What real business value does the quality of your personal network add to your reputation, your career, your business, and your stakeholders? Is this one of your true assets? Networking or not working (Audio)
If I were to ask you how big your network is how might you respond? Would you give me the number of Linked-In or Facebook or Twitter connections you have? Or would you think of how many business people you know? Or what measure would you apply to respond to that question? Also, would you perhaps challenge me as to why that is important? What role has and does (business) networking play in your career success? And how actively are you pursuing the building and maintaining the relationships that help you and those around you do more and better business, whether you are employed, led, leading or whether you are a consultant or running your own business?
My clients all know how important I consider Networking. Einstein suggested that the thinking that got you “into” a situation will rarely suffice to get you “out of it” again. Similarly, I believe that the skills that got you to where you are today will not suffice to assure your ongoing business or career growth. Particularly in our earlier careers, these success skills would probably have been grown in a specialist “silo”, what I call “vertical success skills”, after which we may have moved into more project or outcome or people management roles, right? At that level I refer to the skills we need for ongoing success as “horizontal skills”, which are more people influencing skills, communications skills, leadership skills and networking skills. Would you agree how important a part Networking plays in that?
I define Networking as the building and maintaining of relationships that lead to opportunities for all parties. It works if we apply the right attitude to it. I have learned that it is based on a few time proven “laws” like the law of reciprocity or clichés, like “what goes around, comes around” or “the more I can help you get what you want, the more likely you will want to help me get what I want”. There are many more, aren’t there? Networking is one of my personally favourite activities. I get my energy from being around people. All my life I have been a networker. I know and keep in touch with people all over the world. People I only once sat next to on a plane. People I went to school with and everything in between. I have developed it into one of my strengths and what I enjoy doing most. I don’t believe that we can be successful in business today without a network. I think that is true for whatever role you are in, whether it is in:
- what I call “internal” or “back office” roles
- or in “external” business development or “front office” roles
- and also whether you are employed, leading, led, contracted or running your own business.
Networking is a significant topic which in my opinion you would under rate or avoid at your (business) peril. It is my intention to share what I have learned over many decades of making, developing and keeping contacts with people in and from all over the world. There is simply too much material for one blog, so like my Goals Trilogy and my Coping Trilogy I would like to cover this vast topic bundled together in a sixology in the blog What you want to know about Networking (a sixology).
Why Networking – I’m Employed?
Good question. One I get asked quite often by employees in “back-office roles”. If I’m not in a front-office or “selling role”, why would I need to network? Think about what happens in your workplace. Think about how the work is done. Is it all people sitting in cubicles and working away quietly at computer screens or is there much interaction with others? You know, in dialogues, or in groups or meetings or on the phone or out at customer or vendor sites or at conferences or other events? Isn’t that where we spend a lot of our time “working” our (and our company) agenda’s? Irrespective of what our role is? Isn’t that networking? When I challenge my clients about their network, most acknowledge that they could or should be doing more about building and using it.
The Trust Triangle
A fundamentally important truth about networking is described in what I call The Trust Triangle. I believe one of the primary values of Networking is that any referral of one person through a second to a third is based on it being a “warm” and “trusted” connection. By that I mean that the trust and respect of a relationship that has developed through the test of time is based on a “track record” of delivering what was promised to meet or exceed the expectations of the recipient and that is then passed on to the 3rd party. I’m not suggesting that such “warm” connections create any guarantees or bypass the necessity for due diligence, but they do provide a measure of “dependability” that any form of “cold” connection doesn’t. Think about it, if Bob calls you and he is someone you know from school and you have done business with a few times at both parties satisfaction and benefit, wouldn’t you give a referral from him much more of a chance than a “cold” call? So if Bob is a real estate agent and I have done a number of investment property deals through him, we have a trust and respect relationship built over time on a win-win experience for both of us. Let’s say I have the same kind of business relationship with Betty. If Betty is in the market for an investment property she would leverage our relationship to ask me if I knew someone she could trust to aid her in finding the right property. I would have no hesitation of recommending Bob to her, would I? Why? Because of the above experience and relationship with Bob. In doing so I would be transferring that same level of trust and respect I have with Bob on to Betty, knowing that Bob would never let Betty down. Why? Because he knows that would not only jeopardize my relationship with Betty, but also with him. I would not refer Bob on to anyone else again after that, would I? That’s the trust triangle at work. But of course this all only keeps working if everyone delivers to the standard they say they will. If Bob doesn’t deliver to expectations, it not only reflects badly on him, but also on me, who referred him. Reputations and relationships take time to build, and can be broken so very quickly. That means one of the realities of networking is whether you talk the talk or walk the walk. Word of mouth endorsements are the best you can get, but they only work if your referral partner respects and trusts that you can deliver what you say you do. Break that trust and things “stop coming around”. Bad news travels fast so don’t expect referrals or endorsements if you don’t consistently deliver the goods. That applies both internally as well as in external networking.
