Political Intelligence

by Don Morley and David Bancroft-Turner

Networking – the third key skill

It has never been truer that who you know can often be at least as important as what you know. You will rarely see a successful professional politician who is not very well connected. It is no different in organisations. Surprisingly, little attention is given to the subject in the form of workshops or, indeed, any significant recognition in management and leadership competency profiles. Perhaps the assumption is that we all network naturally. This is simply not the case.

The purpose

Even if you are a natural networker, it remains important to be clear on the purpose of your network and to introduce a discipline into finding, building and maintaining relationships with appropriate people.

Key tip

The foundation of any network is to keep clearly in mind that you start from a giving perspective – be it support, advice or guidance – rather than what you can take from the relationship.

If you focus mainly on what you can get out of your network, you will find that it shrinks rather than grows over time.

The politically intelligent approach calls for a genuine interest in the issues, problems, needs and concerns of others, which will invariably influence their behaviour towards you. Obviously, the more people you know, the more people know you, and visibility is important in organisational politics. It also becomes a virtuous circle: as you add more contacts, their contacts also become part of your network. Pretty soon, people will start approaching you because you are seen as worth knowing, on account of your contacts!

The process

First, pinpoint the areas where you might be lacking in terms of information, influence or expertise. Next, consider channels through which you might come into contact with appropriate individuals. Clubs, societies, professional bodies, conferences and breakfast briefings are just some of the places where the ‘right’ contacts can be made.

Building the relationship can take many forms, from socialising and natural one-to-one interactions, through to the more formal request for a meeting or discussion. Your approach should focus on getting others to talk rather than being seen as primarily interested in your own agenda. Displaying interest in others creates the climate for a mutual sharing of views, feelings and information.

Maintaining your network requires discipline. A good start is to ensure it remains up to date. This is not simply a case of getting follow-on addresses and numbers when someone moves. There are all manner of changes in circumstances or details that it would be helpful to record in a system of some sort to avoid being embarrassed on the next occasion you meet up. Making contact at appropriate intervals or on meaningful occasions is also highly important if the relationship is not to decline over time. The best and deepest relationships are usually those that have survived the test of time.

The challenge

For some people, particularly introverts, it is a challenge to take the initiative in meeting new contacts. Even for them, it becomes somewhat easier if they are convinced of the importance of it.

From research, it is apparent that there is a positive correlation between successful individuals and the quality of their network. Quantity is not everything. You can have so many in your network that you don’t have a meaningful relationship with any of them. Or, of course, it could be that you know a lot of people – but not the right ones!

Only you can determine who is right in your case, but beware of thinking short term. The next promotion will be easier if you have already established contact with the head of that function. The potentially difficult cross-functional project will be eased if you already have connections in those areas. Waiting until the moment arrives may well be too late.

More tips for effective networking

  • Identify the ‘opinion formers’ in your organisation. Get closer to them and learn how they network so effectively.
  • Recognise other people’s successes or contributions. They will remember the note or email that you sent them and keep you posted in future.
  • Make allies of the ‘little people’. Appreciate that they are well connected: the coffee shop assistant probably hears more in a day than you do in a month.
  • The most powerful person in the organisation is the CEO. The second most powerful is their secretary; it pays to have an effective working relationship.
  • Make a habit of regularly reviewing your network. Who else should you be in contact with? Are you seeing the same chosen few to the exclusion of others?
  • Raise your profile by writing articles for the company newsletter, institute magazine or similar outlet.
  • Join a society that isn’t linked to your business. How about Toastmasters, the Round Table or a similar group? Don’t neglect your professional institute, trade associations and similar bodies.
  • Accept and value the diversity in your workplace. Seeking out different people with different views is definitely ‘owl’ behaviour.
  • Categorise your contacts into those that provide influence, information and expertise. Do you have the balance right?
  • Get involved in benchmarking, community projects and so on. Seek activities that will enable you to make new contacts in other organisations.
  • Volunteer for project teams, task forces or working parties.

For more on this subject, read the Networking topic.