When my colleague Krish wanted to move to the firm’s London office, his senior stakeholders rallied around him, strongly advocating and facilitating his move. But how did Krish chance upon this opportunity in the first place? He got a lead about this open position from a colleague working in that office. On occasions when we ran short of an audience for our employee engagement events, we only had to nudge Krish to gather an audience, because people tended to respond positively to his call. And, of course, he always had a bunch of friends to hang out with.
Krish had developed a web of constructive relationships that stood him in good stead at various junctures. He had, in fact, built three types of networks:
This network comprises people who provide information, point you to potential opportunities and threats, those you can turn to for advice and bounce off ideas with, and people who speak for you when you are not in the room. A case in point is Larry Summers who taught Sheryl Sandberg, the former COO of Facebook, at Harvard University and subsequently played a critical catalyst in her career progression. When he was appointed as Chief Economist at the World Bank, he enlisted Sheryl as a research analyst, and subsequently, on taking over as the treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, he recruited Sandberg as his chief of staff.
Similarly, my network has truly supported my career growth in multiple ways. It has provided me referrals which have translated into business deals with more than 60 organisations in the last few years. It has enabled me to garner the viewpoints of industry experts, incorporating which in my articles lends to their richness. On one occasion, a quick nudge from a senior stakeholder about an adverse remark he had heard during a management meeting, had enabled me to quickly address a discrepancy, thereby pre-empting the matter from snowballing into a potential disaster.
This is the network you are placed in by virtue of your role and position in the organisational structure. It comprises people whom you are dependent on for turning in your deliverables. It would be prudent to reflect on the strength of these relationships, as strong relationships by acting as social lubricants, fetch faster responses, thus facilitating your deliverables and enhancing your productivity.
We all need a Jai and Veeru, a la Sholay, the 1975 iconic blockbuster film, in our lives — people we can turn to for emotional support or pursue common interests with.
The benefits of a network are evident, and it would be worth your while to assess your network to determine whether it is robust enough to serve you well in facilitating your professional success and personal fulfilment.
Follow the below-mentioned four steps consciously and intentionally to build a network that serves you well in accomplishing your goals and succeeding in critical career transitions.
The first logical step is to map your current network. When I mapped my network comprising family, friends, neighbours, former colleagues, clients, programme participants and peers in the human resources fraternity, I was astounded by the sheer breath of my network — 1,400 people!
In their book Driving results through social networks, authors Rob Cross And Robert Thomas have stated, “Executives who consistently rank in the top 20 per cent of their companies in both performance and well-being have diverse but select networks, made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres and from up and down the corporate hierarchy.”
It would, therefore, be prudent to evaluate your network from two perspectives. First, check out if it incorporates elements of accelerator, operational and personal networks. Write down names of people in each of these three categories, identify gaps, and think of people who can fill in the gaps.
Second, examine your network from the lens of hierarchy and functions. Do you have connections in other departments? Other offices? Other geographies? Other organisations? Does your network embody a mix of people across hierarchies? Keep your future goals at the back of your mind through this exercise. Identify gaps once again. Remember that as a person moves towards leadership roles their network should orient itself outward and towards the future.
Next, leverage the four pillars of engagement for strengthening relationships and incorporating new people in your network.
- Focus on giving: Put your hand up when a colleague looks for a backup while proceeding on leave, or someone seeks help when stuck with a piece of code, or your manager calls out for driving a departmental initiative or a new hire needs some advice. A great way to build a relationship is to ask yourself, “What can I do to be instrumental in this person’s success?” And remember, when people feel obligated, they often reciprocate.
- Appreciate: Appreciate a task well done, thank people for turning in timely deliverable, instead of taking them for granted, congratulate people on their role expansion, achievement of career milestone or receipt a coveted award. Compliment people. An authentic compliment can trigger an instant connect, stimulate conversation and set the stage for taking the connection forward. But it takes an observant eye to discern a praiseworthy situation, and willingness and confidence for articulating and delivering a compliment. Thanking, appreciating and congratulating are low effort, rich dividend, and often under-utilised strategies for engagement.
- Meet informally: People tend to be more relaxed in an informal, non-work-related environment, which really lends itself to easy conversations and casual engagement. So, look for commonalities, identify common grounds and connect with people outside task related conversations. But small talk doesn’t come easily to people as they tend to worry about what they are going to say. Instead, think of some relevant questions and let the other person do the talking! Inculcate a genuine interest in people.
- Make people feel important: Reach out to people for advice in their area of expertise as this is an implicit acknowledge of their competence. Invite people for a talk or for inaugurating an event. This makes people feel good and helps establish rapport.
Constantly under the pressure of time, we tend to engage more with people who are of immediate value in the context of our current deliverables and goals, often overlooking relationships developed in the past. Relationships, unless nourished and nurtured, are liable to fade, translating into a waste of time and effort invested in building them in the first place.
Divide your network into different segments and determine the type and frequency of engagement for each segment. Leverage technology — Whatsapp groups and broadcast lists, emails and social media to connect with people. Try the following simple touch points:
- Send festival greetings
- Share relevant content
- Inquire about people’s well being
- Share developments in your professional and personal life
- Congratulate and compliment on work anniversaries and job and role changes (leverage the cues offered by LinkedIn)
Use your discretion to determine the propriety of these touch points with respect to different individuals or groups. Moreover, overdoing the touch points may also prove counterproductive. Networking is no longer just a good to have skill. It is, indeed, a leadership imperative.
(The writer is an executive coach, author of #YOU: Build your personal brand and founder director of Delta Learning.)
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