Purpose-Driven Networking with Derek Coburn

On this episode of ACHE’s Healthcare Executive Podcast, Chris Coraggio sits down with Derek Coburn to discuss new paradigms and ways to optimize networking. Derek believes in a selfless and thoughtful way of networking that is oriented around sharing, service and being a resource to others. The tips he shares here would be great networking tools to consider for this year’s 2019 Congress on Healthcare Leadership on March 4-7 in Chicago.

Derek Coburn: www.derekcoburn.com

Also at Congress, and available only to registered attendees, network with colleagues from your geographical area made distinguishable by color-coded lanyards. In advance of attending, but only after you register, you should also take a peek at the attendees list in the Congress section of the ACHE 365 mobile app, filter attendees by Regent area or chapter and use the “Let’s Meet” feature to message those you recognize. Register for Congress to take advantage of not only these great networking opportunities, but many more! Register here: congress.ache.org/registration

*Note: Also available on iTunes.


Chris: Hello folks. My name is Chris Coraggio. Welcome to the Healthcare Executive Podcast. The Healthcare Executive is the magazine of the American College of Healthcare Executives. ACHE’s podcast provides a comfortable setting, real discussions take place here on topics healthcare executives are dealing with every, single day, and our guests range from industry insiders, innovative thinkers, all who share one common goal, and that is improving health for our patients and the communities that they live in. Before we get started, though, a quick reminder – subscribe to this podcast so we can let you know about new episodes are they’re being produced. You can get out ahead of it, if you will.

Today we are joined – our guest is Derek Coburn, and he’s gonna be here to discuss new paradigms and ways to optimize networking. Derek believes in a selfless and thoughtful way of networking that is oriented around sharing, service, and being a resource to others. Let me give you a little bit of background, first of all, on Derek. He is the founder and CEO of Cadre, a business community in Washington, DC, which currently supports over 100 CEOs and business leaders. He’s also the author of Networking is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Connections. Derek, welcome to the Healthcare Executive Podcast. How you doin’?

Derek: I’m great. How are you, Chris?

Chris: Terrific, terrific. I guess we’re communicating right now. We don’t need a business card, right?

Derek: Exactly. Business cards are not required. It’s funny – I had business cards for a little while, and then when I ran out, I just decided not to order new ones, figuring it would help me stay on brand a little bit more.

Chris: That’s terrific, and I think that’s just a little tip right off the bat. Everyone has or had business cards. I used to carry them in my wallet. I don’t anymore. You have to adjust and move along with where we are in society, and this is right in your wheelhouse. Before we get going into everything, though, Derek, that we wanna talk about briefly today, can you just tell us how you got to where you are? I know you began your career as a financial planner, and then something happened along the way that required you to adjust, make some changes to approach business, specifically networking, in your own, unique style. Can you talk about that?

Derek: I still, to this day, own a wealth management firm, and am still a financial advisor, which I’ve been doing for 20 years, and what’s interesting is I became successful in that field – in terms of the way the industry measures success – primarily by being very good at cold-calling or dealing with rejection, and even though I was good at cold-calling, like most people it still wasn’t anything that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Once I got to a critical mass and was able to start doing other things to develop business, the next natural step was going to networking events, and I was showing up with the long-term in mind, focused on how I could add value for other people, and going to a lotta events, and realized, finally, when the market took a downturn in 2008, I had to spend more time with my existing clients. I had less time to network, and that’s when I thought about it and realized that hey, I’m going to a lotta these events and I don’t have a lot to show for it in terms of relationships, or synergies, or opportunities to add value for others and vice versa.

I started taking the time I was spending going to these catchall networking events – I was still going to some, but I was more targeted in the ones I was going to – but mainly, I focused on curating my own events or even curating events within events, so if I was going to go to a conference or a big networking event, I would try to identify people that might be there and say hey, we’ve got a block of time that’s wide open here, why don’t we all go grab lunch together, and by focusing more on hosting smaller events where I was inviting the people that I knew I wanted to connect with, that ended up being a much better way for me to go, and since I talk about it in my book, a lot of other people have had luck with this approach as well.

