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Navigating and Networking The 86th NAPM International Conference: Building Value in Your Career


Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D., C.P.M.
Robert A. Kemp, Ph.D., C.P.M., President, Kemp Enterprises, Des Moines, IA 50325-6562, 515-221-2503, Former NAPM President, 1997-1998,

86th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2001 

Abstract. Rapid economic development, demand for increases in quality and performance, changing political attitudes, significantly improved communication systems, better transportation systems, trends toward economic integration and increasingly intense competition are some of the tremendous social forces that are driving change in our supply management. These social changes will become even more important as we move on into 21st century. The importance of better relationships throughout supply management processes is reinforced by the increasing complexity, demand for speed, and pressures for cost control forced on us by the changing world situation. This paper defines the process of networking and is my personal advice on how you can make the 86th NAPM International Conference a great career building opportunity for you by networking.

Definition. Networking means intentionally getting and giving information. Networks are always mutually beneficial arrangements or systems to exchange information between some set of two or more participants. Networking means lots of things to lots of people, but as I use the concept here, I mean a process of intentionally building personal and business relationships (networks) with the right people globally to build power in your supply management process and its managerial system. This power cannot be wielded just from your office; rather it is shared mutually by the elements of the network. As networking is long-term and across organizational boundaries, it is strategic managerial behavior. Hence, we cannot afford to network with everybody in the market. Rather, we must limit the network to a special set of strategic supplier partners, intermediaries and others that we have carefully selected to support our global supply management process. Even so, we do not want to be myopic. We must be proactive and alert to opportunities to expand our global network by introducing new members to our network.

Recently much has been written about partnerships, strategic alliances, and better supplier relations. These are all special forms of networking. We have known for a long time that networking is key to success in many ways. Fred Luthans writing in The Academy of Management EXECUTIVE (1988) II showed that networking was the key characteristic of successful managers. When Luthans and his team of researchers statistically evaluated the differences between successful managers (those who were promoted faster than others) and effective managers (those recognized for doing a good job), they found that networking was the only statistically significant factor that delineated between the two sets of managers. The successful managers communicated more and better. Similarly, a CAPS study of world class skills for supply management in 2000 showed that interpersonal communication is the number one skill required for success. The top ten skills included teamwork, negotiation, influencing and persuasion, and strategic thinking. Most authorities agree that good networking practices improve general business communication and performance. Networking in all its forms is important.

This figure shows potential sources for network partners and how the network might look. The dotted lines show potential sources of information, while the solid lines show a typical network. Networks are always dynamic and changing. Hence, the network most likely will take many forms and really be quite flexible. Albeit, you will probably have your favorite sources and depend heavily on that network.

(Figure not available in text-only version of this paper.)

Opportunity. You came to NAPM's 86th Annual International Conference to glean new ideas, build your knowledge, and to make personal contacts that will add value to your career in supply management and make your professional work better and personally more satisfying. Coming here was a wise decision, and you can earn the most bang for your conference buck by building better networks. You can use the 86th NAPM International Conference to add value to your career in 2000 and beyond. Here is that personal advice that I promised you.

Personal Advice. First let me assure you that networking opportunities are everywhere. We can not avoid them. Second, I want to assure you that we network all the time in our jobs, our profession, and our social lives. We need to bring those skills to the conference. Networking is a "win-win" process. It is good for you and everyone else. Networks are quite dynamic. When we talk about networks everyone agrees, 1) that networks can really help us solve problems, 2) we must be proactive in the communication process, and 3) getting the process started is up to us.

As you "navigate" the 86th NAPM Conference program, here are five steps to deliberately build your networks.

  1. Identify the problems that you seek help to solve. Before leaving home, identify the problems that you want to seek help to solve.
    1. Put your problems into categories, e.g., P-Cards, supplier development, cost management, supplier relations, sources of supply, etc. Define the problems so that you can discuss them with others at the conference. Have we attempted solutions? What happened?
    2. Prioritize the list so that you work on networks for your most important situation

  2. Carefully study the conference program and rosters to identify who might have the information that you need and decide how you can contact that person.
    1. Look for people from your industry and from businesses like yours. Study the list of speakers and exhibitors for possible contacts.
    2. At the same time, look for people from different industries and firms quite different from yours that are likely to have the same problem
    3. Make it a point to meet people from supplier organizations in the exhibits
    4. Visit with the NAPM staff at NAPM exhibits
    5. Keep calling card records of casual contacts during the programs

  3. Make arrangements to meet the people that you have determined are potential additions to your network.

  4. Meet and establish the mutual relationship required to network -- be ready to exchange cards and to buy the coffee. In these new contacts, you must establish yourself with that new person. Who you are and what you do determines the basis for future communication. The key to success is to be up front, honest, and ask for help in a non-threatening way. Everybody loves to be asked for help. It makes us feel important.

