Networking

by Heather White

What most corporates do wrong

Although networking is now considered to be part of the job in many organisations, there are certain mistakes that corporates tend to make when expecting their teams to network. To understand what is happening when networking doesn’t work, you first need to understand what does make it work and confirm that networking is being used in the right way.

When it works

Like those individuals who are natural or willing networkers, corporates that use networking effectively encourage it principally for the following reasons, all of which make perfect sense:

  • Cross selling
  • Succession planning (career development)
  • To save reinventing the wheel
  • Breaking down silo mentality
  • Keeping abreast of ‘stuff’
  • Getting the job done quickly.

Unnatural networkers tend to see things slightly differently: they will use it for succession planning, and they just may do some of the above, though normally only if pushed, but they don’t routinely bear all of the possibilities in mind.

The time when this changes is when they see, feel or experience the benefits and are able to apply some level of process or discipline to networking.

What makes networking effective can be summarised as follows: there is a personal benefit and it’s not just about being forced to do it by the company. Networking can never work well if the person feels pressurised to do it, so if this is important to you, you must find the personal benefits in doing this (see Why you should network).

  1. Networking belongs under the marketing umbrella, whether it’s used for personal or commercial reasons.
  2. Marketing is supposed to create awareness and bring contacts to you; networking acts on the same basis, but it is you who must spread the word along with your ‘champions’ (official or not). (See Creating champions.)
  3. Effective networking secures pipeline opportunities.
  4. An opportunity often arises when you are not present – mostly what happens is that a conversation takes place in which, for example, a situation is presented or a problem is highlighted or there is excitement over a discovery.
  5. If a name is needed to do the ‘job’, will your name be mentioned and if it is, will it be positive or negative comment?
  6. If you are approached, at this point the ‘sell’ process kicks in...
  7. Networking takes you to the opportunity and the selling process will seal the deal.

Unlike other forms of marketing, however, networking it is not anonymous: you have to show up and this is where the problem lies.

Your personal attitude towards networking will shape your approach towards the subject. If you have staff responsibilities, then your attitude and approach will impact on them (that should go without saying).

It is important to raise two more issues here that are very much related to networking: collaboration and time.

  • Collaboration is very strongly linked to networking, though it has many uses, some of which are different to networking. The key issue, however, is that you have to rely on people to collaborate, therefore many of the issues covered in this section will apply if you are struggling to get people to collaborate together.
  • Time is the justification most frequently given to explain why people can’t, won’t or are unable to network. Because it is so important to resolve this issue, please see If only I had more time... for more details.

What prevents your people from networking?

The simplest way to understand what may be preventing your people from networking successfully is to consider the four main categories in the table below.

  1. The policy makers’ policies work against networking.
  1. The individual: the majority of people find networking unnatural, while natural networkers need to hone their skills and refine their approach/strategy.
  1. Departmental divisions are creating barriers.
  1. Line management and team are not in alignment with each other or with buying cycles.

We will briefly explore these four categories; however, three points immediately jump out:

  1. Sometimes the problem is the solution – in other words, my attitude or approach to networking is ‘wrong’, in which case it can be changed
  2. Sometimes the problem can’t be fixed – in other words, annual company-wide restructuring will still happen, so you need to accept the situation as it is and still find a way to network
  3. Sometimes networking simply won’t work, no matter what you do, perhaps because your staff are unwilling to network or you have the wrong staff, in which case you will have to find another marketing tool.
Exercise

Read through the four main headings listed in the table above; note down what is obviously standing in your way, and ask yourself what can be changed.

  • Write down the problem(s). Then write down ten reasons why networking won’t work and ten reasons why it should work.
  • Against the list of ten reasons why it won’t work, turn the situation around and find the ideal solution. Play with this, have fun and be really creative and courageous.
  • Against the ten reasons why it will work, find the reasons why it won’t, turning these won’t into solutions again.
  • Now consider your 30 reasons why it could work, select the best ones and see them through.

1. The policy makers

When it is the policy makers’ policies that are inhibiting successful networking, the four key culprits are

  1. The frequency of restructure or changes to the team or to senior management
  2. The people skills of yesterday are not what are needed today
  3. The reward structure
  4. The teams not aligned to buying cycle or cultures (see The follow up).

The answer to the first two problems is the same, or near enough. To keep up with the times, many corporations must continue to restructure on an annual basis if they are to maintain the confidence of shareholders and keep up with market trends. Equally, the people you have got are the people you have got. Certainly, these people will move on over time, but there is rarely a short-term solution to such problems. However, you may find some helpful suggestions under points 2 and 3, below.