To me networking is an attitude. There are three key words for me in networking: Exposure, Listening and Care. Exposure to me means getting connected to as many people as could be relevant for their and my interests as possible. This presupposes that this would serve both our interests. The more people I know, the more I can get exposed to who they know and so the network of contacts keeps expanding. The emphasis here is on perpetually being alert and aware of opportunities to meet and introduce yourself to new people – all the time. Why? So that we can keep referring each other on to others in each other’s networks. Listening. I have learned that in networking the more actively I talk of myself the less it works and the more I get my partner to talk about themselves the better it works. Your focus is to get your “partner in coffee” to be relaxed and comfortable to talk about themselves, what’s happening to them and around them. To find out “what they do and what they want”. So building rapport is crucial. That includes being curious and interested, but above all listening to what they are saying, how they are saying it and what they aren’t saying, like I outlined in Are you listening?.
People will consider you a good conversationalist because you get them to do all the talking. Care. I love being with people. I get my energy from people. I care about people. I understand that if I can help enough people get what they want, then I will probably get what I want. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care – about them and what they want. So if I can’t help them, chances are I know someone that can and so I care about becoming a “connector”.
Now I know that not everyone has the same degree of passion or confidence in dealing with people. By now you appreciate that I would consider that to be a belief, which you can do something about. Even if you believe you aren’t a “people person” that doesn’t mean that you can’t become a good networker. You may just need to work a little harder than others to overcome some initial fears and the same beneficial outcomes will be there waiting for you to grab them. For those of you in this category or even just wanting to start out on this network building journey, you might benefit from my initial networking blog How to start Networking. What I do I suggest is that you have a strong belief that “what goes around comes around”. I know that’s a cliché, but can’t find a better way of describing it in a networking context. I can’t repay the people for instance that assisted us in our efforts to migrate to this awesome country, but I can return the favour to others that are considering that transition. However, I recommend that you don’t keep score. BNI (Business Networking International) talks about “givers gain” and I subscribe to that. The “Law of Reciprocity” works over time.
Those of you that have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” will know of his “The Law of the Few” in which he calls connectors people with a special gift of bringing people together. If you haven’t read this book yet I would urge you to get it and read it, not only, but certainly from a networking perspective. In this chapter he speaks of a “test” he did with over 400 of his friends and associates whereby he took 250 names at random from the Manhattan telephone directory into a list. He asks that you give yourself a point for every person you know with a name on that list – a person that would also know you. If you knew 4 people with the surname Clark, you would give yourself 4 points. He says he gave this test to about 400 people across the broadest range of typical communities. Of all those tested, 20 or so scored below 20, 8 over 90 and only 4 over 100. The lowest score was 4 and the highest 118. Those scoring over 100 are what he calls “connectors”. I am known as a connector and wasn’t surprised to have scored 105 when I did this test. Connectors are people that you call to ask: “who do you know that….?” They are usually able to connect people to answer that question – if not themselves, then they usually know someone that does. I use this test with a lot of my clients as it draws a line in the sand. Whatever the number is, it forms a basis upon which we can set a “results goal” – that is by what time they will want to have doubled it, or significantly increased it. It forms a great measure or KPI’s to track how well our network is developing.
So What Next?
So having read or listened this far, are you in agreement how valuable networking is and can be for you in whatever role you play? Or haven’t you been convinced? Do you think that those around you that you would acknowledge to be good networkers have always been that good? Do you believe that they were born that way and others weren’t or do you think that networking is a skill that can be learned and developed? Whatever your view, do you think that you might be able to operate more effectively and more successfully if you were to improve your networking skills and the number of people that you know? You know, that it isn’t what you know, but who you know and more importantly who they know that matters in getting things done? Why not take the pressure off you and draw comfort and confidence from the fact that you don’t have to know everything if you have developed a network you can rely on providing what you can’t? Can you see why I believe that not networking is akin to things not working as well as they could? What if you could?