lunch with an employment recruiter or an activity during a seminar. Networking may assist in expanding someone’s list of potential employers but it’s more about developing and cultivating professional relationships. Throughout the networking experience, which can be formal or informal, individuals may form their own network as they meet new people or join an existing network.

Formal networking consists of a regular exchange between two or more individuals for a specific purpose or goal pertaining to official business. EMS officers and other organizational leaders participate in formal networking with other professionals when conducting business. According to Herminia Ibarra and Mark Lee Hunter in their Harvard Business Review article “How Leaders Create and Use Networks,” there are three distinct forms of formal networking:

  • Operational: Networking takes place with internal stakeholders to address organizational demands.
  • Personal: Networking takes place with individuals who may assist with one’s own professional development.
  • Strategic: Networking with internal and external stakeholders to identify future organizational needs, priorities and challenges.

Informal networking is an exchange between two or more individuals for a specific purpose or goal as it pertains to unofficial business; for example, chatting with a neighbor, friend, a store clerk or bus driver. Networking is part of our formal work environment as well as our everyday life. Formal and informal networking can overlap as co-workers become friends or friends become co-workers. Both can lead to sound relationships that will benefit EMS officers and organizational leaders alike.

Facing Networking Head-On

Introducing yourself to a stranger in a networking environment may be uncomfortable for some. How do we get past that fear and focus on growing a formal network for long-term sustainability?

Picture yourself attending a seminar with 50 attendees and the seminar presenter announces, “Good morning, we would like for all the attendees to stand and introduce themselves to three others and share with them a little about yourself. You have 15 minutes.” It is not uncommon to feel nervous or uncomfortable in this scenario. For introverts, walking up to a stranger and sparking up a conversation may elevate stress levels. Extroverts, on the other hand, may welcome the networking opportunity as they thrive on engaging with others and look forward to social interaction.

Similar to the impact of personality on networking skills, there is a mindset that psychologists refer to as “Promotion or Prevention.” Those who fall under the “promotion” category look forward to advancement and personal growth, so they will likely feel comfortable in a networking environment. However, those of the “prevention” mindset may see networking as something they have to do in order to meet company expectations, make their boss happy, or may even see it as a waste of time. 

When networking, remember that the majority of those participating are most likely doing so for the same reasons you are. They are looking for a positive experience with the goal of meeting someone that may guide them toward achieving their professional aspirations or provide advice on how to best address specific organizational challenges. If you find yourself at a networking event, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Introduce yourself and be polite
  • Offer to help others
  • Talk about yourself, but don’t brag
  • Share experiences
  • Focus on the conversation and don’t look around the room. This indicates disinterest in the conversation.
  • Be a good listener—networking works both ways.
  • Keep the conversation short so you have time to engage in conversation with others. 
  • Close with, “Thank you for your time. It was nice speaking with you and I look forward to speaking again soon. Here’s my business card.”

As a leader, if you don’t participate in and promote the importance of networking, you may find nowhere to turn when you need it most throughout your professional career. Now more than ever during these challenging times, networking has proven to be value add for many organizations.

The Power of Professional Networks

EMS officers must take a proactive approach to networking with internal and external stakeholders, business professionals and community members. Network relationships aren’t built in one day and will take time to grow. During these uncertain times, formal networks have been valuable for many EMS officers and organizational leaders. When the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic first presented itself, EMS leaders reached out to others within their professional networks to exchange ideas, gather information and seek solutions to operational and administrative issues. When all efforts had been exhausted, these longstanding network relationships helped many organizations obtain essential items like personal protection equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer, ambulance decontamination solutions, HEPA filters and other equipment. EMS officers also had information readily available through medical and EMS social media networks, like updates on COVID-19 medical protocols, testing kits, and new symptoms.

These networks are necessary to support first responders, ensure their safety and deliver the highest level of quality care to patients. Although some networks were in place prior to the pandemic, networking continues taking place as professionals from different agencies work alongside each other for the first time. There is no doubt that many essential networks will be born or expanded as a result of embracing the concept of networking during this crisis.

Conclusion

Networking may help you land a better job, lead to business opportunities or introduce you to a new profession but it’s more about establishing relationships. Networking is essential for those transitioning into organizational leadership roles, but being part of professional networks is value add for any professional. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Leadership networking is about developing and using your networks in a way that builds relationships and strengthens alliances in service of your organization’s work and goals.” Networking is not only about seeking formal or informal relationships for the present moment, but also being part of a network that is available when needed in the future. 

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

–Plato

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