Networking has always been considered a dirty word. It conjures up images of people standing around awkwardly, thrusting a business card at each other, giving a sales pitch and then almost scurrying off in their eagerness to make the next connection – to not miss an opportunity to spread the word according to Mike or Mary Smith.
Does networking have to be such hard – well, work? And is it just me who views ‘traditional’ professional interactions this way?
Networking, connecting, meeting, doing coffee, lunch dates and even speed connecting – all terms synonymous with meeting others to drive skill sets, contacts and ongoing business and personal growth.
But there is much more to networking than collecting likes, friends, connections or old-school business cards. Networking as we know it has to evolve. It is no longer a business card-swapping fest or, as I once heard it described, one hand to give your business card, the other to shake.
To really succeed, and break out beyond the online realm, you must become the master of your network both at work and in life generally. The right network is about having the right people and the right relationships in your professional and personal life.
Everyone needs a network, whether you are a recent graduate hunting for your first job, a manager who has just scored a promotion, a parent planning on running your first marathon, a philanthropist, leader, consultant, entrepreneur, speaker, freelancer or writer – it doesn’t matter what you do, what level you operate on, what industry you are in, and whether you work for an organisation or are self-employed.
Without networks, opportunities are missed, new possibilities aren’t spotted, your thinking stagnates, and the dreams and career aspirations you once had become unreachable. You change jobs, move location – and suddenly, you have to start out all over again. You find it hard to push through tough times, to get that job or promotion, to sell that idea, to get noticed.
There is an art and a science to building networks that work.
It is an art in that it requires basic human skills in communication, connection, authenticity and the ability to be ‘in the present’ and engaged with people and conversations.
It is a science in that building your network strategically requires continuing analysis and audit, and a sustained curiosity about whether you are leveraging your network in the best way you can.
Networking is ultimately about seeing the lines that connect people and ideas to create opportunity.
In ‘Building an Innovation Factory’ in the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Hargadon and Robert I. Sutton discuss how to broker and capture good ideas for true and long-lasting effect.
One of the companies they studied is IDEO, an international design and consulting firm founded in Palo Alto, California.
The most respected people at IDEO are part pack rat (they have great private collections of stuff), part librarian (they know who knows what) and part good Samaritan (they go out of their way to share what they know and help others).
Approach your network in a similar way.
You need a personal board of advisers who add to your thinking and bring out the best in you; an intelligence bank of the right people with the right strengths and skills that will sustain you across the long-term; and a marketing machine that champions you and your cause, that will drive your net worth and influence, creating opportunities for you to tap into.
A strong, connected and mutually beneficial network and the intentional support of another helps to boost confidence, achieve clear goals, create business leads and support decision-making.
Get in control of your network and focus on quality over quantity. Surround yourself with the right people, people who will guide and mentor you and cheer you on, and ensure your success. Choose your network wisely.
Networking is not a dirty word. Networking is smart.
As former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “I’m not the smartest fellow in the world. But I can sure pick smart colleagues.”