A good network is one of the most important advantages to have in business, according to networking advocates. A network can increase opportunities to hear about available positions and promotions, of course. But they can also strengthen the depth and spread of information and ultimately spur better thinking and innovation.
Networking maximizes your business reach.
Networking Sometimes Has a Bad Reputation…
But even proponents of networking as a business strategy admit that many people don’t like to do it and have a low opinion of the activity itself. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article, for example, pinpoints multiple negative impressions businesspeople have of networking. Among them: networking is a waste of time, a somewhat artificial way to get to know people, and self-serving all too often. Plus, it takes time away from work and stronger business ties.
It’s possible that these conceptions of what networking had their genesis in the rise of networking as a concept, with attendant exchanges designed to exchange business cards and contact information. Digital networking, like LinkedIn, can become a game of numbers in a network rather than actual strength.
Still, the author ultimately recommends that people try networking with a focused approach, rather than beating a retreat.
…Best Approaches Do Exist
What is a good focused approach? Well, a 2015 HBR article interviewed a key networker at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While the networker, venture capitalist Rich Stromback attends the forum every year, he admitted that 99% of networking is a waste of time — and this at a conference with very high level business leadership.
But the implication is that the remaining 1% is golden. After all, Davos is essentially an ideas conference at which networking is king.
Stromback detailed what he did, which essentially is a blueprint for best approaches.
First, he advises being unconcerned with first impressions. Don’t be so eager to make an impression, in other words, that you neglect to be authentic.
Second, remember the 99%/1% observation. Implicitly, don’t be concerned if certain networking activities seem like a waste of time. The yield is not always good. Focus on the conferences, meetings, and other networking events likely to be of use to you.
Third, sleep through the conferences that happen from 4 to 8pm at events such as Davos. Implicitly, that advice is a time-focuser, and a reminder to find your own rhythm. If you need to refresh during networking events, do.
Fourth, remember that networking is about making connections and, in a real sense, having conversations. Make them. Have them. Don’t focus so much on thinking “networking,” but on “conversations.” If you genuinely connect with someone at a networking event, you have meaningfully expanded your network. If you pass out business cards to 20 people and have superficial conversations, not so much.
Finally, remember that Stromback conducts his networking at Davos, a very high level meeting. Choose your networking sites, both literal and figurative, with care and focus on places that will be valuable but not intimidating to you.