When you’re fresh to a company, lunchtime is prime time to get the scoop from your new co-workers.
By Dan Coughlin
Lunches are an important part of career growth. On the conservative side, this year you will have 225 lunches during work hours. In five years, you will have well over a thousand.
At 30 to 90 minutes per lunch, you are looking at a significant investment of time. And if you use it to communicate with colleagues, it can be a critically important window of opportunity for your career.
Find the purpose in the meal
With the right partners, what can you do with 30 to 90 minutes to improve your career?
- Increase your knowledge of your industry, company, department and role.
- Identify two problems you've repeatedly run into and determine how to solve them.
- Expand your network of people who can connect you to individuals capable of improving your career.
- Learn insights into your job that might keep you from making time-wasting mistakes in the future.
- Increase your understanding of customers and prospects.
- Recharge your batteries and increase your energy for upcoming projects.
- Learn some of the unwritten rules in your organization and avoid stepping into career landmines.
- Gain a greater sense of what you are doing well, what you are not doing well and what you can do to be more effective within your job.
Strategically select your lunch partners
Consider the next three weeks. Which of the bullet points above do you want to tackle? Convert each one into a question to help you identify the best person to meet with for lunch. Here are examples of questions you might want to consider when deciding whom to take to lunch:
- Who are the best people to have lunch with if I want to increase my knowledge of my industry, company, department or role?
- Who are the best people to have lunch with if I want real-world advice from people who have dealt with these same two major problems that I am facing right now?
Preparing questions for lunch
Don't put your best creative energy into deciding what to eat. Before a business lunch, invest some time in producing three to four questions for your colleague based on your purpose for the lunch. For example, if your purpose is better to understand your customers and prospects, schedule a lunch with a person who deals directly with them on a regular basis. Questions for such a person might include:
- "What has been the most enjoyable aspect of working with our customers?"
- "What has been the most challenging part of working with them?"
- "In terms of finding new customers, what have you found to be really effective?"
- "In terms of dealing with prospects, what have been the biggest challenges and how have you overcome them?"
Come to the table with a list of four to five questions for each lunch you've scheduled, but be cognizant of the flow of conversation as well. Be flexible about asking questions you didn't prepare, based on your exchange.
Leverage lunches into professional relationships
By the time you get to a restaurant and order food, you may only have 15 to 30 minutes to have a meaningful conversation. But that's plenty of time to begin to build a relationship. If you truly listen while the other person is talking and demonstrate you value her thoughts, you can build trust and lay the foundation for a long-term relationship.
After the lunch is over, connect right away with your lunch buddy by sending a thank-you note recapping what you learned. Keep in touch so you can set up another lunch together over the next 60 days. In the meantime, stay alert for relevant articles and links to forward to your lunch partner. It's a quick way of acknowledging your lunch conversation and that you were thinking about your colleague. As time moves on, these individuals can guide you into key committees and onto important projects.
Record your lunch-networking goals
Now that you have the tactics for successful lunches, start to map out your business-lunch calendar. You can use this template to see what the next month can look like.
Week of: __________________
Date Purpose of lunch Best person to meet with Business-lunch questions
A great lunch can be the beginning of a tremendous professional relationship. Be sure to nourish your career as well as your body at lunchtime.
Visit www.thecoughlincompany.com. There you can sign up for Dan Coughlin’s free, monthly e-newsletter, The Business Acceleration Newsletter, watch his Free Business Acceleration Video Library, and read his complete archive of articles on business acceleration. Dan is a business keynote speaker and seminar leader on leadership, innovation, and branding. He is also an executive coach and author of four books on generating sustainable, profitable growth. His books include "Accelerate", "Corporate Catalysts", "The Management 500", and "Find a Way to Win". His clients include McDonald’s, GE, Toyota, Prudential, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Boeing, Abbott, SUBWAY, Kiewit, and the St. Louis Cardinals.