December 19, 2007

By Paul Feinberg

Melissa KarzGary the Gopher - an ordinary gopher in every way but one - wants to fly.

The book is populated with memorable characters, including Gary's friend Beaver, Old Fish, Hawk and Horse. It reads a bit like a children’s story, like all good fables do -- and like all good fables there are lessons to learn.

What Gary learns are the keys to building and maintaining relationships in life and in business. Melissa Karz (’98), who co-authored Invisible Bridges with UCLA Anderson Professor John Ullmen, believes the lessons of Invisible Bridges form "roadmaps for relationships" and that "to get anywhere, you need to build and maintain (those) relationships."

Don’t confuse Invisible Bridges with yet another treatise on the value of networking. Karz compares IB with Dr. Spencer Johnson’s motivational Who Moved My Cheese and believes IB falls better in the life-skills category than it does with other business books.

Though written as a fable, Invisible Bridges is a serious work, rooted in four years of research and database of 2,000 individuals who participated in focus groups, surveys and one on one questioning. The research produced thirty-six action items - the best of the best practices for relationship building and maintenance. Some of these are distilled down at the end of the book as Gary the Gopher summarizes what he'd learned.

"We found that scholars and consultants often advise managers who have problems with trust, teamwork, leadership, career advancement and so forth to build strong relationships. But they don't say how to do it," Karz explained. "That’s what our book does. It provides the "how" of relationship building, based on years of research into what the "best of the best" actually do, step by step, to build their relationship networks. Everyone says it’s important to build relationships in professional life. We wanted to show how anyone could do it.

"The really cool thing about it," Karz said, "is that everyone can access (and put the lessons into practice). You don't have to be an extrovert. You can be an introvert. It’s about you being at your best."

One key, Karz says, is authenticity.

"So much of what people do (when building relationships) is formulaic. If it’s 'salesy' it's fake," she said. The key, Karz explains, is helping people find their authentic approach in their dealings with others. Karz tells readers and clients that "Your network is looking for you" and focuses on how they can develop authentic rapport with those around them.

Despite writing Invisible Bridges (along with the accompanying work book) and numerous magazine articles, Karz does not consider herself an author. In addition to her Bridges-related endeavors, she works as an organizational consultant, a career trainer and facilitator and an executive educator and career coach. She is a partner in both Professional Relationship Institute and Kruz Consulting. All her work, she says, "is about helping people stay at their best. My focus is on helping people meet their potential. It's not exactly surprising when she reveals that she also considered careers in psychology and entering the rabbinate, before deciding on earning an MBA. Her (recent) client list includes working with executives at Raytheon, Sony, The Braille Institute and the civilian employees at the marine base in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. "It’s fascinating working with the different cultures," said Karz, whose undergraduate degree is in cultural anthropology.

Karz maintains close ties to Anderson. She’s contributed career-minded articles to Assets and taught a variety of different courses and workshops for fellow alumni.

Her most recent is the Career Moms Momentum Group series. The first session, recently held, asked participants to take a personal inventory and to assess the choices they are facing. Future sessions (they are not interdependent) will include "Reinventing Work-Life: Positive Trends: Harsh Realities" (January 16, 2008 6:30-9:00), “Setting Your Direction: Gaining Clarity in the Job Hunt” (May 14, 2008 6:30-9:00) and ‘Strategic Networking for Moms - October 15, 2008 6:30-9:00). According to the series marketing material “the Career Moms Momentum Seminars (CMMS) are two and a half hour sessions offered quarterly by the Office of Alumni Relations in partnership with CMMS facilitators to bring professional women together to address whatever transition they are in (ready to plan their future, currently expecting, taking time off to focus on family, ready to opt back in) together from across the area.”

At the moment, Karz estimates that she is dividing her time evenly between her Bridges work and career consulting. There are already Bridges books, guides and DVDs and the authors are currently looking for distribution partners expert in rolling and books and ancillary products with an eventual goal to take the products to an international audience.

"John (Ullmen) and I have a shared passion to help people build strong relationships," Karz said. "Over the years of coaching and consulting we’ve seen how often organizational problems are rooted in relationship disconnects. Our mission is to help people build the bridges they need to succeed."

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