Chris: It’s almost a simple thing – like what you just said – you noticed a block of time, let’s go all grab lunch, and that just gives you that casual form of communication and conversation that you can take and do when you talk business, right?

Derek: Absolutely. Look, I think if you were to ask a roomful of people what the word networking means to them, you’re going to get a lot of different answers, and not only will you get different answers, but some people will say that networking is a noun, others will say it’s a verb. A lotta people will think about bad experiences and have a lot of negative words associated with the term networking, and for me, the way I define networking is any activity that increases the value of your network and/or the value you contribute to it.

I feel like if that makes sense to the listeners, then what I would suggest is that you don’t need to go to tons of big events all the time in order to successfully network. There’s a lot of things that you can do that will add value for people in your world, add value for what you’re trying to accomplish without necessarily having to go and have business cards slung at you for three hours straight twice a week.

Chris: What about those folks that say, “I’m not really a great communicator. That’s not a strength of mine.” Does that mean that they’re behind the eight ball in networking? Do you have to be a great communicator to be a great networker in your world?

Derek: I have not heard very many people say they aren’t great communicators. Maybe that is the case. There are certainly a lotta people out there that aren’t great communicators. I’ve heard a lotta people say, “I’m not an extravert.”

Chris: Yes, exactly.

Derek: I think that what I’ve done that’s worked really well for me and works for a lotta people that I know, it’s even better for introverts because instead of going into a room full of people and trying to work up the nerve to start conversations, you get to invite people to attend something, oftentimes it can be based on shared interests, things that you have in common – could just be inviting people that you like and encouraging them to bring other people that they think that you would enjoy connecting with.

I think that regardless of where you stand in terms of how you critique yourself and your ability to communicate or your ability to interact with people, especially if you’re in a client-facing role where you need to develop relationships, you have to do some things, and this is probably gonna be easier and more effective for most people to incorporate into what they’re doing when compared to just showing up at these big, catchall events.

Chris: We’re gonna talk about that in just a moment, but before we get to that, in the healthcare space empathy plays such an important role in caring for patients, their family members, the communities that they live in and whatnot. Healthcare leaders strive to model that empathy, that sort of behavior – does empathy play a role in how you, personally, approach networking?

Derek: For sure, and I think that empathy, while it’s something that is very important, I think coming across being almost too empathetic in a brand new relationship could also scare people off a little bit. Why is this person really going out of their way to show excessive kindness to me or going out of their way to really help me? What’s in it for them? I think the guard can be raised.

I think a nice mixture of grace and truth is what you want to strive for, where you have some empathy, but you also want to help people that otherwise might not be able to communicate what they need or what they could use help with, asking the right questions, and sprinkling in some of that truth and questioning to see really how you can help them out.

Chris: Now let’s get to this. This’ll be fun – little bit of an exercise here. The American College of Healthcare Executives is hosting the 2019 Congress on Healthcare Leadership coming up next month. The event offers many networking opportunities. It’s a big event, obviously, so we thought since we had you here on the podcast you’d be perfect for this. We’re gonna throw you a few different scenarios and would love to hear your guidance or your pieces of advice on how to optimize each of these potential opportunities that anybody going to the congress might encounter. There’s four of ‘em; I’ll just mention one and then you respond, and then we’ll go down the list.

Someone’s attending this large reception. There’s several hundred people there. I know that’s a broad thing, but what should someone do to make some inroads into networking and getting some advantage in getting ahead of things?

Derek: One of the great things about this conference is for the most part, the majority of the attendees are going to be there for a very similar reason. I often say that one of the main reasons why networking doesn’t work for a lot of people is the events are very generic or general in nature, where you have a lot of people showing up for different reasons, and focusing on different things, whereas an event like this can be really good because there’s such strong commonality in a lotta cases amongst the attendees, and you can definitely leverage that to your advantage. While a lot of other people might be asking other folks, “What do you do?” or “What brings you here?” – those are perfectly good conversations, but what I often try to do at the larger events when I’m starting conversations with people is I try to understand what their primary goals, opportunities, or challenges are, specifically, what is the number one thing that you’re gonna be focused on for the next six months.

