Networking. It is a much maligned word, with business leaders often resenting having to schmooze and hobnob with potentially influential contacts in order to get ahead. However, the truth is that no senior executive is likely to get very far in the corporate world today without doing the hard yards in terms of building relationships. But networking is not about being a smooth operator and using people to get what you want. It’s about developing long-term, trusting relationships with essential connections – in which you give as much (or more) than you take.
Bill Clinton is known as being a master networker. He knows exactly how to work a room full of people, making each and every individual feel like the most important person in the world. He understands any networking relationship is a reciprocal one – to ensure support from his network, he needs to foster give-and-take relationships in which his connections benefit as much as he does from their continued support.
What can we learn from ‘natural networkers’ like Bill Clinton? What makes a good networker?
- First and foremost, you need to identify who you want to be networked with, and why. Networking does not happen by accident, it is a deliberate process. If you don’t approach it with a well-considered strategy in mind, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.
- Maintain contact with your network, even if this means a five-minute phone call every now and again just to check in. Without regular contact, your relationships will atrophy.
- Know how much connectivity is appropriate. In the digital age, there is a temptation to rely too heavily on technology, but if you ‘spam’ people – especially on social media platforms – they may start shutting you out.
- In the era of social media, it is important to realise your online connections are not your network. You may have large numbers of people following you on various platforms, but these are in the main superficial relationships. You can’t possibly know all these people. True networking leads to long-term, deep relationships which are impossible to cultivate only in a virtual space – it always requires some form of face-to-face interaction.
- Work on your public profile, and understand the impact on your network of all public interactions, including activity on social media platforms. Post interesting and useful information that the individuals in your networks – most of whom will also be your social media followers – will find valuable.
- Reciprocity is crucial. You need to give and take, and understand what your network values. A powerful way of winning trust is to introduce people in your network to each other. A word of caution, however – be very discerning about whom you bring together, since this can also be the quickest way to lose friendships!
- Learn how to not get stuck with one person at an event with networking opportunities. A dignitary I was talking to at a conference a few years ago told me point blank he was now leaving our conversation to go and mingle! Whereas I would recommend a more subtle approach, the idea is to try and speak to as many people as possible, to increase your chances of adding potentially valuable connections to your network.
So what are the worst things you can do as a networker? In my opinion, the following are definite no-no’s:
- Name dropping. It looks like you want to show off about how much more networked you are than others in the room. Just don’t.
- Being too smooth. People can see right through you, and you will come across as being over-charming and arrogant.
- Being too needy. If others think you only want to take from them (for example, you want access to their network) without giving anything in return, they will turn away from you.
Part of what I enjoy about networking is meeting fascinating people from all walks of life. Even though my networking efforts are deliberate and purposeful, I (mostly) come away from social events, at which I have mingled with many people, feeling invigorated and having learnt something new. And hopefully having offered something of value to others. It’s about being interested, as well as being interesting. Even if a particular interaction does not seem to have added any particular value to your existing network, it is still an investment – one which may still reap dividends, even if it is way into the future.
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