Networking has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools for business people… all professionals, really. It is the lifeblood of professional success. The relationships you cultivate help you to enable sustainable, profitable business… and your own professional development. Networking is one of the most influential business tools you have at your disposal. When you know how to network effectively, you develop a powerful circle of influence – one that will translate into the growth of your business… and your career.
Networking is a deceivingly powerful tool. It covertly enhances your ability to lead and influence other people. The ability to influence within your network depends on how strong your relationships are, on how much attention you command when you engage people in your network, and on how attractive you are as a member of other peoples’ networks. If you are known as a source of deep expertise, for example, and people can rely on you for expert solutions or creative ideas, you will be a more attractive network partner than someone who lacks that expertise. If you know other powerful people and can access them whenever you need to, you will be a more attractive member of the network. Similarly, if you are in a position of authority in your organization and have the ability to make things happen, you will be a more valued network partner. Finally, you the most influence with the people you know best—with long-time colleagues, close friends, and others with whom you have developed mutual trust and respect.
Whether you recognize it or not, just about everyone in the workplace participates in a network. Your network includes the following people:
- Those with whom you collaborate and share information
- The informal group that meets occasionally to discuss how to work together better
- Those on whom you depend when you’re in a jam
- The person in the warehouse you call when you need a critical replacement part for a key customer… ASAP.
- Those who depend on you to make them look good
- The colleague who relies on you to close the sale and ensure a smooth implementation
- Those with whom you have a natural connection—for example, the guy in the finance department who went to your college.
- Those with whom you share important workplace goals
- The people on your product development team
You will not find your network on the organization chart. Your true network is unofficial, ad hoc and held together by mutual needs and common aspirations. It exists and flourishes between the chart boxes. Without a doubt, your network includes those both above and below you in the in the organization.
Whether you leverage it or not, you already have a network. But how much does it contribute to your ability to influence? Logically, your network contributes to the extent that its individual members:
- Have influence of their own that creates a ripple effect
- Are recognized as important contributors to key organizational goals
- Have expertise or knowledge valued by management in diverse organizational units
- Have a reputation for being trustworthy and reliable within their own networks and across the organization (two foundational attributes of influence)
- Consistently demonstrate their support of you and your ideas
- Enjoy access to decision makers
The more your network reflects these qualities, the greater its potential contribution to your personal influence. Developing a network with these qualities requires work on your part. You cannot claim it as your right… you must earn your place every day by:
- Being trustworthy and reliable in your dealings with others
- Providing support and doing favors for network members
- Returning the favors done for you
- Contributing ideas and leadership
- Working with others toward shared goals
A network has no limit on the number of members, nor is it limited to specific departments or operating units. As a critical component of your influence, it will, over time, extend into every area of your life where you’d like to have an impact. Keep your eyes open for new extensions to your network. When you find potential contacts, get to know them on a personal level… find ways to help others be more successful in their work. Share your ideas and gain support. If you do this deliberately over an extended period of time, you will build personal influence and an army of support.
Networking is often considered awkward (at best), but as most people will tell you, it’s rarely “what you know, it’s who you know.” As you continue to make networking a part of your business building strategy, remember to resist the impulse to focus on what you can get – rather focus on who you know. Shift your thinking. What if you ceased to treat networking as a specific marketing or sales methodology? Instead, what if it was an opportunity to develop connections, based on what you bring to the table? This approach will not only make you stand out, it will make you very popular in your network!
Have you built a network of significant influence?