What that does is it allows them to communicate what they’re focused on independent of what you do or how that ties into what you do, and this works especially well for folks that do have a good network, and are in a position to be a resource for others. I’ll give you a quick example/framework that I made up is networking 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.

Chris: Okay.

Derek: Networking 1.0 I define as networking to benefit yourself: what’s in it for me, what am I going to get out of it. Nobody enjoys interacting with people that are networking with a focus on themselves. Networking 2.0 is this focus on this person that you’re meeting for the first time, and what you can do to specifically support them in their business venture: what’s a good referral look like for you or what does your ideal client look like. Obviously I’m all for focusing on how I can add value for other people, but I think that there’s a better way to do it, and that is networking 3.0.

With networking 3.0 you’re not focused on yourself, you’re not focused on the other person’s business and how you can generate value for their business, but rather what are they focused on, what problems are they trying to solve, and who you’re thinking about now are the other people in your network, and the relationships you have with them. You’re showing up at this event almost as a wingman for the other people that you are connected with, so you’re showing up focused on what’s a big problem, or challenge, or opportunity that you have? Tell me about it and then I might be able to connect you with a person or people that could help solve that problem for you.

Chris: That 3.0, you are the connector. You put yourself in that position?

Derek: Exactly.

Chris: That’s for that large reception, and some of these pieces of advice may spill over into these other scenarios, but we’re just interested. That was the large reception. Now if you’re seated at a table for lunch and there’s maybe nine other folks sitting there with you, conference folks, that are in for the conference, are you gonna do things differently in this smaller setting than you do in the large reception when you’re working the room?

Derek: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I would – assuming that seating is random and is open for anyone to sit anywhere, I might try in advance to put a table together. If I know that I have friends that are going to be at this conference that I haven’t caught up with in a while, if I know there’s a handful of people that I really wanna connect with, we’ve maybe connected digitally over email or on social networks, but we’ve never met in person, I might try to round up a group of five, or six, or nine even and say hey, let’s all sit together at lunch.

Assuming that that’s not in play for someone for whatever reason, then if I were sitting down, I would look to find a table that is mostly full, where people seem to be talking openly. It’s not just six people there that is made up of three different conversations and they seem to be ignoring everybody else. Look for a table where people are talking across the table to other people. Perhaps you sit at a table and the conversation starts to dry up a little bit. I think obviously asking about speakers – if you’ve already seen speakers – and which ones you liked. Ask about upcoming speakers, ask about what plans they have for later in the day. You can ask folks for what they’re primarily hoping to accomplish as a result of being at this conference.

If you’re at a table that people are sharing openly, and they respond well to those handful of questions, you could always look for an opportunity to go deeper as well: “Everybody take a turn. We’ll go around the table; everybody share one big challenge or opportunity that they’re focused on right now,” or “Everybody share a rose, a bud, and a thorn that’s currently going on in their lives personally or professionally.” In that scenario a rose would be something that they just recently achieved that’s already in full bloom, a bud is something that they’re excited about, that they’re focusing on that they’re hoping will evolve into that rose several months down the line, and the thorn could be just an example of a challenge or anything that’s a pain in their butt right now.

By getting people to share some of those different ideas and perspectives, it gives everyone else at the table an opportunity to learn about how they might be able to make suggestions, or make introductions, or provide resources for one another.

Chris: Those are great tips. We’re only halfway through this little scenario list. Those are unbelievable tips. I hope people listening to this podcast are taking notes from Derek because certainly gives you some great pieces of advice preceding a big function like this. Okay, we did the large reception, we did sitting down at the table for lunch – what about in between sessions? Everybody’s going to different sessions all day long, and you’re in between. You’re in the hallways, you’re right there in the lobby, there’s downtime. What do you do then?

Derek: What I would do is, assuming that – do you know whether there is going to be a rolodex available for this particular conference in terms of a list of all the attendees?

Chris: I’m sure there is. I don’t have it with me, but I’m sure with this event you can find out who’s coming.