If it is the reward structure that is at fault, this can be better aligned to recognise networking; often, you only need to present a good business case for this.

Though you may be unable to do anything about the frequency of restructuring, you can aim for a better alignment with the buying cycles of your potential clients. A good example would be if you seek to network with government agencies, in which case you should then expect a cycle of between five and ten years. There is therefore no point rotating your teams every year; it simply will not work effectively. You need people who want to be dedicated to Government.

2. The individuals find networking unnatural or must hone their strategy

There are several reasons why the majority of people find networking unnatural:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Dislike of strangers/people
  • Wrong set of Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills
  • Lack of confidence and time
  • They think they have better things to do with life
  • They need proof it works.

The minority – the natural networkers – need to hone and refine their approach/strategy and so, in general terms, you may need to encourage them to

  • Have a wider circle of influential contacts
  • Refine their EI or soft skills
  • Make better use of their network. Some people are simply very nice – perhaps too nice. Over time, they have built up a very good network, but would never ask their contacts for anything. This is often down to fear of rejection, of losing the contact, or of being seen as too pushy. It is, however, a matter of asking people in the right way, rather than not asking at all.
  • Refine their ‘message’ to the market.

You can’t get unnatural networkers to suddenly adopt the attitude of natural networkers. It is like nailing jelly to a wall – it will all slip off. The unnatural networkers will eventually need the same help as the natural people, but this must be approached in stages. Misdirection, a word often associated with magicians, is a word that springs to mind for unnatural networkers: they become masters at misdirection.

Ways to help the unnatural networkers

As a manager, there are various ways in which you can encourage and ‘bring on’ your less effective networkers:

  • Help them experience the benefits of networking; this is very much a matter of explaining ‘what is in it for you’
  • Be very patient, but persist in supporting them; focus on their confidence and after a while you will notice real natural networkers starting to blossom
  • Allow a unique approach to develop; each person has a unique networking style, so encourage different approaches (for example, consider whether this person is better suited to one-to-one approaches or to attending events)
  • Mostly, it is a case of sitting back, doing a complete review of the situation and then refocusing their efforts
  • It is also about testing new approaches and monitoring the feedback
  • It might be that their networking activities are not aligned to the buying culture of the client
  • If they are looking for more meaningful and deeper relationships with people, and see networking as shallow, then as manager you need to allow them to form the type of relationship they are happy with
  • Or it might be a matter of turning around the reasons why they don’t network that are listed above and persuading them, for example, that networking is definitely one of the better things they can do with their life and it works!

And finally, there are some people I would never send out to represent the company – bad move!

3. Departmental divisions are creating barriers

The four key culprits are

  1. Teams are territorial, protecting ‘my turf’ rather than working for the greater good
  2. Cross selling and knowledge sharing are not recognised or rewarded
  3. People are protective/secretive about contacts
  4. People are not receptive to introductions.

The best ways to approach this include the following:

  • Take on a long-term mindset – saves on the emotional energy levels
  • Find willing connectors and influencers
  • Focus only on those units/divisions where you have to do daily business together
  • Find a champion and organise regular events that are social and face to face, but still task-focused
  • Develop other forms of communication channels, such as blogs, Facebook, intranet web site and so on
  • Keep each other up to date with recent case studies
  • Make sure you gain agreement over who wants introductions
  • Develop trust – educate and respect each other.

4. Line management and team

Sometimes the problem is that the line management and the team are either not in alignment with each other or have not synchronised their operations to fit in with the buying cycles of their clients.

When the line management and the team do not share the same approach and expectations, it is usually because one or more of the following factors are operating:

  • There is an expectation that everyone should network
  • Management sees networking as selling
  • They expect quick results
  • There’s no team strategy
  • Management does not encourage sharing of knowledge/contacts
  • Networking is not part of the appraisal process
  • The mindset/attitude of the line manager is creating barriers
  • The manager needs proof it works.

And, as we have explained under When they don’t call back, in The follow up, it is essential to consider the client’s buying cycle and culture when planning your networking strategy.

All of these problems are fixable. The only question is this: how willing you are to allow time to seriously get behind these issues and resolve them? The chief factor that will stop or propel you to take action on these problems will be the level of importance that the organisation places on successful networking, and here we go back to one of the issues already mentioned – the reward structure.