Networking is Even More Important
and More Powerful for Business
than for Personal Purposes

By Wayne Baker, Ph.D.

Think back to a cocktail party you recently attended. You will recall that there were guests who seemed to know almost everyone in the room, moving from group to group with great ease, leaving no hand unshaken. Others, meanwhile, stood either alone or with just one other person for what seemed like hours, chatting stiffly and appearing as if they couldn't wait to be on their way home. Which type would you expect to accomplish more in his or her career? Why? The ability to relate well with others is a sign of a person's mastery of the art of networking.

In the traditional corporate culture that existed until the 1980s, an executive gave an order and subordinates were expected to follow it — no questions asked. Today, companies are constantly reorganizing. Clear cut lines of authority have faded.

One result: The actions and attitudes of superiors, subordinates, colleagues, customers, suppliers, competitors and government regulators are more important than ever to the success of your efforts, because each individual plays a key role in today's tight, anti-bureaucratic world. How well you do your job ... your pay raises and promotions ... depend on your ability to network with all of these different people. In addition, in today's downsized business climate, the people whose help you need to get your job done may be located in another department ... another company ... or even on another continent.

To build a network — and help others build networks — managers must learn to use five key principles... Relationships are a basic human need. Helping other people fulfill their need for relationships helps you, too.

Example: If you form lasting relationships with suppliers they will be more likely to come through for you in a pinch. Your fuel oil dealer, for example, will supply you during a shortage, if he trusts you to stick with him when competition heats up.

People tend to do what is expected of them. If you expect the best of people, they will usually meet that standard. If you expect less, you will get less. Smart networking means building strong relationships that benefit both sides. You can't buy this kind of dedication with monetary rewards, for two reasons: It costs the company too much... and employees resent the thought that they are being bought like commodities.

Lesson: Convey expectations of high performance by encouraging input in the goal-setting process ... not to set basic strategy, but to decide how to achieve company goals. Invest time and effort in employee training ... give employees challenging assignments. Supply frequent feedback in as positive a way as possible, using past performance as a guide for future improvement. The result of these efforts will be enthusiasm on the part of members of your group, which invariably creates a strong foundation for lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

People tend to associate with others similar to themselves. This tendency has both positive and negative consequences.

Advantage: By bringing together people with similar interests, you can build strong creative teams. This helps you, the manager, to earn the respect and cooperation of a wider spectrum of specialists.

Example: Putting company scientists and engineers into one building, rather than segregating them by specialty, helps to generate innovative products.

Downside: When people associate exclusively with others similar to themselves, they lose touch with the real world.

Example: Senior executives who avoid contact with the rank and file often find out about serious problems only when it's already too late.

Repeated interaction encourages cooperation. People who repeatedly come into contact with each other tend to develop positive relationships, especially when they share a common goal.

Example: When you set up a task force, encourage maximum cooperation by providing a reward for the entire group

when it achieves its goal. Consider a compensation arrangement like that used by AT&T Global Information Solutions (formerly NCR), where raises depend 50% on individual performance — and 50% on the results of the entire unit.

It's a small world. You are surprisingly close to critical information, resources and people. The average professional knows 3,500 people directly... and each of those people has a similar number of contacts.

Lesson: Just a few well-placed phone calls to friends — and friends of friends — can get you in touch with almost anybody in the country. You will have a much better chance of forming a new relationship quickly if you can use the name of a mutual acquaintance — even someone you don't really know very well to introduce yourself to your target.

In addition to the five principles, effective networking depends on managing your personal relationships in three directions...

Up, with your bosses...

Down, with your subordinates...

Laterally, with peers inside and outside the company.

In all three directions, effective networking means that you identify key relationships, build mutual understanding and act in ways that benefit both sides.

Right now:
Make a list of critical contacts — those relationships that are particularly important for your effectiveness. Identify critical gaps — personal relationships you need but don't yet have.

Important: Don't rely on memory. For two weeks, keep a log of all your interactions — who, what, where, why. Put each person on a card and arrange the cards in order of the importance of the relationship. This will tell you how you should be dividing your time.

Next: Work to improve your critical relationships. Think of what the other people need and find ways you can help them do their jobs better. Fill the gaps. Get together with new people who are important to you... have yourself introduced or introduce yourself ... invite them to lunch.

In the long run: Get used to continuously appraising all of your relationships and try to get and give as much feedback as possible. Networking is a lifelong project.

From Boardroom Reports.


All Material©2000 Humax Corporation