Few people intentionally put hurdles in their own career paths, yet choosing to avoid networking is like putting your career in a box and cutting yourself off from relationships that help you learn, grow and come up with new ideas. If you want to become an irreplaceable asset within any company, show your leadership potential by using internal and external networking to stay ahead of trends and build influential partnerships.
Networking for Information
Power comes from the combination of knowledge and action. You have to know what is going on at your job, in relevant industries and in the wider community. You have to understand how client needs, the company's direction and the priorities of organizational leaders all change over time. Staying informed gives you the power to make strategic business decisions and act at the right moment. These objectives may seem excessive when you prefer to focus on concrete business functions, but networking for information helps you prioritize goals that have the most impact on personal and company success.
Harvard Business Review anonymously profiled 30 managers transitioning into their leadership roles and discovered a pattern. Leaders have more authority and longevity when they build a network of support, information and resources. One manager, nicknamed Sophie, was blindsided when the company wanted to reorganize and redistribute her job functions. Although her team performed well, Sophie rarely made an effort to consult with reliable opinion leaders for ideas and feedback, so she was ignorant of ongoing power and priority shifts.
After a failed counter-proposal, Sophie's boss viewed her resistance to change as a sign that she lacked an insightful, comprehensive business perspective. With guidance from a senior manager, Sophie realized that building relationships and gathering knowledge are essential for developing viable business plans.
Top employers don't just want hard workers. They want you to demonstrate your intelligence and vision by diagnosing potential problems and proposing relevant solutions that foster long-term progress. Effective networking makes you stand out as a leader — someone who is diplomatic, proactive and capable of turning goals and ideas into actionable plans.
Building Social Capital
Strong networking skills show employers that you can bring value to the company beyond your technical duties. That value can take many forms, such as beneficial vendor relationships, client referrals, B2B partnerships, hiring recommendations and mentorships. When you are well-known and trusted, you attract high-quality connections and create opportunities for the entire business to advance.
Chris Cancialosi, founder of gothamCulture, identifies this network of influence as "social capital." Having a wealth of influence lets you use shared goals and values to gain resources and encourage cooperation. Building social capital inside and outside the company boosts your professional visibility while ensuring that you have advocates to back your ideas, provide advice and support your leadership at critical moments. Cancialosi offers valuable tips for increasing your social capital.
Contribute valuable insight, and be an active participant in your field. Whether you prefer to share advice through social media or attend professional seminars, show your willingness to give without receiving something in return.
Build trust and authority by connecting people who can benefit one another. Your efforts facilitate strong partnerships and make others feel motivated to help you when you need it.
Take part in relevant dialogue in your field. You gain opportunities to learn from professionals with diverse skills and perspectives while establishing yourself as a forward-looking thought leader.
Be supportive of others in your network, and share their accomplishments with people who can help them advance. Whether you mentor interns or offer financial tips to new entrepreneurs, a reputation of generosity yields reciprocity.
The Practical Benefits of Networking
If you resist networking, it's probably because the interaction feels insincere or pointlessly time-consuming. Unfortunately, you may leave yourself vulnerable to information gaps, hindering your ability to adapt and gain promotions as your job and industry evolve.
The key is to build strong relationships in natural ways by connecting over shared interests and evaluating what others need, including your employer. For example, devoting time to skill-building internships and mentorships helps your company recruit and promote the best talent. Spending time with board members outside of meetings lets you weigh different viewpoints to make sure your operational objectives align with the company's direction.
Interpersonal networking skills set you apart from colleagues who are qualified but lack the influence to sway opinions and introduce cost-efficient partnerships. When it's time to recruit or promote, employers seek professionals who have an impressive track record of strategic communications and collaboration.
Photo Courtesy of Permaculture Association at Flickr.com