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The power and potential of networking


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The power and potential of networking

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  2. 2. In the current business environment, it is nolonger enough to build relationships withother executives in the same industry as you.The challenges that face you at the top of thetree require access to cross-sector, cross-region and cross-functional information,because you never know from which sourcea solution may spring. A platform to askquestions and talk to other leaders is crucial.Leap of faith As with social mediaAs a concept, ‘networking’ is never easyto define. On the one hand, it provides abusiness development channel that might ‘chatter’, networkingultimately lead to revenue generation: youcan meet a specific contact that you might environments are wherefind very difficult to enact by any other means.On the other, it can create the opportunityto commercialise serendipity – you simply the next business trends aredon’t know how the contacts you are makingmight benefit you and the organisation discussed and discoveredyou work for further down the track. towards networking. However, by taking this connections that executives need in orderSome executives perceive networking, rather leap of faith and interacting with people and to perform functional tasks in their day job,unhelpfully, as an excuse to sell to those they content that is outside your normal business or perhaps mixing with individuals acrosswouldn’t normally have access to or associate channels, you will stand a better chance of your hierarchy at industry events that sharewith, usually over a glass and canapés. For me, discovering something new and inspiring. the latest sector trends. Personal networksthis is naive and myopic. I believe networking might be perceived separately, as providingis really about being receptive to new Tapping innovation the platform for individual development,opportunities and realising the importance of allowing executives to acquire the necessaryforging lasting business relationships. Once A new reality for today’s executives is that skills, experience and contacts to buildyou’ve opened up lines of communication with the information from which they base their and leverage their personal brand.fresh and potentially information-rich sources, decisions and derive their stimulationyou should, in theory, be better informed comes from many different sources – not However, what’s becoming apparent everyto deal with whatever life throws at you. just from other business leaders. The sign day is that social media increasingly blurs of a good networker is therefore one that the lines between the business and personal.It’s no secret that networking necessitates is curious. I firmly believe that curiosity Networking, both online and offline,stepping outside one’s comfort zone and into will generally lead you to exciting things. embraces this trend wholeheartedly.the unknown. In many cases, this may requirea wholesale re-evaluation of one’s outlook Like the ‘chatter’ of conversations circulating Practice makes perfect social media channels which proves so irresistible for brands monitoring their Those executives that struggle with the idea Community Comment customers, networking environments of networking are commonly the ones that Susan Pointer are where the next business trends are perceive it purely as a business or operational Director of Public Policy & discussed and discovered. If you want task. After all, many executives tend to be very Government Relations EMEA to get ahead of the curve, tapping into transactional and – provided the job, business Google these conversation hubs might allow you “For me, networking is about consciously to identify where there is momentum for Community Comment taking the time to listen to the views specific ideas and decide which individuals of others, to test, scrutinise and then Chris Merry are the most forward-thinking. either add rigour to your own views or Former CEO adapt them based on new knowledge Matrix Group Increasingly, ‘networking’ requires engaging or insight gained. With busy schedules, “As a CEO, you realise quite quickly the and interacting with executives from different it is all too easy to stay within self- importance of your network, particularly walks of life, sometimes in industries that reinforcing circles. The challenge, and when you consider you’ll only be in your the opportunity, is in taking the time might seem entirely leftfield, in order to find current role for three to five years. If to reach over to and participate in new innovative ideas that can be invested back you have worked hard at it, networking circles. This broadens the mind and in into their business. However, some of the really pays off after the age of about 40 turn leads to better informed decision- CEOs I’ve spoken to find that the crossover as that is when you’ll begin to see the making. Often, too, it creates unexpected of ‘personal’ and ‘business’ in networking fruits of those relationships you have alliances and new constructive approaches environments can sit awkwardly with them. cultivated. Your network can help to to addressing an existing challenge shape your career, so the earlier you start built on incorporating the expertise of to build it and engage with it, the more Traditionally, business networking is wider disciplines and experience.” useful it may prove in the long run.” often viewed as the operational, vertical  02
