The Secret Sauce to Designing Your Personal Network
The Secret Sauce to Designing Your Personal Network
“Who was Paul Revere?”
Most of us would probably know the answer. He was, after all, immortalized in the Longfellow poem that begins, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.” Yet how many of your colleagues, students of American history aside, would be familiar with William Dawes? Both men rode on horseback from Boston on the night of April 18, 1775. Both sounded the alarm that the Revolutionary War had begun. Dawes rode south while Revere rode north, but the towns they traveled through were demographically similar. Both men came from the same social class and had similar educational backgrounds. But only Revere raised a militia, and only Revere’s name became famous. What accounts for the difference? In large part, the type of social network each man cultivated.
Networks determine which ideas become breakthroughs, which new drugs are prescribed, which farmers cultivate pest-resistant crops, and which R&D engineers make the most high-impact discoveries.
But what is the secret sauce of the successful network? The answer is simple but challenging at the same time. Know what you need, know whom you need, and know why you need it. Without having a clear idea of what you are looking for, you will not be able to find it.
We have found that executives, in particular, disproportionately use the self-similarity principle to build their networks. This approach has its benefits but also its risks. Obviously, it is easier to trust someone who views the world through the same lens you do; you expect that person to act predictably. What’s more, working with people who share your background is efficient: You recognize concepts that allow you to transfer information quickly, and you are less likely to challenge one another’s ideas. Like-minded people will usually affirm your point of view and, as a result, gratify your ego.
Our research shows, however, that these benefits offer diminishing returns—and can even turn negative. Too much similarity can stifle both creativity and problem-solving. If all your contacts think the way you do, who will question your reasoning or push you to expand your horizon? And because, over time, people tend to introduce their contacts to one another so that everyone becomes friends, the similarity of thought and skill reverberates, creating what we call an echo chamber. (See the exhibit “The Importance of Brokers in Companies.”)
You have to be strategic about not only how you use your time but also with whom you use it. In order to start designing your ideal network, you can classify your existing relationships within your network by the benefits they provide.
Generally, benefits fall into one of six basic categories:
- political support and influence
- personal development
- personal support and energy
- a sense of purpose or worth
- work/life balance
When you identify folks with whom you want to be connected, remember to focus on positive, energetic, selfless people, and be sure to ask people inside and outside your network for recommendations. Powerful but negative people will not do good for your present and future.
When designing your networks, remember to target these connections, which have been proved by long research on the types of networks that high performers connect on:
- People who offer new information or expertise, including internal or external clients, and who increase market awareness; peers in other functions, divisions, or geographies who share best practices; and contacts in other industries who inspire innovation;
- Formally powerful people, who provide mentoring, sense-making, political support, and resources; and informally powerful people, who offer influence, help coordinate projects, and support the rank and file;
- People who give developmental feedback, challenge decisions, and push you to be better. At an early career stage, an employee might get this from a boss or customers; later, it tends to come from coaches, trusted colleagues, or a spouse.
Think about people who can make a real difference to your professional future. These could be current or past clients, prospective clients, recommenders, people in your company who are critical to your promotional chances, mentors or sponsors, friends who are connectors, or even people in the media. Next, block out an hour or so to review your contacts. Maybe you keep them in your email account or on your phone, or maybe you use specialized software. It doesn’t really matter.
Finally, it’s worth making a note on your calendar to every three months take as little as a half hour to re-evaluate your overall networking strategy. Building connections is almost never urgent, but it’s always important. When a crisis comes and you really need those connections, it’s too late to start building them.
- The secret to a successful network is knowing what you need, whom you need, and why you need it.
- Avoid the temptation to load your network with contacts who all think exactly as you do. It can stifle creativity and problem-solving.
- In zeroing in on prospects for your network, focus on positive, energetic, selfless people.
- Re-evaluate your overall networking strategy periodically.
Concept of balanced network:
- Be selective with whom you network.
- Don’t overload yourself with contacts from the same group of people. You will become too narrow-minded. Dedicate your time only to those contacts for whom you foresee an immediate or future need. At the same time, don’t run away from those who are reaching out to you.
- Talk with strangers. The largest deals in most cases were made with the help of strangers met at the airport.
- Fly business class when possible. You will surround yourselves with leaders – whom you need to reach out to and be connected with.
- Write down three business results you hope to achieve in the next yea Then list the people (by name or general role) who could help you with them, thanks to their expertise, control over resources, or ability to provide political support.
- Networking (work sheet with priorities)