“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go with others”. Combine the wisdom of this old African proverb with the pithy saying that “Your network is your net worth” and you will get the essence of this article: Networking is vital to personal and professional success. And yet, so many of us just don’t realize how important this skill is, or worse, make no attempt to build our networks.
Rambo is only in the movies!
Human beings are socially interdependent creatures. This applies in the context of the families we are a part of, the communities we live in, the organizations we work in and ultimately, even across the planet as a whole. An organization’s success ultimately depends on how well different departments, teams and individuals perform their respective roles. In any field it is simply not possible to be a Rambo and realistically expect to consistently accomplish missions successfully. Networking helps to build an informal ecosystem that we as individuals can rely on for advice, assistance and support.
Networking is not just exchanging business cards
Networking starts with introductions and an exchange of business cards, but it certainly does not end there, as some people mistakenly believe. Their thinking is that “once people know who I am, what I do and how to reach me, they will contact me when they need my services”. This is an erroneous assumption because yours is only one among many cards that people will collect.
And unless you have been able to stand out from the crowd because of your gregariousness, credibility or knowledge, chances are your business card may not get a second glance.
Networking is about engaging with people who do not know you and building in them the desire to keep in touch with you. This happens only after you build rapport and mutual trust. In fact, real networking is about staying in touch after the initial interaction. During the initial networking interactions, you may not even know if- and how- the other person can help you; all you are doing is creating goodwill and trust that you can draw on as needed. Networking works on the principle of reciprocity, i.e. give-and-take. You may be called upon for assistance by others. If you are in a position to help, you should, as long as what is being asked of you does not violate company policies, your personal code of ethics and morals or the laws of the land.
You must network both inside and outside the organization you work in. Each provides different benefits.
Strong networks within the organization- both within our own departments and outside- can be valuable resources. For example, they can help us access people we may not directly know, but need information from. A quick “Hi John, Susan from HR wants some info about the Executive Search firm we use in Europe. She and I used to go to the same gym. I have asked her to write to you with what she needs. Appreciate your help” kind of voicemail/ email is likely to work much faster than you writing to John introducing yourself and then stating what you need.
More effective collaboration is another benefit of networking. Let’s say you’ve volunteered (or been volunteered!) to be part of a cross-functional team that has been formed for a specific project. If some of the other members are people with whom you have networked in the past, you need much less time to break the ice. Also, you can be more confident that your ideas will get a fair hearing (and even support, if they are good) during meetings.
In global organizations, mobility across regions is common, as companies seek to deploy their best people in key markets or divisions. As an expatriate who has to relocate in a couple of months, imagine how much easier your life (and job) could get if you reached out to colleagues from the new region and networked with them.
The key to successful networking is to identify possible common areas that can help forge a bond. Other than working for the same company (albeit different departments), maybe some of you live in the same community, or have kids attending the same school or playing in the same little league. Or perhaps you go to the same gym or place of worship. Such neutral meeting grounds are great to get early conversations flowing.
If you think you are not a “natural networker”, start honing your skills by building networks within the organization; the experience will make you more adept at external networking.
Networking outside the organization is just as relevant. You could meet people at industry events or professional conferences, in airport lounges, on flights or even while on vacation. The people you meet could be functional experts, motivational speakers, leadership gurus or even potential customers/clients or employers. By networking with them, you could learn about industry developments-information that you can use in your own jobs. Or you could gather insights about self-development that will help you be more effective in your job. Or you could learn tips to manage your people better. There really are no boundaries to how networking can benefit an individual.
Knowledge apart, networking can enhance your personal brand. For example, at an event if you are a speaker or panelist or ask great questions, you will be noticed. Use coffee/lunch breaks to network, and you could discover potential hires for your team or even meet potential employers. You could even meet executive search consultants who could help you with that next career move or hire the kind of people you are looking to hire for your team/organization.
Even networking with competitors can be useful. You could gain insights into how your organization is perceived in the marketplace. Such information is very valuable as it can help shape strategic or tactical responses. Networking can also help make it easier to work with peers across companies to brainstorm collective responses to issues impacting the community or industry.
As you can imagine, a good networker can use his skill to gain significantly. But remember that those who are good at this craft are givers and sharers too. Sustainable networking is about giving others the confidence that you are approachable and willing to provide reasonable help- and then living up to the perception you have created.
The importance of networking is perhaps best summed up by Success Coach Dennis Waitley’s observation that “If you are not networking, you are not working”.
Here’s a list of conferences which I have gathered from my network that you may find useful, depending on what industry you are from or what functional role you play. These conferences are mainly around specific industries; however, most of them include sessions on HR topics, Leadership, Technology etc.
Most of these conferences include networking opportunities in their design. If you do attend these (or other) events, happy networking!