Networking: a process that can fill even the most extrovert with dread.
But why are we actually networking in the first place? What is it all FOR?
The answer is: to build a network.
We all need people that will stand in our corner, or back us up when we need it.
Or people to whom we can turn for advice.
It can make the difference between achieving your goals - or failing to.
There are some people we all need in our working lives:
someone to moan at when things are difficult;
someone to ask for career advice;
someone who knows their way around your organisation or industry.
And then there are people who have technical knowledge that we need at particular times: from Finance or Legal issues to someone to call when your computer breaks.
And finally, there are people in your organisation that can either be helpful or blockers: from the CEO's Private Office to HR.
(These functions are still helpful even if you don't work in a traditional large organisation: a small business needs to understand relevant HR issues; a service provider needs to make sure their contracts are legally effective.)
But the key: no single person can fulfil all of the different roles you might need:
You won’t need a Pal when you’re trying to get something agreed by the Board - you will need a Senior Advocate;
And you won’t need a Sounding Board when you’re trying to find the answer to a technical question - you’ll need an Expert.
So a network is a collective of people that, for individual reasons, will be of use to you at different times and stages of your career.
So who are these people?
Here are the main “types” that you need in your network.
Mentor - someone senior to you, whose opinion you respect, outside your line management (this can be a formalised relationship)
Senior Advocate - someone above you, in your organisation, who will support you when you need it
Sounding Board - colleagues/ friends who understand your job and who can give you advice when you need it
Pal - someone to whinge to, outside your organisation
Mentee - someone you mentor (to help you understand what makes a good mentor, and the perspective of more junior staff)
Industry Expert - someone very knowledgeable about your industry (inside or outside your organisation)
Connector - someone who is a great networker and very well-connected, who can open doors or make introductions
‘Future Self’ - the person doing the job you want in five years time
Subject Expert(s) - people who are skilled in specific aspects of work (from presentation skills to briefing the Board)
Organisation Expert - someone who knows and understands the intricacies and politics of your organisation
Support Staff - the support staff/ Private Offices of key senior people in your organisation and externally
HR/ Finance/ Tech Support/ Legal/ Press and PR - either these functions in your organisation, or someone knowledgeable you can turn to for advice
So, which of these have you already got in your network?
And which of them do you need to find, and cultivate?
Nurture Your Network
Once you’ve identified the right people for your network, how are you going to nurture them so that they are of value to you?
There are many different ways you can do this.
Some ideas include:
Sharing information - from events you've attended, to gossip you've heard Inviting them to attend something with you - a meeting, a networking event
Offering to give them or their staff feedback
Helping them recruit someone
Buying them a book or relevant useful work material
A WhatsApp group with colleagues at your level
A regular phone call/ email/ meeting
Going for coffee/ lunch/ a drink after work
Which of these would work for the individuals in your network?
And how can you make sure you actually do them - for example, can you schedule times in your calendar to nurture the relationship with particularly important individuals?
So there you are: the people you need in your network, and how you can nurture them so that they are there for you, when you want them.
Because that's the key: there's no point identifying the right people if you don't look after them - and there's no point in doing lots of networking, if it's with the wrong people...
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
p.s. if you'd like to find out more about how I can help you get better results by being more strategic about your career - get in touch for a free call: firstname.lastname@example.org.