No matter where you work- a company, public sector entity, university, associations, non-profit or other organisation- networking is an essential communication skill and a pivotal professional capability in today’s workplace. It is the most effective way to get the job done, make things work, improve the processes and advance your career. Continued mergers and consolidations as well as downscaling in industry after industry suggests that no one is secure in their employment. You’ve heard it over and over but it’s worth repeating – the only constant is change. In every business there seems to be a few individuals who rise above the rest. Sometimes their extraordinary knowledge or skills sets them apart, but in most cases the person’s edge comes from a network of relationships within and without the organisation. As a society, we admire those with the most contacts because we know intuitively that, all things being equal, successful people win thanks to their connections.
Networking is about connecting with other people who you may be able to help, or may be able to help you when you need it. The value of “networking” is diminished by the “cocktail function image which is often characterized by the meeting, greeting and business cards ritual”. This limited- and in most cases incorrect view- minimizes the importance of “networking” within the workplace and business development. Companies that recognise the importance of networking within the workplace normally focus on “relationship building” “teamwork” “collaboration” “social capital” or “collaborative knowledge networks”. Relationship building has become a corporate priority and ironically people are not sure how to make it part of the corporate culture.
When developing a reliable and effective network, it’s very important to keep depth in mind as much as breadth! What do I mean by this? When you need to rely on others to help you out (assist you to complete a project or to obtain information, communicate your ideas, cross market your product or to promote your product to their client bases), it’s critical that you have done the work of strengthening your connections well in advance of your need.
Anne Barber and Lynne Waymon who are other experts in this field advise that employees must avoid the following erroneous assumptions as they network at work:
- “People I work with are automatically part of my network.” Not true. You must create and nurture relationships.
- “Everyone is an equally good networking contact.” Not true. Seek out experts, influencers, and people who will give back. As you talk with people in your network, agree to respond quickly to their requests.
- “It’s his job to give me information. I shouldn’t have to ’make nice’ to get it.” Not true. You’ll get better help faster when you are obviously willing to help. Listen to your contact. Does that person need something you can supply? If you cannot discover anything, ask, “How can I help you?”
- “My request is so important that my contact will drop everything to answer it yesterday.” Not true. Make sure you give your contact enough time. If you need something do not procrastinate. Ask early, before you are desperate.
- “When I receive information, the interaction is over.” Not true. Get back to tell your contact “the rest of the story”, and what use you made of what he or she gave you.
- “I said, Thanks” ‘That should be enough.” Not true. Size your “Thank you” to match the size of the favour. Take your contact out to lunch. Send a written note or a card. Write a note to your contact’s boss. Take every opportunity to give credit publicly.
People recognise and reject patronising or self-serving actions. Smith cautions that you need to develop a sincere interest in other people before you can make a meaningful contribution to your company’s relationship capital. Change your focus from “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I offer you?” This is the most powerful technique for deepening and widening your networks. Perhaps it is time for all stakeholders to get together and coordinate networking as a core competency.
This article may be copied or republished with the following credit:
“By Karl Smith, founder of Business Networking South Africa , Cape Town