Before we were rudely interrupted by the pressing need to get paid I was talking about networking…
I’d left you with a couple of conclusions – that women tend to be better at networking than men, and that quality is more important than quantity. Two American academics – Rob Cross and Robert Thomas – claim to have proven this last point scientifically, and also say that they’ve produced a formula for getting the most from networking. As so many of us spend so much time with a coffee cup in one hand and a stranger’s business card in the other, it seemed worth looking at their ideas – after all, you don’t simply go to these meetings for a bacon sandwich. (Do you?)
Cross & Thomas suggested ‘four steps to building a better network.’ What comes next may be slightly too American for some of you, but I think there are some useful lessons.
The first point they made was that really effective core networks tend to be small: typically ranging from 12 to 18 people – so that’s emphatically quality over quantity. And a good network isn’t all about work either. The happier you are, the more successful you’re likely to be in business, so it’s important that you have ties to people who provide personal support, who give you a sense of worth and above all, who help you keep a healthy work/life balance. Whether it’s sport, education, hobbies, volunteer work or religion, you need to do something outside the office. All work and no play makes Jack a dull – and not very successful – boy.
Lesson number two was to get rid of people who “de-energize” you. Being from a corporate background, I’d come across my fair share of official office pessimists – and one cardinal rule I had when I started my business was that I’d only deal with people who made me feel positive: people who made me feel better about myself. To paraphrase JFK, that I’d spend my time with people who said “why not?” as opposed to those who simply said “why?”
So that’s a cardinal rule for a successful network – it should contain positive people who are going to contribute something to your life. And if someone simply sucks the life-blood out of you, then you’ve only yourself to blame if they stay in your network.
Thirdly, it’s all about balance. Cross & Thomas looked for six categories of support that you should have in your network. They suggested people that provide you with information; with support, experience and influence; personal development; personal support; a sense of purpose/worth; and your work/life balance.
One of the most interesting points they made was about experience. Yes, you need people from inside and outside work. But you need people who’ve stopped work as well. The research showed that executives with the most effective networks connected with people who’d “been there and done it” – and could now stand back and look at things with a sense of detachment and perspective.
The final key strategy? Get your pencil and paper out. Jot down your ten or twelve key connections. Now list three or four of your goals. The next step is obvious – draw a few lines. I’m prepared to bet that virtually no-one reading this blog has ever done that exercise; but having just done it myself, I can also guarantee that you’ll have a light bulb moment where you think, “Duh…why didn’t I ever talk to her about that?”
Finally, a comment from me. What was it Stephen Covey said? ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’ I think – and the research confirms it – that successful networking is just the same. It’s a two-way street. Seek first to understand how you can help someone else; information, help, support and contacts – they all flow two ways.
Oh. One other thing. An apology for last week. As many of you know, the blog was late. My technology decided to have the morning off and I didn’t manage to send the blog until Friday night. My apologies for that – and as always, have a great weekend.