Making Your Network…Work

Recently, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to witness several strong examples of the positive impact that real, strategic networking can have. 

Being a part of these particular examples got me thinking a bit more about networking and what it truly means in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn.    

What Networking is NOT

Networking is not about creating and updating accounts on Facebook or LinkedIn.

  • Note: These sites can certainly be valuable tools, but only if they are used to help facilitate real, continued interactions with those in your network.

Nor is networking simply about ‘building your rolodex’ (yes, this was once a saying…and yes, these still exist) or accumulating business cards.

True Networking

True networking takes work, a lot of it.  It takes time too.  A deep, effective network isn’t built overnight.

Building an effective network requires regular attention and consistent commitment, beyond ‘working the room’ at cocktail parties and sending out a flurry of boilerplate ‘friend’ requests.

While the ultimate value of your network can perhaps be characterized by what you’re ultimately able to ‘get out of it’ (e.g., help finding a new job, getting advice, etc.), you can’t get to a point where you’re able to extract this value without having first invested a lot of time and attention along the way.     

Stephen Covey’s concept of the ‘Emotional Bank Account’ does a nice job of illustrating this point.    

Covey suggests that, just like with a real bank account, you can only start making withdrawals from it once you’ve first diligently made regular deposits. 

Though it can be reasonably argued that this type of thinking smacks of quid pro quo, that is, your primary motivation for helping others in your network is just ultimately to help yourself, I think it can still be used as a helpful framework. 

If you want your network to be a truly helpful resource when you need it most, you’ll need to make sure that you have ‘positive balances’ throughout, by first being a truly helpful resource yourself.  

Building ‘Positive Balances’

Be proactive. 

Reach out to a contact when you come across an interesting article that you think they might enjoy or when you meet someone that they might benefit from getting to know as well (and make the introduction). 

Small gestures make a difference and you don’t need to have all of the answers.    

What took me a matter of minutes in recent months, connecting a freshman Biology major that I met at an alumni event with a classmate of mine currently in Med School and referring a friend for a new job opportunity by posting his resume to an internal recruiting site, could significantly improve their situations… 

Maybe the freshman Biology major learns which classes will help her best prepare for success in the most competitive Med School programs or perhaps my friend will get the new job that provides a career path which is more in line with his career goals… 

I don’t know the first thing about Biology or Med School and I’m not in a position where I can influence hiring decisions…but to make a positive impact, I didn’t need to be.

Such regular interactions with your network, made without the anticipation of an immediate personal benefit, are exactly what build ‘positive balances.’

Expect a lukewarm reception if the only time you contact your network is when you need/want something.

However, if you’ve taken the time to build relationships and have a ‘positive balance’ in your ‘Emotional Bank Accounts,’ expect that those in your network will be eager to help you in any way that they can. 

Get to Work

If you’re looking to grow the value of your network, start by recognizing that it won’t happen as a result of a few clicks of the mouse on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Heed the advice which the Institute of Management Accountants used to promote their recent member conference…Log Off and Get Connected!

Did you enjoy this post?  If you did, please consider following me on Twitter, subscribing to my RSS Feed or sharing it with your networks using the buttons below. 

I welcome and look forward to your comments!

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