  3. 3. Those executives that struggle withthe idea of networking are commonlythe ones that perceive it purely asa business or operational task and industry are doing well – they simply opportunity decide what your objective Community Comment don’t need to interact outside their current is, who you want to connect with and why. Bob Emmins business environment. Only when change Having a good assistant, who can help Group Finance Director looms large and these same executives to inform you and find the interesting ABF Ingredients step outside their known bounds do they angles, is increasingly important for“Until about five years ago I always begin to see the opportunities, from both executives that network. If you’ve preparedlooked for the payback from networking. a personal and a business perspective. sufficiently, you’ll have been informedI’ve learned that the trick is not to expect by a wide range of different topics, anya benefit. If you go in with an open mind After all, people don’t know what they one of which might provide a usefulyou will usually come away with some don’t know. Only those with strong and ‘starter for 10’. As Louis Pasteur once said,interesting insights. When something trusted relationships will have access “chance favours the prepared mind”.doesn’t come naturally, it is useful to the information they need to beto have regular ‘reminders’ of what successful. The most effective c-suite Long-term paybackone ought to be doing. Increasingly executives have exceptional networkingone often finds one’s own behaviourchanges and what was outside one’s and relationship-forming abilities At its heart, networking is about formingcomfort zone starts to move within. and can call on the right people for business relationships that will stand theFor me, networking is one such area.” advice at a time when it is needed. test of time. Of course, executives don’t Often a change of mindset is required. invest time and energy into networking Some of my most valuable contacts, people without the expectation that they will Community Comment I have known and done business with get something back. But relationship Ian Bowles for many years, were initiated outside a building is a long-term investment. CEO, Allocate Software plc formalised networking environment. If networking is a business skill that is“I used to be in the camp which believes This can be a cultural issue. In the UK, developed over time, the importancethat personal lives and business lives we tend to gravitate towards people with of relationships within this disciplineshould be kept very separate and I whom we share a common interest, and needs to feature more prominently.confess to not being very good at buildingnetworks. I have seen it for too long as we might be more comfortable keeping Executives need to look for opportunitiessomething that other, higher profile these different groups separate. In the to build partnerships rather than makingleaders did, and felt that I was simply US, they better understand the need to a quick sale, understanding that it istoo busy. I now realise that networking is integrate both the ‘business’ and the about give and take and the long-termnot necessarily about someone looking ‘personal’ aspects of interaction – they gains. Only then will executives get real,for something, which has challenged don’t see why a person should behave long-term value out of their previous perspective, and I see differently at work to how they do at home.the increasing need, importance and Based on the many conversations Ipower of leveraging networks.” However, effective networking is a skill have had with our Members, I can that must be practised and honed. All too offer the following advice to those Community Comment often, executives perceive networking as executives striving to be more effective providing very little immediate or tangible at developing their networks: Niall Trafford, COO payback. Yet those that are in it for a quick and Director of Sustainable Development, BRE Group win, focusing exclusively on who can help • Be real: insincerity is obvious and them overcome current problems rather ugly, so be yourself and talk about“A network necessarily must extend than laying the foundations for a longer, what you are passionate about – don’toutside the familiar boundaries of your more rewarding point of contact, are be there if you can’t see the valueown organisation no matter how big.It takes work, time and a degree of missing the point. Similarly, those that feel • Be memorable: don’t just repeat what determination operating sometimes they don’t have time to spend on anyone others want to hear, find a differentoutside of one’s own comfort zone. that is not 100 per cent relevant to their angle and make a lasting impactGetting back what you put in is not immediate needs are simply not thinking • Be curious: be attentive to interesting always in equal measure nor should you laterally. You can’t just dip your toe in and anecdotes, ask intelligent questionsexpect it to be. In time, the experience expect to glean the value of networking. You and challenge the status quo – keybecomes natural and pleasurable either jump in, feet first, or don’t bother. to breaking into any clique is beingas you learn new things from wide able to present an alternative viewranging experience and skills. Expect Key to honing your ability to network isthe unexpected and have fun.” preparation. Before every networking © Criticaleye 2011  03