Derek: I like to spend time either on the airplane, or in my hotel room the night before, or one of the nights of the event and go through that, and try to identify the people that I want to connect with, and so for those individuals, I might reach out to them and say hey, let’s meet up in between these two sessions, and catch up, and introduce ourselves to one another. I try to use the breaks in the action to set meetups for specific people that I really wanna connect with while I’m at a particular conference.

Chris: What about when you’re actually in the sessions ‘cause we’ve all been in these. There might be a little bit of time before the speaker starts and right after, when you’re actually in the sessions. What are some of your tips for those times?

Derek: I would just keep it casual. I would probably lump that in, almost, with being at the reception with several hundred participants, assuming that you’re gonna be sitting down next to somebody that you’ve never met before, and that you maybe only have a minute or two to chat before a speaker gets up on stage and something happens, so probably not a lotta time to go deep. That’s where I might fall back on the same question or two that I would ask people at more of a reception, if I understand your question correctly.

Chris: Exactly right, and that was the last one. Again, great information right there. Great pieces of advice leading into the 2019 Congress on Healthcare Leadership. You already touched on this, Derek ‘cause you mentioned the plane going there, and your hotel room the night before, but anything else in terms of building your network preceding this congress — a strategy that someone could take. Okay, I gotta do a little bit of homework before the event actually happens, where I can optimize the networking that I can do.

Derek: I touched on this a little bit, but I would identify who are the people or the types of people that would be good for me to meet, that I can potentially add value for them, they can potentially add value for me based on the roles that we have, based on the things that we do, the people that we interact with on a regular basis. I would look to see if there is any downtime.

If there is lunch available and you can sit wherever you want, you can send out an email like I suggested earlier, or create a group on Facebook where you send a message to a handful of people to say hey, I think it would be great for all of us to get together. You could send those individually as well: hey, I’m putting together a great group of people to have lunch or dinner. It could be offsite. Just depending on when the breaks are it could be just as part of the overall event, like let’s just grab a table in this corner, but spend a little bit of time thinking about who do you wanna meet, who would be good for you to meet, and see if you can bring people together.

These people are not only good for you to meet, but you know who else they would wanna meet and vice versa. It’s not just hey, we’re gonna connect, but I’m also putting a group together that’s gonna be beneficial to get to know in the aggregate as well. I would do that.

The other thing is most people are terrible at follow-ups, and I think that it’s very important, and it’s something that can really separate you from others that they may meet, and it can really be the difference in looking back a year from now and saying, was that a good use of my time and money because I think oftentimes, whether it was a good use of your time and money is going to be correlated with the relationships that you forged at any particular event. If you just go back to life as usual after the event, don’t connect with anybody, don’t follow up, you’re probably not gonna have a lotta relationships that come as a result of attending this event.

I typically have an email that I will draft, and I’ll send the same version or a similar version to the people that I met – just something to keep the conversation going. It was great meeting you, I appreciate you sharing about X, Y, and Z, I’m going to look into this for you – could say, based on what we were talking about, here’s the book I mentioned you should check out, or the podcast that I enjoy listening to that I think you will also enjoy. Just trying to find ways to make sure you start that digital connection if there wasn’t one before, and trying to find ways to add value, and just stay in touch with these individuals.

Chris: He is Derek Coburn. The book, again, is called Networking is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Connections. Derek, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate you being on the podcast. No question there are some things that you brought up that many will use in the upcoming 2019 Congress on Healthcare Leadership. Again, that’s March 4th through the 7th in Chicago. Derek, once again, thank you so much. Great stuff.

Derek: Likewise. Thank you, Chris.

Chris: For those of you listening, don’t miss, again, this year’s Congress on Healthcare Leadership. Registration information can be found at congress.ache.org, and again, my name is Chris Coraggio. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of ACHE’s Healthcare Executive Podcast. If you liked it and you wanna hear more, please consider rating and reviewing on iTunes, and subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes, and please, follow us on Twitter @ACHEconnect. Thank you so much, folks, and we will see you next time.

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