Are You Networking Impaired?

In researching the best practices of networking, I have come across several articles that I think do a good job of pointing-out the pitfalls and better practices of networking. One thing that stands out for me is the advice that as a networker, you are far better off always thinking about how you can help out the other person rather than what you need (even if you do need something such as information, advice etc.)

Even when you are searching, applying, or interviewing for a job, your stance in the process is best served by thinking about what issues the person on the other side of the table faces, and orienting your attitude to how you could help them address their issues. This is the basis of any good selling; you are always trying to understand your client’s problems, help them to solve them and to not add to their list of issues and stresses.

In a recent HBR blog, Rob Cross and Robert Thomas provided some pointers on the traps and better practices of good networkers. You will note, that basically quality trumps quantity; consequently those folks on LinkedIn purely focused on obtaining a large number of connections without considering the quality of those connections and taking the time to nurture and maintain that network, have got it wrong.

Worse yet, many people on LinkedIn build and use their networks only while they are job-hunting, and then let the network go fallow once they get a job, only to find that when they need a network (which, these days, is pretty much all the time) they’re starting over again.

Here’s some pointers Rob Cross and Robert Thomas share:

In our work, we have identified six common managerial types who get stuck in three kinds of network traps. Do any of the descriptions below fit you?

The Wrong Structure

The formalist focuses too heavily on his company’s official hierarchy, missing out on the efficiencies and opportunities that come from informal connections.

The overloaded manager has so much contact with colleagues and external ties that she becomes a bottleneck to progress and burns herself out.

The Wrong Relationships

The disconnected expert sticks with people who keep him focused on safe, existing competencies, rather than those who push him to build new skills.

The biased leader relies on advisers much like herself (same functional background, location, or values), who reinforce her biases, when she should instead seek outsiders to prompt more fully informed decisions.

The Wrong Behavior

The superficial networker engages in surface-level interaction with as many people as possible, mistakenly believing that a bigger network is a better one.

The chameleon changes his interests, values, and personality to match those of whatever subgroup is his audience, and winds up being disconnected from every group.

Getting It Right

To understand more about what makes an effective network, let’s look again at Deb. She has a small set of core contacts—14 people she really relies on. Effective core networks typically range in size from 12 to 18 people. But what really matters is structure: Core connections must bridge smaller, more-diverse kinds of groups and cross hierarchical, organizational, functional, and geographic lines. Core relationships should result in more learning, less bias in decision-making, and greater personal growth and balance. The people in your inner circle should also model positive behaviors, because if those around you are enthusiastic, authentic, and generous, you will be, too.

More specifically, our data show that high performers have strong ties to

1. people who offer them new information or expertise, including internal or external clients, who increase their market awareness; peers in other functions, divisions, or geographies, who share best practices; and contacts in other industries, who inspire innovation;

2. formally powerful people, who provide mentoring, sense-making, political support, and resources; and informally powerful people, who offer influence, help coordinating projects, and support among the rank and file; and

3. people who give them developmental feedback, challenge their decisions, and push them to be better. At an early career stage, an employee might get this from a boss or customers; later, it tends to come from coaches, trusted colleagues, or a spouse.

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