I was delighted to give a talk on networking, high up above the City on a beautiful terrace close to St Paul's Cathedral. I spoke to a wonderful audience of around a hundred bank traders, salespeople, executives, clients, suppliers and interns, all of them women.
Life's better when we're connected! What do we mean by connection? There are 500 million people on LinkedIn, and it is a powerful way to keep in touch and raise your profile. But don't mistake connections online for the real, human connection that comes with shaking someone's hand, having eye contact, speaking and listening together in the same place at the same time.
I encourage you to think more strategically about your networks. There are three categories to be aware of and by consciously choosing to develop each kind, you will gain maximum benefit in the short and long term.
You don't usually get to choose who you work with, internally, on your daily projects and tasks. There can be a lot of contacts needed to get work done, all connecting via you in some way. If you view yourself as a facilitator of this de facto network, you can build trust and enhance relationships which will lead to significant business benefits of speed, efficiency, collaboration and product or service quality. Plus you will have more fun doing the job!
Ways to do this include ensuring introductions are always made on conference calls, or you ask people to share something that's going on for them at the start of a meeting.
Find stimulation, creativity, referrals, useful information and personal development from networking with people outside of the day job. What are your interests? Industry groups, sports, theatre, school governorships, volunteering - when you get connected widely, opening up to new people and new experiences, life gets richer.
N.B. Do you need to delegate more effectively in order to ensure you make time for 'Tonight' networking? Or maybe be a bit more selfish and claim this time for yourself?
Take a strategic view. Build a network of internal and external contacts who will matter as you progress in your career. See this network-building through the lens of your future interests, needs, priorities and challenges. It's about finding supporters, mentors and those who will influence you and/or be influenced by you. It can be hard to know who will be relevant; it can be a mindset-shift to not see this as 'politics' but as an essential aspect of your successful journey.
Finally, some tips for successful networking:
- reciprocity is better when you give before you expect to receive (is this karma? It feels good.)
- personal brand matters, so be consistent and make it easy for people to know who you are
- ease your way into a conversation with small talk but don't forget to talk about business
- keep it two-way. Do avoid both interrogation and taking excess airtime to talk about yourself
- bring the interaction to an end positively and authentically, e.g. "It's been very interesting talking to you and now I must move on. Thank you!"
Ref: Herminia Ibarra and Mark Hunter: HBR 'How Leaders Create and Use Networks', January 2007