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CIPD feature article on Strategic Business Networking


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DDNS Consulting Ltd specialises in developing people connections via Strategic Business Networking ®.

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CIPD feature article on Strategic Business Networking

  1. 1. WORKTHE ROOM… ANDGET OUTALIVENetworking has become a necessary evil for the modern HR professional. But it doesn’t have to be so nerve-shredding WORDS GRACE LEWIS N etworking is the second-most dreaded task on to-do lists after public speaking, according to Andy Lopata and Peter Roper, authors of …and Death came Third. Even the head of the UK and Ireland’s biggest networking and referring organisation, BNI, Charlie Lawson, admits he hates it: “My natural preference is not to be out there.” And yet, we do it in ever-expanding numbers. In a globally connected world, the idea has become synonymous with career progression and development. “In personal terms, your network is your net worth,” says business psychologist Darryl Howes. These days it’s not just about who you know, it’s about how well you know them, who they know and whether you’ll make a connection. That means every event should be seen as an opportunity to connect. The average business professional has 1,000 contacts, according to Lawson, which means if you engaged with 40 people in one room, you could be walking away with up to 40,000 possible connections. “That’s when networking gets interesting,” he says. But being more connected doesn’t always mean better connected, and these two lines of thought have the experts divided, says Howes: “Should we build narrow but deep networks, with few names but solid relationships based on highly specific mutual interests or common experiences?” he asks, citing the example of university alumni networks. The alternative concept is based on the principle of ‘weak ties’ originally set out by Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter. “No relationships are excluded or dismissed… you’re going as broadly as possible,” Howes says. It’s women who favour the smaller network, according to research from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), and while they are generally better than their male counterparts at developing and maintaining relationships, women often fail to use their carefully crafted professional networks to their full potential, turning instead to their family for advice. “The more connected you are, the more people in your network you have, the more you can rely on someone within that band to help you out,” says Perry Timms, CIPD adviser and founder and director of People and Transformational HR, whose years of networking have earned him a diary full of contacts. But “networking can be done clumsily, over- eagerly and just downright noisily –and that isn’t effective. Considered, genuine, gentle networking is always the best way.” No professional should embark on the process of building and maintaining connections with selfish intentions, says Devora Zack, author of Networking for People who Hate Networking. A good networking bond should have “shared positive outcomes,” in which both participants are benefitting from and contributing to a relationship equally. “Professional networking is a bit like dating; if you leave it until you are actively job-seeking then your approach can become desperate and nobody will want to connect with you,” says Elouise Leonard-Cross, head of organisational development and learning at HomeGroup. “It’s no good networking only when you need something. You have to build a network and contribute to it throughout your career.” On paper, it sounds like a lot of time and effort. Luckily, there are some basic techniques that anyone can learn and still reap the benefits. When starting out, it’s natural to feel a pang of nerves when approaching a room full of strangers: it’s that physiological fight or flight response, says Zack. Loaded phrases like ‘natural networker’ and ‘expert connector’ are also adding unnecessary pressure, says Howes: “Leave ‘working the room’ to the Hollywood film directors,” he advises. Instead, set small, achievable targets. These days, being considered shy, quiet, or an introvert is a poor excuse for avoiding networking events. Barack Obama, JK Rowling and Apple co- founder Steve Wozniak all fall into the ‘introversion’ camp and there’s no doubt they’ve had to make a few valued connections along the way. The key is to be resilient: “Building a professional 32 33 Choose your quarry At the doorCome armed Don’t go in cold Spendtimelookingatthedelegate listandresearchingtheevent speakers,saysBNI’sCharlie Lawson–andhaveagoalinmind. “Saytoyourself:‘Iplantohaveat leastthreeenjoyableconversations, withthepotentialforafollow-up discussion,’”saysbusiness psychologistDarrylHowes. BusinessNetworkInternational(BNI) hasover150,000membersworldwide andrunsseveraleventsacrosstheUK everymonth.Forsmaller,morespecific get-togethers,HomeGroup’sElouise Leonard-Crossrecommendssigning uptoindustrynewsletters,askingyour colleaguesandcheckingoutwhatCIPD regionalbrancheshavetooffer. Arriveearly,beforethe‘cliques’ havealreadyformed,andscan thenametagtablefornamesyou recognise.Onefinallookinthe mirror,andachecktoseeifyour namebadgeisclearlyvisible andyou’rereadytofacethe music.Tip:aspellingmistakeon yournametagcouldbeagreat conversationstarter. Packyourbusinesscards,apen andyourmobileandpreparea few ‘tidbits’aboutyourselfthat youdon’tmindsharingtogetthe conversationstarted,saysauthor DevoraZack.“Ialsoliketogowith twoorthreerecentdevelopmentsin myorganisationorareaofinterest thatIcantalktoattendeesabout,” Leonard-Crossadds. HOWTO
