According to an old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Maybe that’s overly simplistic but there is value in having a network of people who can offer information or expertise, give support and encouragement, or connect us to influential individuals or groups able to provide mentoring and resources. It isn’t true that larger networks are better, according to data presented in a Harvard Business Review article (July-August 2011) titled “A Smarter Way to Network.” More important than the size of one’s network is the composition of the group and the benefits that each person provides. A network can include your friends but each person in your network should serve a unique purpose in providing expertise or connections. How, then do we build a better network? Building on the HBR research:
- Analyze. List the people in your current network. Who among them are energizers – people who encourage you and see new possibilities? Who are the de-energizers, those who are critical, inflexible, inclined to drain you.
- Classify your relationships into the benefits that each person provides for you. Most common benefits are the receipt of information, political support and influence, personal development, support and energy, a sense of worth, and help with work/life balance.
- De-layer. Back away from relationships that sap your energy or that bring little of unique value. In which of the six categories do you have too many people? Trim your current list.
- Diversity. Once you have trimmed your network, bring in the right people to round out your six categories. Get people of diversified backgrounds, expertise, experiences and cultures. Write down your goals for the next year. Then list people who could help you succeed. Keep the new network at about 12-18 people.
- Capitalize. “Make sure you’re using your contacts as effectively as you can.” Find ways that you can give back to your network contacts.
Is this network building manipulative, insensitive or self-serving? Not if you build relationships characterized by mutual respect, sharing and trust. This can be beneficial to everyone, better than a loose collection of friends that may not contribute much. What do you think? Try this formula. Please comment.