How To Become a Networking Rock Star
You have been successful in your field and climbed high at your company, but you still feel like you are lacking the innovative mindset needed to move any further. You want to draw in new clients and create a dynamic new supply chain process, but haven’t ever spoken with certain managers and department heads who can help you achieve these objectives. Without networking skills, you might as well kiss any future promotions goodbye.
Why is networking so important for executives?
Networking is an essential component for executives across any industry. It is all about building mutually beneficial relationships that will not only broaden your sphere of influence but also provide you with the support you need to further your professional development.
A study published in Harvard Business Review followed 30 managers over the course of two years and discovered that networking — the process of crafting a web of contacts who provide feedback, insight information, resources and support — is one of the most necessary and dreaded tasks of their job. The study found there to be three unique but interdependent forms of networking: personal, operational (with the people you interact with every day for work) and strategic, those who are outside the immediate business unit and where ties are forged by reaching laterally or vertically beyond the confines of your immediate work circle. While personal and operational motives are valuable, HBR argues that strategic is the most ideal form of networking because it “plugs the aspiring leader into a set of relationships and information sources that collectively embody the power to achieve personal and organizational goals.”
Are you unlocking your fullest networking potential?
The purpose of personal networking is to enhance “personal and professional development” and provide “referrals to useful information and contacts.” Someone’s personal network can be vast and largely external, as it is made up of discretionary links to individuals who share something in common with the executive.
One example is if you are passionate about a particular sports team and attend a networking conference in another city. You bond with several people who share your love of the team and thus, begin creating your independent network that is likely separate from other contacts you may meet. While beneficial, the scope is narrow.
Meanwhile, an operational network is all about getting work done easily and efficiently. An essential tenet of being part of this group is maintaining functional capacity and keep the process running smoothly. As an operational networker, you may build rapport with your direct reports, coworkers, managers and others involved in your direct supply chain or customer base. While effective, this particular method is limited, as it focuses more on achieving objectives than broadening your market reach.
Strategic networking is the most beneficial approach. Not only will you figure out future priorities and opportunities, but you can actively seek stakeholder support as well. Essentially, as a networker, you expand your narrow focus to include people of all backgrounds, objectives, roles and more to gain a comprehensive view about your field or anything that could impact your business in the future.
While strategic networking is ideal, if you want to become an effective networker, you must employ all three of these techniques to become successful. However, the question remains: Just how can I become a skilled networker?
What are three tips that will help me network like a rock star?
One of the most important facts to remember is that you don’t have to be charismatic or a naturally gifted public speaker to network well. Though it may be stressful at first, remember that the more you put yourself in networking situations, the easier it will become. If you are still unsure about what to do, here are three tips that will help you network like a rock star:
1 Be personal and don’t forget to follow up
Don’t just ask for business cards — take the time to invest in these relationships!
Approach networking as a combination of doing your job and making friends. When making friends, you rarely get right to the point and tell someone, “We are friends now.” You spend time getting to know each other and exploring similar interests.
However, you also attend conferences and meetings with the intention to meet people and create new contacts. Be friendly and ask what brings them to the event and then let the conversation flow naturally from there. Don’t force anything and be open about your intentions without seeming pushy. Also, don’t forget to follow up! What good is making new contacts if you never touch base with them again?
2 Don’t forget to hone your online presence
In today’s technologically driven world, social media and online platforms play an important part in modern networking techniques. While you likely already have a LinkedIn page or Twitter account, are you using them strategically? Be active in online forums in your industry and take time to connect with old acquaintances and coworkers who may have fallen to the wayside. Maybe one of your high school friends is now working for a company you want to attract as a new client!
2 Enlist the help of an executive coach
Whether the thought of networking makes you nervous or you are struggling to expand your existing contact base, an executive coach can help you reach your fullest potential. Coaches provide unbiased viewpoints and feedback that will help you create a strategic plan for how you can improve your skills, thus becoming a networking rock star. While you have the ability to succeed, sometime it takes the guidance and accountability offered by an executive coach to help you bridge the gap.