Networking comes up regularly as a topic in coaching conversations. Clients often ask why they should network, especially as they are very busy and it takes time. Here are a few reasons:
- Getting to know and being known by those we work with helps us influence outcomes
- It keeps us abreast of (or even shaping) trends and progress in our industry and wider business
- Building support for ideas and change, involving the right people in making decisions
- Many clients spend time thinking about their stakeholders – it is imperative to know who to approach or involve for input or support for difficult decisions, especially when those decisions impact other areas of the business. Working out what to say to whom and when may make the difference between the success or the failure of a project.
- Networking is also important when we think about personal impact and presence, which we will touch on in another article.
- Knowing who to turn to for help or guidance in difficult situations or decisions
- In conversations about career advancement we almost invariably talk about networking. Often people feel their career is stuck because they do not have access to those who make decisions, or do not have a sponsor or mentor.
You may even feel you have not been involved in something you ought to have been, or consulted about.
If a business network is a collection of strategic relationships with people with whom you share interests, experiences, other contacts, and knowledge, I would argue that for someone to be in your network, you need to have at least periodic contact with them. We are not talking about passive business card collecting but about actively developing relationships for mutual benefit..
Personality and individual preferences also influence how we use or create opportunities to build a network.
- Those with an introverted preference often prefer small groups or one to one situations whereas extroverts are quite happy in larger groups. Knowing and working to your own preference can make all the difference in whether you are able to actively build fulfilling relationships
- Men and women often have different approaches too. Many boards or all male groups speak differently, behave differently and network differently when there are no women around. When it comes to corporate entertainment, the default is often (male) sports events, which can leave some female executives feel left out. It is worth thinking about the dynamics of the group and finding activities that will appeal to all
Another obstacle we often discuss is the “I cannot ask for help because I am supposed to have the answer” myth. Feeling inadequate or having unrealistic expectations of leadership can get in the way of involving others and achieving a better outcome. Even simply being overly independent and self-reliant may isolate one from useful input and effective working relationships. One can also see this in the failure to delegate effectively.
So, networking is an all encompassing topic, ranging from “working the room” at an event, making the most of an in-house opportunity to get to know people, building support for your ideas, actively managing your career, and keeping abreast of developments in your industry.
I hear clients say: “I am too busy to network” or “I don’t have a reason to speak to X”. I would argue that finding the time to build a network is akin to building up a savings account. I call this the ‘Money in the Bank principle’. If you build networks and invest in relationships, you can draw on them when there is a need. It is rather more difficult to go overdrawn without a good credit rating!
If we can think about business networks as purposeful and reciprocal, we may also overcome the thought of “using” others to further our own cause. If we think about networks as connections to a wider community of knowledge, experience and opinion, we may find networking an enriching experience. The purpose of the interaction is simply to build the network.
Ideas to consider:
- Make a list of who you know inside the business, clients, suppliers, and others in the industry. Do you actively seek them out?
- Make a list of who you would like to know, and who you know who may be able to introduce you, then plan to extend your network
- Join LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) or similar business networking websites. If you already use this, Go through your network and count how many of the people on there you regularly interact with and who you don’t. Then come up with a plan to have “real” interaction with them – target them so they become a real asset in your network
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce, professional or industry body, and attend meetings
- Ask a mentor to help you navigate internally and introduce you to the right people
- Collaborate, rather than compete
- Listen well and with full attention
- Match your colleagues in strength of delivery – don’t sound tentative or fail to speak up when you have a point to make
- Learn about your style and what adjustments you may have to make to fit your specific environment
- Think about what you can provide or contribute to help someone else out – without reciprocation
- Read some of the books and articles at the end of this article for excellent practical tips.