How many times have you been told to improve your network or that you should take every opportunity to network? And yet more often than not busy professionals are too busy and don’t prioritise the task. It is a topic that occasionally comes up with the clients that I coach especially for those that are seeking their next big role or promotion or those thinking about a career transition. Googling “professional networking tips” will generate a plethora of results with the majority of those to do lists and yet even with an abundance of accessible information people still don’t do it.
Is it really that important?
Highly successful executives appreciate that networking, whatever their job, role or title, is an essential skill to have and a valuable use of their time. Paraphrasing from the classic book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi:
“To achieve your goals, it matters less how smart you are or how much innate talent you’re born with. These things are important, but they mean little if you don’t understand one thing. You can’t get there alone. In fact, you can’t get very far at all.”
We should all agree that an effective team will achieve far more than an individual, so it isn’t a big leap to think about a powerful network being like a loose nit team. i.e. the sum of the parts should add up to more than the individual parts themselves.
Why don’t most of us do it?
Our immunity to change is in overdrive when it comes to networking. The powerful force of nature, dynamic equilibrium (Seven Languages for Transformation - Kegan/Lahey) tends to keep things pretty much as they are, back into familiar, business as usual and so avoid significant change.
We are likely taking many actions that may prevent our goal of networking effectively e.g. our schedules are so full already there isn’t time, or we aren’t on the look-out for networking opportunities.
We may have competing commitments such as we don’t want our staff to feel like we have left them to do all the real work whilst we go off to meet people and chat with them. We focus on the real work, the tangible work and slip into the doer/operator default mode.
This leads to the big assumption holding us back which might be that it’s (networking) not important and anyway I am paid to work not chat with people. I would lose respect from my team if I was seen chatting with people and not helping them
What to do about it, 6 simple and safe experiments to perform:
First, change the words which helps reframe the action: rather than referring to the task of networking, think about building relationships.
Second, view it as an opportunity not a challenge or a threat. Networking is the opportunity to learn from other people, find out how you can help them and build relationships.
Third, there are regular opportunities to speak with new people everywhere and you may be passing them up every day. Your employer will host internal events, your college/University alumni will host regular events etc. Every coffee that you get, every lunch that you walk out your office building to buy and bring back to your desk is an opportunity to speak with someone. Don’t make excuses.
Fourth, set yourself a target for when you attend events i.e. I will speak with 3 new people… new people, don’t gravitate to the people you know already.
Fifth, remember something about the people you are talking with and, if like me you need to, make notes. If you exchange business cards and you should do, write notes on the back of the cards or send yourself an email when you go to get another drink or use the restroom. Don’t leave the note taking to the end of the event or the next day as I guarantee you will forget key points.
Sixth, follow up. This is the most important thing. Follow up! Do so the next day and use the information you gathered to personalise the connection and help them remember you. Don’t forget to also connect on LinkedIn.
Do I follow my own advice?
I am an introvert. What does that mean? Well from a Myers Briggs Personality Type indicator I score highly on Introversion, on the Big 5 personality traits I score low on Extraversion. I prefer 1 to 1 conversations compared to mixing with large groups of people. That’s no excuse it just means that, like a lot of you, I am not energised by going to gatherings of people that I don’t know. Recently, I attended two different gatherings of people, networking opportunities, so did I follow my own advice? In short, yes I did:
I came across someone at the elevator bank who was having trouble working out how to use them. I helped and we started talking, introducing ourselves and then after checking my coat and bag I sought that person out and we continued our conversation. The ice breaker was the elevator and it was something we both remembered about each other when following up the next day
I introduced myself to the host of the event and we started chatting about watches which turned out to be a mutual interest. I followed up the next day and we continued our conversation from the event which enabled me to find out more about the organisation which may be useful at some future point
I followed up with each new person that I met and used the information that I had noted about each to personalise the email and LinkedIn connection request. I now have several meetings in the process of being arranged, at least one of which has a reasonable chance of leading to new business.
Go and build relationships.