“Networks” are established connections between people, places, and things. Computer systems, alumni associations, multi-level marketing organizations, the Internet, and even spider webs are types of networks. As in the natural world, establishing and using networks is critical to career survival and success.
Even with the speed, ease of access, and global reach of information, people still make decisions based upon personal experience and relationships. It’s in our DNA; we want to know and feel good about the people we work and partner with. Especially when making personal decisions, people will rely on their own experiences with a person and/or the references of those they trust more than objective data or outstanding resumes. The “old boy network” is real. Especially in countries and industries with less regulation, there are relatively few people who own, manage and enjoy ready access to wealth. This is because in environments with few legal guidelines, people will naturally form and rely on a network of relationships. Your challenge is to take advantage of this by getting connected and expanding your network.
You’ve probably heard about the phenomena of “six degrees of separation”. The six degrees dynamic details how almost everyone in the world is connected by six or fewer stages of circumstance or acquaintance. In other words, if you were to randomly select someone in the phone book and then investigate if you know people who know this person, within six connections (and often fewer), you would find a trail of people who would connect you to this person. There is a whole science on networking theory that continues to refine the number of other connections that it takes before the whole world is connected. Whether it be the number of relay points via email to reach anyone in the world, or the number of people who share or hear a particular message as it floats through an expanded network of relationships, it continues to reinforce how close and inter-connected we all are.
The bottom line: Because relationships are ever-important to us as humans, networks are pervasive and powerful. If you learn to develop and leverage relationships, you will establish a network that will be a constant source of intelligence and opportunity. And, as you expand your network, it will increase your opportunities exponentially. The key is letting people already in your social circle know about your Career Declaration and continually reaching out to build new connections.
How to “Network”
Having a broad network is important, but it does require you to, well, network. However, we need to dispel the notions you may have about networking. You could be thinking of the stereotypical sales person or politician constantly smiling, posturing and going out of their way to get something from someone else. Although this may work for some, the approach does not work for many. We know you will be most effective and happy when you are yourself. You have your own way of meeting new people. Below are some basic techniques for building your network. We encourage you to review each listed technique and consider if and how it could broaden your network:
- Build Your Rolodex – When you meet people at work, in an airport, on a bus, at a party or in a meeting, ask for their card. If they don’t have a card, ask for their contact information and look for them on LinkedIn. Even if a person’s work and background seem totally unrelated to yours, you never know when you may be able to connect them to someone. Similarly, give your business card out freely and encourage people to contact you.
- Keep in Touch – It seems like all of us get so caught up in the daily challenges that we rarely take time to reach out and contact anyone other than immediate associates and family. The few people who make it a priority to regularly reach out to a larger group of people enjoy the true benefits of a robust network.
- Get Involved in Groups and Associations – There are people doing what you want to do or enjoy doing, or at least something very similar. These people likely form a relatively small network of both formal and informal associations. Formal networks of people are in all conceivable professions. Your country, state or province has associations for everything from Accountants to Zamboni drivers. Your involvement within these formal networks can connect you to people and information, opening up a wider array of opportunities.
Find the Decision-Makers – Within any network there are relatively few people who influence the big decisions, including disbursement of rewards, within the network. In a tight family network it is usually one person (mother or father) who makes the big decisions, just as in companies there are a few leaders that make the big decisions.
Similarly, in broader, more informal networks there are a few people who have the greatest influence on what is supported and completed. These people may or may not have a formal title, but people within the network always know who they are.
Co-Locate – Networks of people rely on social interaction, so even in this age of mass communication, we are still most connected with the people we see in person regularly. Studies bear this out. Within a work area we tend to talk to, eat lunch with, and associate most with people within a two-minute walk from our work area. On a macro scale, business districts are built to facilitate networking, and whole industries will often be located in the same area of the world, often with competing companies in the same home town. That is the case with the “Big Three” American auto makers in Detroit.
You need to take advantage of co-location in pursuing your life’s work. Within your company, try to locate your work area to be around those who are doing your life’s work. This will put you in their stream of ideas, personalities and issues. You may even need to move physically to another building, city or region. Just as aspiring actors move to Los Angeles and country musicians to Nashville, so you may need to move to a “corridor of competence” – the place where the people with similar career passions meet, support each other and make decisions.
Your network will create opportunities – develop your network and realize your career success.