You’re always busy: at home, at work and even at the gym. You have a nice group of friends you socialize with on a regular basis, and you know everybody you need to know to do your job well. Plus, you meet plenty of new people at the couple of conferences you attend each year. So with your busy schedule, you really don’t want to spend valuable time on networking. And you don’t think you need to. Unfortunately, you could be wrong.
According to Herminia Ibarra, INSEAD Professor of Organizational Behaviour, failing to network can be a fatal career mistake. She says, “What you know is who you know.” In other words, if you’re a manager, having professional relationships that reach beyond your immediate scope of work is equally important as possessing knowledge in your field of expertise. Why? Because the relationships you have will allow you to increase your knowledge and put it into practice in a way that’s beneficial to your organization—and yourself.
So how can you effectively build a network that will benefit both your company and your own career advancement? First, you need to distinguish the different types of networks.
The Three Types of Networks
Not all networks are created equal. By knowing who fits in what type of network as well as the purpose of that network, you’ll gain a better understanding of how each element fits into your overall networking strategy.
- The operational network. Your operational network consists of people you work with to get your current job done. The key players are relevant to the task at hand and share a common goal. The purpose of your operational network is to perform your job as effectively as possible while maintaining and enhancing the achievements of the entire group. Your relationship with people in your operational network is all about depth: You want to build solid working relationships.
- The personal network. Your personal network is primarily made up of people you know through social or recreational activities. Because you have no obligation to interact with them and can’t predict their relevance to your career plans, whom you add to this network is left to your discretion. This network is all about breadth and connecting with people who might make personal or professional referrals in the future.
- The strategic network. Your strategic network consists of key contacts you meet in a professional context and who might be in a position to help you or your organization at some point in time. By knowing your own and your organization’s plans for the future, you can strategize how other business leaders or professionals can play key roles in overcoming challenges and developing new opportunities. Your strategic network is all about building leverage for future developments.
Tips for Networking with Other Leaders
So now you know what type of networks you need; how do you build them?
- Attend events. Whether it’s a social event that other local business leaders attend or a conference for professionals from across the country, attending events where you can mingle with others in a social or professional setting gives you face-to-face time and the opportunity to make new connections.
- Find a mentor. No matter where you are in your career, you can benefit from the knowledge and insights of somebody who has gone before you. Reach out to somebody who is willing to advise you every now and then and introduce you to his or her contacts.
- Continue to expand your knowledge, and engage with others. As a manager, you should actively continue to develop your leadership skills. Seek out opportunities to do so, such as enrolling in professional associations, scheduling speaking engagements about leadership topics and even becoming a mentor yourself. Remember, the people you meet might be the business leaders of the future.
- Use social media to your advantage. Social media allows you to easily connect with others and expand your network. In addition to joining social media sites like LinkedIn, consider subscribing to a blog on a professional topic and contributing to the discussion, or consider even writing your own blog.
- Maintain your connections. The key to maintaining a good network is to cultivate your contacts. Social media platforms can be a great way to post updates and promote engagement with contacts you don’t see on a daily basis. In addition, reaching out to somebody personally to connect is a respectful way to strengthen a relationship.
Though it can be time-consuming, networking is a proven way to help advance your career, so set the necessary time aside each week to strengthen your existing contacts and make new ones. Even if you don’t see the relevance right away, you’ll benefit from having a strong network as your career progresses.