Overwhelmed by the virtual world of infinite connections, we should never forget that non-virtual social network is of crucial importance to your professional and personal development. The strategic partnerships you form throughout your life are going to benefit you at every level. It is clearly advantageous for anyone to be surrounded with people who inspire, support you but also challenge you and help you to grow.
The common misbelief is that the size of the network is the most important. The size, however, does not equate to effectiveness- an example could be a network one created on Linkedin – hundreds of people who may provide none or just minimal value- this is not an efficient network. You have to invest your time in building high-quality relationships but do not spread yourself too thin. Developing a valuable network is more art than a science, and many people do not know how to approach it, getting it all wrong. The most common networking mistakes we are making are:
-Focusing on company hierarchies and avoiding informal connections-do not be too self-interested as you will get disconnected from your peers and lose their support
-Too many connections within your organization that may burn you out
-Choosing connections who are like you (‘mini-me’), and reinforce your biases rather than those who push you for building new skills
-Superficial networking – overestimating the value of large networks, creating too many meaningless contacts
-Changing the interest/personality/values for the specific forum and getting disconnected from all those groups later on
How to network the right way then?
You should build your core network first. It should not exceed 15 people to work effectively for you. The core network is also your bridge to more diverse sub-groups. Your core networking group should consist of 4 sub-groups:
– Individuals who keep you abreast of key trends (priorities, constraints, capabilities) in your organization, help you to understand the strategic landscape or competitive environment (such as opportunities and challenges). They are part of your Strategic Network.
– People that help you get your job done, provide you and your team with advice, information, support, or resources. They are part of your Operational Network.
– Connections who contribute to your professional career development in the last couple of years. They can help you by coaching, protecting, giving your exposure or social support. This is your Professional & Career Development Network.
– Your friends or good colleagues, who will support you when you have a bad day, will help you get back on track, people with who you can be yourself. This is your Personal Support Network.
Spend some time analyzing your existing networks to see what groups are over- or under-represented or how you utilize them. Productive and successful leaders build relationships with people at all levels of the organizational pyramid (both juniors and seniors), inside and outside of your organization. Make some hard decisions to back away from some of the relationships which do not work to your favor, or where you invest too much energy and not getting anything back. You should also analyze if any connections would benefit from knowing each other and make the active effort to introduce them. The networking is a two-way street, never forget that you have to contribute and provide the value to others. Learn to use your network, ask for help if needed and give back.
One last thing to remember: build your network way ahead you need it- this sometimes means- years in advance. Your professional role in next 10 years may depend on it.
- HBS Leadership Initiative, Network Diagnostic Survey
- A Smart Way to Network, by Rob Cross and Robert Thomas, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2011