Crafting a network for a lifetime
Things change rapidly and networking doesn’t seem to be an exception. Indeed, now networking isn’t the same as 15 or even 5 years ago. Social media made huge progress, and this changed many things around. In terms of the impact, LinkedIn and other social networks might have on networking is very much like Uber’s influence on the taxi service. It is hard to believe that not long-ago yellow pages featured two or three local taxi services per county, and people had to call to get a ride. Now it is just an app on the phone. With the influence of digital, networking became simpler and more difficult at the same time. Simpler because there is so much data available and many tools to access different folks. And more difficult because the competition is getting tougher and the options wider.
Value of networking for Business
Let’s just assume we are looking for contacts to pitch an IT solution to an investment bank (or it could be any other product like a new and improved technology to produce choke valves for a huge OEM). So, we run a search, grabbing the names of all directors and VPs who work in the procurement department. The ones who used to work there will be a good fit for us as well, as they know the process and might give nice friendly advice on what are the toughest part of the vendor selection process or top skills that are usually in high demand. Then we cross-check the list against our network and see who could make the best intro to get into the doors of the company under consideration.
Let’s just stop here for a second. Just a few years ago social networks were not so widely used, people had to invent all kind of creative approaches to get on the radar of the big companies, venture funds or angel investors. So, most of the literature on networking often lacks the description of this recent change. In the next series of blog posts, I will try to highlight what, how, and when the digital and real-life networking cross and some cool stories when such mix made a huge difference in many career’s paths.
Network Design and Maintenance
After the network is built it keeps people informed, teaches new things and helps get things done.
It is a channel people use to share their ideas and get feedback.
However, the network isn’t something built once that stays forever. The good network requires investments of time and energy. Based on Cross et al (2018) research it takes 3-5 years to build a good network, but this can be shortened. Network audit/inventory might be a good thing to do from time to time.
Break down networking into 3 pieces
Ibarra (2015) suggests that networks can be analyzed in 3 dimensions: Breadth, Connectivity, Dynamism.
For breadth parameter, the study suggests that less than 43% of people discuss key issues/current challenges/ ideas with people outside their unit or specialty (network). Only 25% discuss them with people who are external to the company.
Surveys show that in terms of diversity (I.e. contacts with peers vs seniors vs juniors) the distribution is usually even, i.e. approx. 30% per group.
Connectivity. The Classic study from the 60s still works in the form of six degrees of separation principle. Now anyone can check it at LinkedIn (or any other big social network), it really works. Why is important? People who discuss things in their circle eventually run into a problem that everyone knows pretty much everything they already know. i.e. so-called “inbred” circle that kills new ideas (people aren’t excited, not interested nor believe to hear anything new from the network).
There is an interesting concept of “connectors”, i.e. people connected to many other ones via just a few links. They are real Connections champions. This might be a good tactic to have more connectors (or at list understand who they are in your network if any).
Dynamism. Very often the network is just a mere list of colleagues who used to work together plus some friends. Such a network mostly drags people back rather than helps them moving forward.
Promotion vs prevention mindsets
Casciaro (2016) believes that networking supporters have a “promotion” mindset, those who aren’t so much into networking are believed to have “prevention” mindset. Scientists believe preventions could be converted to promotion. People who have worked together have the best results in network building. Also, if people do their homework/prepare/gather data on what might be interesting for people they are trying to network with – the process will be much more joyful.
A study had shown that people who have more to “share” (advice, knowledge, support) are often more comfortable networking than those who don’t have much to give. What should be done to be able to give more and thus become more networking-savvy? There might be a couple of ideas (+add ideas), but also people tend to underestimate their value for others.
Having a higher purpose helps. Another study showed that people who were networking on behalf of the community/firm/company felt more authentic and less “dirty” than the ones pursuing solely personal interests.
Building network faster
Since building an experienced employee network might take 3-5 years the question that arises: are there any ways how this can be expedited? The research proves wrong the dogma on building the brand across a very wide network. On the contrary, being selective and ready to share own expertise/support turns out to be more successive. Based on Cross et al (2018) “difference as working to pull people into your network rather than pushing your way into theirs”. The article continues “We also found — again contrary to conventional wisdom — that newcomers do not need a strong tie to a formal mentor or leader in their first nine months”.
Cross et al (2018) continue “effective networkers also shift their strategy as they approach the two- to a four-year timeframe. They begin to streamline their interactions with close colleagues, resulting in collaborative demands that are 18-24% lower than their peers, while at the same time reaching across boundaries to connect with new people in different functions or divisions and to those with similar values and passions, even when there is no clear short-term incentive to do so. The result is more opportunities for enterprise-wide innovation and feeling purposeful in their work, which boosts their performance and engagement.
Networking is generally considered mutually beneficial (Morford 2015), but some people do not appreciate it and believe they are entitled to free services (advice, support, etc). For people trying to get some mentoring/support, it might make sense to suggest that they adjust their schedule to the mentor’s and appreciate the help provided. Mentors should be on a lookout for those who have zero appreciation and quite often the sign of such attitude is lack of flexibility to adjust to the mentors meeting preferences.
With a properly designed network, the whole process of networking will not only bring you joy but also will lead to more lucrative deals and opportunities! Stay tuned on more about networking with quite a few intriguing stories and cases.