Guest Blog by Kingsley Aikins
The Power of Networking — now more important than ever.
It might appear a little bizarre to be writing about networking given the current COVID-19 situation, but the reality is that social selling is more important than ever. Companies are going to have to reconsider their staff structures and individuals are going to have to reconsider their career options. In that process, their networks are going to be critically important.
Networking is the essential ‘glue’ to survive and thrive.
This pandemic is turning out to be a tornado with a very long tale, ushering in a period of great disruption and turbulence, but also opportunity. I think it is important to recognize that, pre-pandemic, we were already going through a time of great change. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation were obliterating whole sectors of industry. We were in a period marked by VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Change was in the air, and as one economist put it, "Change is happening now faster than ever before and never will be as slow again."
COVID put a rocket booster to this evolution. It was the Russian leader Lenin who once said, “Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens and then weeks pass and decades happen.” Quite simply — we don’t know today what tomorrow will bring. The challenge for all of us is not to get down, but to get ready.
Physically distancing, socially connecting.
Governments around the world are asking us to come together by staying apart. We are being required to social distance, which is perhaps a misnomer. We should be physically distancing but also finding ways to socially connect. A core truth about business is that everything comes back to connections.
Networks are first and foremost built upon a very basic human need — enjoying people.
We all know that one introduction or conversation can change our lives, but they don’t happen while lying in bed or sitting at your desk. They happen when you are in motion, when you break your routines and when you talk to people you don’t know.
The challenge now is how to network when you can’t network. Or, at least, you can’t network in the traditional way through coffees, lunches and dinners or going to conferences and industry events. There are no serendipitous events, no chance encounters and no random catchups. That leaves only one option. To focus on developing your online identity and hone in on social selling.
The possibility of developing an online ‘tribe’ of supporters now exists. For business people, the online medium of choice is LinkedIn. Globally, over 700 million people have told this single company their educational details, work experience and personal interests in its entirety. They have also made these available for everybody and for free — a very compelling price point.
Finding your virtual tribe.
Like many others, I have embraced Zoom amongst other virtual platforms. I have to admit, after having hosted over 90 webinars in 11 countries, I am pretty ‘zoomed out’. Although missing and, quite frankly, preferring, the more traditional face-to-face contact from pre-COVID19 days, I do think there are certain advantages that come with being active on virtual platforms.
Virtually, we are not geographically restricted, and we can connect with anybody, anywhere, anytime and for free. We don’t have to waste time, money, travel, carbon footprint and ‘grooming time’ to fly off to see somebody, and nothing happens. Conveniently, everyone is available all the time (nobody can go anywhere...!!!)and people are spending more time online than ever before in history.
In short, then, we know where people are, we can find out a lot about them, we know they are online and we know they are available. Accordingly, when we eventually exit COVID19 and re-continue our more traditional forms of networking, we will have a new additional tribe of contacts. It sounds like a win-win that mightn’t have happened were it not for the pandemic.
What can you do right now?
Something else we can do during lockdown is an audit of our network keeping the following brutal question in mind — Is my network good enough for where I want to be in the next three years? The only way you can be sure of this is to audit your network. With social selling comfortably in the back of your mind, take the opportunity of being at home to print off your network and divide it into 4 categories as follows –
Contact – a name on your database and, for the life of you, you can’t recollect who they are. You must have met them at a conference or on a flight and exchanged business cards. This is a pretty weak connection.
Connection – If they called you, you would know who they are and, if you called them, they would know who you are. There is nothing happening between you, but there is a degree of familiarity.
Relationship – You know each other, you are doing something together, you like each other and you trust each other.
Friend – I have people I work with who are friends, and I have friends who are friends. My definition of this category – and I don’t have many in this category – is someone I could call on their cell phone on a Sunday afternoon.
When you do this audit, you will discover a number of things as follows —
- You can clean up your network and get rid of redundant entries.
- You will see where you have some real gaps in your network (e.g. you know nobody in law, aircraft leasing, re-insurance, lives in London etc.), and you can take action to fill those gaps.
- You will realize you had some great connections in the past, and you have let them slip. Nothing untoward happened. Just life got in the way, and you took different paths. It is worth reconnecting on a regular basis with dormant connections, and you can often continue on where you left off. Also, like you, they have progressed with their careers and built their own networks. There may well be some overlaps and connections in common.
Networking — work hard at it.
Now you have put some shape on your network, tidied it up, spotted gaps and identified lapsed connections to reconnect with. This is a very valuable and worthwhile exercise and will help you assess your network and indicate where you need to take action.
Networking is a critical soft skill that is part of your social capital. It is not taught at school or college, and companies generally don’t have strategies for it, yet everybody agrees it is critically important for career progression. Time spent on developing a strong and diverse network is time well spent and will help you build a competitive advantage. Most people won’t make the effort. If you do, it will put you ahead.
Ask questions before giving opinions
- Expect surprises
Try something new regularly
- Give the power of attention
- Be a giver, not a taker
- At events, act like a host — introduce people
- Focus on being interested rather than interesting
- Practice purposeful networking
- Be authentic
- Remember small things about people
- Spend time with energetic people — seek out connectors
- Re-organize your life to increase your chances of unexpectedly bumping into somebody who can tell you something useful
- Ask to be introduced
- Help people become insiders
- Have a written down thank you strategy
- Clip and send articles and send handwritten notes and PS's
- Never leave thank you 'naked'
- You will be judged by others, like it or not, on first impressions
- Know what is happening in people's lives and wish them luck
- It's all about trust
- Look after the gatekeepers
- Watch and involve spouses even/especially if they are quiet
- Build weak connections
- People will forget what you said and what you did before they forget how you made them feel
- Develop an invitational mindset
- 80% of success in networking comes not from meeting new people but from maintaining contact with your existing network.
- Keep your word
- Talk to a competitor
- Send something in advance of the meeting
- Always have the next project in mind
- A contact is a seed — a relationship is a tree
- Remember the 3 key questions in every meeting (How can I help you? If you were me...? Who do you know who...?)
- Return every call every day
- Ask for a repeat performance
- Ask for advice
- Take notes even if you don't need to
- Spend time with great networkers
- Build public knowledge and private knowledge
- Business is a contact sport
- The higher you climb in your career the more your success depends on your ability to communicate effectively
- Creativity is not a solitary process
- Organizations are deeply siloed
- Become the 'got to' person on a topic
- The global war for talent is over
- Recognize and reward continuous and cumulative support
- Get out — your desk is a dangerous place to view the world
- Realize that life is a game of inches and you only have the be a little bit better
- Today's level of success and achievement will not win medals tomorrow
- Networking — work hard at it
CEO | The Networking Institute
This blog was written by Kingsley Aikins, CEO of The Networking Institute.
The Networking Institute has worked with over 100 companies, in 30 countries, non-profits and governments as they seek to embed Networking as a core competency and an essential life skill to achieve their goals.
Be sure to connect with Kingsley on LinkedIn!