  5. Be prepared to meet other people who are also looking for new contacts for their networks.

Remember that all networks are people. Other people will be there with problems like yours, and they are also seeking networks. You must seek out people, introduce yourself and be quick to start the conversation. People want to know who people are before we do business or share much information. How tough it is to meet people depends on culture and industry, but a universal truth is that we all want to know who is involved in our business. Here are four questions to ask as you "navigate" the conference that will build extemporaneous conversations and lead to new opportunities to build your network.

  1. What do you do as a supply manager, domestically and globally? We want to find out quickly if we are likely to learn anything here and if so what.

  2. Have you experienced this problem (use your favorite problem) recently? We need to determine quickly if our new acquaintance has the experience to help us learn.

  3. What have you tried that worked or did not work? We want to see quickly what alternative solutions they have used and if the solutions worked.

  4. Do you have a network that has helped you address the problem? Does this person have a network that will participate with us in solving our problems? Will he or she invite us to use the net?

At work your network may be a very complicated organization with many participants. Even so, your networks will always consist of two sets of people--those you know and those you are about to meet. Both groups are vitally important, and you should not hesitate for even a moment to add new sources to your network. Everyone that I have ever talked to about networks has been adamant about this point. When you have a new problem, start using the network and do not be afraid to seek out new sources. You must remember to seek sources both internally and externally to your firm. My work shows that the network is most effective when it is working both internally and externally. Indeed, this is one of the profound benefits of your network system. It can always yield new and beneficial sources.

Navigating the Conference to build your network is an intense opportunity. You have less than two and one-half days to make the contacts and evaluate people as sources. You must come to Orlando ready to network. We must be proactive and alert to opportunities to expand our network by introducing new members to our network. To make conference networking a meaningful tool, you must be prepared to simultaneously do five things:

  1. Diligently identify and select the people who will be your information sources.

  2. Meet the people-make every meal, every break, every session, and every hour an opportunity by talking to someone. It is acceptable to meet and greet old friends, but remember they should all ready be in your network. To maximize the benefits of the unique opportunities of the 86th NAPM Conference, you must meet new people.

  3. Have a system to track these new sources by name, address, telephone, fax, and e-mail.

  4. Build the feedback system that will get the information or knowledge that you need.

  5. At the same time you must reward the new members of your network. I think this means follow up after the conference. If it was a meaningful contact you must build a communication base and begin a meaningful exchange of information. You may even want to visit this person and their operations. We call this "benchmarking." It applies here!

As you "navigate" the 86th NAPM conference your network will be a simple and growing organization. You will want and need a smaller network. You will want to arrive in Orlando with a problem or a short list of problems along with some thoughts about who might be able to help and how to meet them. The figure on the next page shows how your network model for the conference should look. It is a truncated version of the model shown earlier.

(Figure not available in text-only version of this paper.)

My last piece of advice is long term. You will not meet everyone that you have identified at the conference. It is impossible, but that is all right. You can contact them after the conference. Networking is a powerful managerial tool we can learn to use as individuals in our day-to-day purchasing operations. Equally important, the processes of the supply management process must include the concept of networking to enhance motivation and support better communication. So the skills you practice and hone during the conference will be invaluable as you go about your career every day.

Summary. The 86th NAPM Conference, like life, is about networking, but it is up to you! At every meeting, every meal, every general session put on a smile, introduce yourself, shake hands, and give away lots of business cards. Determine quickly what this person does and what her/his potential is to help make your life better? Can you help them? If the answers to these questions seem favorable, quickly make this person a friend and build your network! Remember to apply these points:

  1. Better managerial networks make better managers.
  2. Global networking will contribute to the success of your supply management process.
  3. It is clear that information needed to solve most supply management problems is available.
  4. We must build feedback systems that will maintain and reward our networks.
  5. As a supply manager, you are a key strategic element in your organization!

Successfully "navigating" the 86th NAPM Conference will add value to your career and build your business! I challenge you to make the most of this NAPM conference. You are at the 86th NAPM International Conference for professional development and knowledge. Come to this exciting session on Sunday morning to hone the skills and gain the knowledge needed to maximize the value from your trip to the NAPM conference.

  • Luthans, Fred, "Successful Managers Versus Effective Managers," The Academy of Management EXECUTIVE (1988) II, NO. 2, 127-132.
  • Sullivan, Gordon R and Michael V. Harper. Hope Is Not A Method. Times Business, Random House, 1996.
  • Laseter, Timothy M. Balanced Sourcing. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999

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