Power of networking

Aug 06, 2019
Having lived and worked in six countries, I have realised that there is a price to be paid for being an average networker.

By Kingsley Aikins

At its core, networking is about taking three key actions: changing our attitudes, altering our behaviours and learning new skills. In a world where life is a game of inches, we need to see networking as the key difference- maker. One introduction or conversation can change your life, but they don’t happen when you are lying in bed or sitting at your desk – they happen when you are in motion, when you are out and about, when you develop a reputation and put your talents on display. Networking is the key to career progression – the future leadership of your organisation will not consist of unknown people.

The challenges

However, there are some real challenges with networking. First, most people say they hate it and it tends to get a pretty negative press. It is sometimes seen as an inelegant way of using people and is regarded as both insincere and manipulative. We tend to mix up networking and sociability, and assume that the most sociable person is the best networker. In fact, it can be the exact opposite. Shy, introvert types can be better at networking than extroverts because they do it with decency, authenticity and integrity – and that comes across. They ask questions and are better listeners.

Second, networking is not taught at school and college. Companies don’t have strategies for it, yet everybody says that it’s really important. A third problem is that many people don’t realise that, as their career progresses, the skills and qualifications that enabled them to get their job in the first place become less important (because everyone has them and you can’t compete with what everyone else has). Relationships therefore become more important. Finally, people don’t ask themselves the brutal question – is my network good enough for where I want to be in the next five years?

Give and take

Key then is to put networking front and centre of your personal and professional life and to realise that there is a process to networking – a learned process which, if followed and implemented, will give you a better chance of success. The bedrock to this is to accept a key foundational concept which, at first glance, might appear counter-intuitive. Networking is all about giving rather than getting. Most people think they have to focus on networking because they want to get something for themselves such as a new job or a new sale. What I am saying is the exact opposite. Think first how you can help other people – how you can put your network at the disposal of others. This is based on a very simple and fundamental premise: in life, the more you give, the more you get. When you give consistently to individuals, it comes back from the network. Networking is not about any one big thing – it is about a lot of small behaviour changes which, when implemented on a daily basis, become habits and, eventually, rituals. They then become the way you lead your life. 

A personal asset

A harsh reality in life is that you can’t go it alone; you have to network your way to success. The way to opportunities you don’t know is through people you do. Networking can obviously have practical returns in terms of getting more business, staff and investors. However, research shows that people who build strong and diverse networks live longer, are stronger mentally and physically, earn more money and are happier.

In a world where people are constantly changing jobs, networking is the way to get your next one – the vast majority of good jobs are not advertised. Also, companies want to ‘hire and wire’ – hire people and wire into their network. Now, when you are being interviewed, people want to know about your qualifications and experience, but they also want to know who you know.

We live in a world where it is not what you know or who you know, but who knows you. Networking is the way to get out of your silo and get to know people from different backgrounds. Research shows that if your organisation doesn’t reflect the diversity of the economy in which you operate and the society in which you live, then you, as a company and as an individual, underperform.

Also, your network is portable. You own it. It’s part of your personal asset base. When you move, it goes with you.

Networking abroad

Having lived and worked in six countries, I have found networking to be the glue that makes everything happen and I realised that there was a price to be paid for being an average networker. Having observed good networkers in action, I now realise that they have certain things in common. They work hard at it, they don’t brag about it, they don’t keep score. They are confident it works, even if they are not quite sure how. They understand the power of asking and referrals. They think like farmers who plant a seed in the spring, water and nurture it and look after it, confident that there will be a harvest. 

They understand the importance and potential of technology in networking, but also realise the power of personal face-to-face connections. In that sense, they are hi-tech and hi-touch. They are curious and they ask questions.

Great networkers are great salespeople because they create a vast and spreading sphere of goodwill around them and they constantly add value to the people they meet. There is a precise four-phase process to networking, which is about research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. If you follow this process, there is a greater chance of success than if you don’t.

Kingsley Aikins is CEO at The Networking Institute.
You can read more about living and working overseas in Chartered Accountants Abroad, the publication from Accountancy Ireland for Chartered Accountants Ireland members abroad.