Successful people have great networks. Networking is one of the key differentiators between the most successful leaders and the rest of us.
In fact, as we grow in our careers, networking becomes more and more important. This is because as we climb the corporate ladder, we become more and more dependent on others to achieve our goals. So networking is not only important for outward success, as some cynics might suggest, but has been shown to correlate with effectiveness on the job as well. One reason for this is that professionals with active networks know whom to call on when they have a challenge they need help with.
When we think of networking today we think of electronic media, and this has become the most effective way of staying in touch. Particularly important are professional networks like LinkedIn and the African Management Initiative, but general social media like Facebook and Twitter are also important.
Of course the deepest networks arise from personal contact. People in our network need to meet us to keep the “chemistry” at work.
Seven steps to become an effective networker
- Identify where the gaps are in your network. Think about what kind of people you need to interact with in order to have the impact you want. Classify them in terms of criteria like age, gender, industry, profession, seniority, or geography, and then see where you have gaps. Look for ways where you will meet up with people who belong in those gaps.
- Look for ways in which you can be of service to prospective members of your network. The best way of attracting supportive networkers is to be one. Share valuable resources or services with your network, so that you come to be seen as a reliable and valuable source of value. Dale Carnegie is reputed to have said that you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people, than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. You should not just network when you have a specific need but make networking your overall life strategy.
- Attend social and professional events. Join professional or business associations, attend conferences, and make use of community organisations where other professional and business people meet. Always carry your business cards with you. If you are shy, practise ways to break the ice (e.g. ask the other person’s opinion on something). At a social gathering do not be shy to end a conversation politely and move on to the next person – that is the intention of a networking event. One of the often-mentioned reasons people enroll for the MBA is to grow their network with influential people across a wide range of industries. This kind of opportunity is now increasingly available online for less cost. For example, new entrants to the job market can do this by signing up for a course or community like the African Management Initiative’s online Launchpad Programme here.
- Stay in touch. Make an effort to stay in touch with your contacts by sending personal e-mails, going for coffee together, or making some other personal connection. Some people keep a database with people’s birthdays and other key milestones and information so that they celebrate these appropriately. Pick up the phone from time to time to reconnect. Plan to connect with the people in your network on a regular basis, but keep in mind that not all contacts are equal. For example, you may decide it’s best to contact your closest contacts every two months, the next layer of contacts every six months, and your acquaintances once a year. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself disappear.
- Connect your network contacts with each other, provided you get their permission first. When you have an opportunity that is too big for you to handle on your own, invite people in your network to join you and thus open business doors for them.
- Stay current by posting on your social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These are your window on the world – and the window through which others see you. So make sure that what they see of you there is accurate and positive.
- If you have valuable insights or information in your area of expertise, a monthly newsletter or weekly blog post ensures that your network remembers you. You’re providing value by delivering information that is helpful to them.
Networking inside your company
Networking within the organisation is also crucial and helps you connect with your colleagues beyond your immediate work and so create greater value for the company and opportunities in your own career. Try to connect with senior leaders beyond your boss to broaden your business acumen. And make a point of connecting with people in your organisation you do not know, especially those in other departments.
Safety precautions when using social media
Social media have given us wonderfully powerful means to network – but at the same time they expose us to real danger. One danger is that unguarded comments can be broadcast or reach an audience for which they were not intended. The other danger is that your privacy could be invaded, giving outsiders an opportunity to commit fraud or damage your reputation.
So take care to write only the things you are happy for ALL members of your network to read, and take care also that you choose to friend only those who will treat your reputation with respect.
Good networking has been shown to be a quality that distinguishes the best from the ordinary even in technical areas like scientific research. Good luck as you draw on this great resource! And do sign up for the AMI course on Influencing Others here for more ideas to take your career ahead.
Jonathan Cook is chairman and chief learning officer of the African Management Initiative, www.africanmanagers.org. The material in this article is drawn from the AMI course on Influencing Others.