How to build a strong strategic network
To get ahead in business and develop yourself, networking is essential. When you are at senior level, the evidence confirms it is your network that is most likely to deliver the connections that will lead to a new opportunity. Unfortunately as Herminia Ibarra points out, we women, despite knowing how important it is, find it difficult to formulate and execute an effective networking strategy. So how do we get more comfortable with networking and find an approach that works for us?
First you have to ask yourself, what is it you want achieve with your strategy and why? Women tend to find this difficult as it runs counter to female socialisation that encourages building trusting relationships as opposed to what we see as ‘using people’. It's often assumed that women aren't ambitious but when promotion is framed as something that makes a bigger difference to others, we can feel much more aligned. When you have a clear goal that you feel free to get excited about, you will find a way of getting there! In reality, men are no better than women when it comes to being resourceful and creative.
Both internal and external networks are important
If there are stakeholders inside your organisation, who in order to achieve their goals, need to know how you can help them, there is much you can do. You can set up dedicated networks, women's or LGBT or you can identify who knows what is really happening in the organisation and build a relationship with them. You can arrange lunches or ask a colleague to introduce you to someone who can help or just happen to be where they are and introduce yourself. In her book It's not a glass ceiling it's a sticky floor Rebecca Shambaugh asserts as you become more senior, knowledge about what is happening between people trumps technical know how.
Outside the organisation can be even more beneficial as having good connections with peers, industry groups and professional organisations is invaluable when it comes to creating more opportunities. Recent research findings also suggest that weaker links provide more opportunities as they widen the range of people you have access to. Volunteering, organisaing an event or setting up a research project all help to broaden your scope. Robert Pfeffer in his book Power tells how a manager, whilst doing an MBA, set up a project that required her to interview FTSE100 CEO's. A great advantage when looking for her next career opportunity!
Deeper connections with fewer people are better
Although there are many opportunities to network that doesn’t mean you make contacts willy nilly, you don’t have enough time to follow up every lead. The ones you think can be helpful, need to be nurtured and deepened over time. The best way to do this is to actively look for ways of being of help. Everyone remembers someone who did them a favour. It's useful to have a spreadsheet of contacts internally and externally with details of when you last saw them and notes on what they want to achieve so you can consider over time, how to be of service. One very easy thing to do is to introduce them to someone else in your network.
Our tendency is to seek out people we know but we can also make contact with people where we think there might be mutual benefit. LinkedIn and Twitter are very useful resources in enabling you to identify people who can help. Dorie Clarke on Stand Out Networking has a useful chapter on how to go about this. Again this can be a stumbling block when it comes to getting started but a simple strategy like connecting with 3 people a day can slowly build into conversations and then meetings that can yield unexpected benefits over time. And there is always blogging a steady way of raising your profile as a thought leader.
Networking is essential to success
When you ’get’ just how valuable networking is to support your career progress, your natural resourcefulness to grow and deepen your network, will make it much easier.