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Networking is important. Few people would dispute that. The people you know and the relationships you build will directly impact the opportunities that come your way. But for some, networking is an activity that they dread – one that they have to endure to ensure that they’re getting themselves ‘out there’.
Is there a better way? Is there an approach that you can take that is a more efficient use of your time?
I think so.
Shallow vs. Deep Relationships
I’ve been to plenty of networking events and met people with whom I have exchanged business cards. We meet for a coffee and explain what we both do in a bit more detail. It’s an usually an enjoyable hour.
But the problem is that we don’t really get to know each other well enough. We develop a relationship but I would argue that it’s relatively shallow. There is no way that I would be willing to stake my professional reputation on someone that I have met for an hour, and vice-versa, why would they do the same?
What I came to realise was that having lots of shallow relationships was less important than having a fewer number of deep relationships.
Think about the people that ‘know you, like you and value what you do’.
These are the people with whom you have a comparatively deep relationship. If they spot an opportunity that is a good fit for you, they will happily recommend you because they know you and know that you’re good at your job. They will stake their professional reputation on you.
If we take the principle of deep vs. shallow relationships and then apply it to our approach for networking, we are more likely to be successful if we deepen existing relationships as opposed to creating more shallow ones.
The stakeholder mapping exercise is a principle based approach meaning that it can be tailored to fit any situation.
If you are starting your own business and looking for clients. If you have just moved to a new location and need to build some local relationships. Or, if you’re in a corporate role and want to progress.
This is the approach that makes best use of your most limited resource: time.
In this example, let’s say you work in a large corporate and don’t want to spend lots of time away from your family attending networking events.
Start with a blank piece of paper and put your name in the middle. On the right, write down the names of the people that need you to do a good job. This would include anyone that needs you to provide them with outputs. On the left, write down the people that you rely on to do a good job. Who do you depend on to deliver timely, high-quality work?
The number of stakeholders you have is dependent upon you and your role. Some roles require far more stakeholder engagement than others so carefully consider who you add to the page.
The next step is to draw a line between you and the individual. If it is a healthy relationship, draw the line in green. If it is unhealthy, draw it in red.
Be binary – make it red or green. Don’t try and put in an amber as it won’t help!
The question that defines the difference between a green and a red might be ‘if you saw this person in a bar on Friday night – would you/they initiate a conversation?’ If so, it’s green. If there is any doubt or hesitation, it is red. Feel free to make up your own questions, it might be something like ‘Can I name all their children” or “where they went on their last holiday?’
You can even add your team members and people in your organisational hierarchy.
This will give you a sense of the health of the relationship between you and your stakeholders. If the lines are largely green, well done, although I will caveat that with ‘I hope you’ve been challenging enough!’ If the lines are largely red, we have work to do.
Improving the Status Quo
Start with the people closest to you that are connected by red lines. The people that you rely on the most, or the ones that rely on you.
If it’s a red, consider what you can do to improve the relationship. How can you ‘reset the relationship’ if it’s extremely unhealthy or how can you make a step to improve the status quo? Create an excuse to go for coffee with someone and offer to help them in some way. Offering to help someone creates a sense of reciprocity as they are likely to remember this and help you in the future.
Remember – 99% of people come to work to do a good job. There is just ‘stuff’ that gets in the way. The person who you are connected to by a red line is probably struggling to manage all their commitments but genuinely doing their best. It might not seem like it to you but if you treat everyone with the assumption that their intent is positive, you will find yourself seeing people in a different light.
This is what being accountable is all about. This is what leaders do. They take the onus to improve the current state. That might be best done by improving the relationships they have with those around them. Have a look at the ‘first conversation’ article I wrote – it makes a good starting point to building a relationship.
This approach works in every professional context because business and leadership are people focussed activities.
If you’re short of time, or if you dislike networking events, try this approach.
Remember, opportunities come from having a few deep relationships as opposed to many shallow ones.
Don’t spread bet with your time – double down on the relationships that matter.
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