Networking works

Networking

10 tips to harness the power of networking inside your own organisation.

Let’s start with a little wager: I’m willing to bet that, while you’ve no doubt got some really great relationships at work, many of those relationships are with all the wrong people!

My evidence for this assertion comes from over 20 years of doing a particular exercise with leaders and managers in communication skills workshops. I start by asking them to write down the names of the people they’ve already got great relationships with at work; and then I watch their chests puff up with pride as they rattle off quite a list. After a break, I challenge them to identify those people they need to have great relationships with if they, or the work they lead, are to get their rightful place in the sun. Again, we get quite a number.

But here’s the catch. When we compare and contrast the two lists, a terrible realisation dawns. Participants exclaim in anguish: “We’ve got some great relationships, just with all the wrong people!”

If this might be true of you, too, then your challenge is to build on the good relationships you already have while designing and developing a whole set of new ones. That’s where networking has a big role to play.

A very helpful definition of networking comes from Steven D’Souza’s book Brilliant Networking. Steve tells us that networking is: “the art of being true to your own values, beliefs and character, whilst building and nurturing reciprocal relationships that help individuals, or the group as a whole, to achieve their goals.”

Why would you not want to do that at work?

We’ve all become familiar with the notion of networking outside of work, for example to help get a new job. But I’m constantly surprised how few people apply best practice networking techniques inside their own organisation. This can be to communicate the contribution you and your team make to business success; to build influence; to get a budget; to gain a promotion. But the most important application of networking is far more outward looking than those things: to help other people.

Martin Luther-King once said: “Life’s most urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” Genuine networking is not something you do only when you want something – it is something you do all of the time, as part of the day-to-day rhythm of being at work.

“Why should I help someone else?” you might ask. Because you can, is the simple answer. Think of it as an emotional bank account, where it is always good to be in credit because you never know when you might need to make a withdrawal.

So what does good networking inside the organisation look like in practice? Here are my top 10 networking tips:

1. Do it daily

Make networking something you do day in and day out, as much part of your routine as logging on to your computer and grabbing that first coffee.

2. Be super clear what you can offer others

Authentic networking is as much about giving as receiving. So be confident about what you can offer others: your expertise, experience, time, resources, contacts…

3. Focus your networking activities

Identify the great relationships you have now – and identify who you need to build great relationships with. Be selective about the ‘events’ you attend, from lunch-and-learn sessions to internal symposiums. Look at the attendee list and focus your energies accordingly.

4. Do some digging

Find out as much as you can about the people you want to meet. Try to list 10 things that might help you establish rapport. These can be work-related as well as pastimes, etc. Your existing network might be able to help.

5. Hone your elevator pitch

This will help you establish your credibility the minute you meet someone new. We all know first impressions last, so make it interesting and focus on the difference you can make. Remember to make eye contact – and not with your own shoes, or even theirs! Eye contact means just that, so be confident and meet their gaze.

6. Move in new circles

If you continually fish in the same waters, you’ll catch lots of the same sort of fish. In networking terms, that means you’ll create a depth of contacts in your own field. But a breadth of contacts in new fields might be more helpful in the longer term and will certainly expand your network.

7. Reach out to ‘super-connectors’

These people exist in all walks of life and they’re easy to spot. They’re very popular and they’ve always got company in the canteen line – and it’s a different posse every day. Everyone seems to know these people and they seem to know everyone, including the people you might want to build relationships with. Connect with them and they may be able to connect you.

8. Hail on all frequencies

Just because you like email doesn’t mean your contacts do. So be visible, go and get your own sandwich at lunchtime, speak at events, update your profile on the intranet, get published in the employee newsletter. You can’t be an effective networker and hide. Neil Munz-Jones’ excellent book, The Reluctant Networker can help here. List all of your contact details on your correspondence, including your social media presence. People often reach out via their mobile devices these days.

9. List all the ways you can keep in touch – then keep in touch

This might include sharing interesting articles, commenting on a common interest, inviting people to internal events or speaking opportunities – or you could try the good old fashioned ‘popping by’ or ‘we haven’t spoken in a while’ phone call.

10. Set high personal standards and keep to them

Build trust: return calls when you say you will, follow through on the actions you commit to, introduce people in your networks when you said you would. Become famous internally for being someone who does. Then watch ‘reciprocity’ kick in as other effective networkers follow the example you set and help you grow your network.

I started with a challenging assertion – so let’s end with a call to action. Harness these 10 tips and the power of effective networking inside your business, build really great relationships with all the right people – and you and the work you lead will thrive.

PS If you want to add me to your network, then feel free to connect on LinkedIn or Twitter via the buttons at the top of the page

Next steps

Do people in your organisation need some help on any of this? Axiom offers communication skills workshops.