  2. 2. network starts with being comfortable with ‘brand you’,” says Leonard-Cross. “Being authentic helps the value people gain from networking,” and ultimately helps stop you becoming that annoying sales guy we’ve all tried to avoid at networking events, says Howes. New technology has made networking a lot easier, allowing us to connect on a global level and creating a level playing field for employees at all levels, but the end goal should always be to connect face-to-face. “Online networking simply serves as a stepping stone to take things to the next level,” says Howes. now an essential element of most good recruitment campaigns and are the top source for quality placements, doubling in size over the past four years. But it’s not just jobseekers that could benefit from a well-networked HR professional. “HR is the people profession, so relationships are a key part of the success of practitioners inside and outside organisations,” Timms says. For Leonard-Cross it comes down to curiosity: “As an HR professional I think you have to keep asking questions, going beyond your department, industry or sector and keep challenging assumptions.” But the more reserved HR team member needn’t be put off. “Networking is a subject you can study. It is a topic you can read up on, and a skill that you can practise,” says Lawson, who questions why, if the skill is so important to business life, none of the UK’s universities offers ‘networking’ as a standalone course. “Unfortunately you can’t face-to-face network from the garden shed, so the first point is to get out there and have a go,” Howes adds. ✶ReadPeopleManagement’sguidetobeingabetterHR A s well as being appointed the world’s first networking professor, at Cass Business School in 2011, Julia Hobsbawn recently presented Network Nation on BBC Radio 4. She reveals why HR professionals need to alter their understanding of the term. Why does our idea of ‘networking’ need to change? People think networking is easy – that it’s simply about adding people to your social networks. But we can’t devolve the responsibility for cultivating relationships to websites. What are the hallmarks of a true ‘networker’? A networker embeds practices into their daily lives that fundamentally affect how they interact with others and which, through knowledge transfer, could even impact their company’s bottom line. People make the mistake of thinking networking is very transactional – that one good turn results in another. The truth is that it’s a much longer-term project. True networkers don’t look for instant gain. The impacts often aren’t immediate or obvious, and come about in unusual ways. I spend “It’snot about instant wins”Uber-networkerJulia Hobsbawnjoinsthedots only a third of my time networking expectingsomethinginreturn;therest is spent meeting with people without knowing what the outcomes might be. How does someone become a better networker? Social networks are merely databases until you add the real social element to it, so being a networker is all about face-to-face interaction with small, close-knit groups of people. The greatest value comes from reconnecting with people you know already: research shows you can only maintain meaningful relationships with 150 people. You should spend at least 8-10 hours a week networking, in person or by phone or email. Social media should be a last resort. AreHRprofessionalsgood networkers? Generally speaking, they aren’t because they are still trying to answer outdated questions about whether or not they can network outside their company, how they might do it, and why. HR professionals can also be reluctant to promote the idea of the ‘blended self’. But they can be good networkers if they allow it to happen. Great networking is highly nuanced, and is about creating boundaries. It’s just as important for HR directors to say they don’t think someone is a useful contact as it is to accept them into their hierarchy. How can busy organisations justify freeing their employees to spend time networking? Organisationscan’taffordnottolet peoplenetwork.Goodemployers knowthatnetworking produces more well-rounded people. Networking is about collaboration with others, and advancing the interests of yourself and your organisation, not only seeking your next job. My one wish is for employers to quadruple their travel and entertaining budgets to facilitate this. Would networking be more acceptable if return on investment could be quantified? Good networking isn’t all about gain, but there is a need to measure its effectiveness. Networking events should bring together communities of people worth meeting with content that’s worth learning about. I think networking will also soon be seen as part of our ‘social health’ – how we value and use our time. Hobsbawn says employers should quadruple the budgets associated with networking Consistently ranked as one of LinkedIn’s most connected women, Jenny DeVaughn, senior director of employment branding and sourcing at ADP, set herself the goal of connecting with three new people on the online platform every day. DeVaughn calls on her thousands of contacts whenever ADP is entering a new market and looking to recruit locally. “We ask very specific questions about who we should target,” she says. “You’d be amazed at the expert and valuable responses we get.” The latest UK Staffing Trends survey says social professional networks are INTERVIEW PETER CRUSH PHOTOGRAPHY ANDRES REYNAGA 34 35 Hang by the crudités Come here often? “Food stations offer a temporary place and purpose... and as others arrive, many one-liners are at your disposal,” says Zack. “Nice selection… where do they get such great strawberries from at this time of year?” Keepafewopeninglinesinyour backpocket,saysLawson:‘Haveyou travelledfartoday?’‘Whatareyou workingonatthemoment?’‘It’smy firsttimehere,doyoumindifIjoin yourconversation?’“Smalltalkis oftendismissedasbeingsuperfluous, butactuallyitconfirmsyouasafully fledgedmemberofthehumanrace… anditisalsoausefulbridgetobusiness conversation,”saysHowes. The vital follow-up “I start my follow up as soon as I’ve left the event… I may even find a quiet corner of the room where the event is taking place,” says Lawson. Catch up with your network every couple of months: send them a link to a blog, or use LinkedIn to keep them updated. A graceful goodbye “Ending a conversation gracefully is a valuable skill,” says Zack. The phrase ‘it was great meeting you’ teamed with a handshake sends a clear but polite message. Remember to swap business cards and promise to follow up on the meet. Get to the point Honesty is the best policy when you’re trying to move the conversation on, says CIPD adviser Perry Timms: “There’s nothing wrong with being honest about why you’re there, and what you hope to get out of the event shouldn’t do you any harm.” Remember to “be curious and interested in what others are saying and they’ll be the same with you,” he says. Take a breather Afterafewsuccessful conversations,takenoteofwho you’vespokentoandwhatyou’ve discussed,advisesLeonard- Cross.It’snottooearlytostart contributingtoyournetworkeither. Introduceoneofyournewcontacts toanotherintheroomandkeep theconversationsflowing. SUPERSTOCK