'When knowing what's going on
and what to do
is the source of power,
understanding how  -  and why  -
to network is indispensable.'

Robert Mueller
in Corporate Networking
(The Free Press)

What you know is important.
Who you know
is even more important.


MERICAN business guru Tom Peters sees networking as a form of insurance against finding yourself with nowhere to go after a corporate shake-out. Most South African business people see networking as buzzword for a  collection of miscellaneous business cards specially designed to collect dust in desk drawers. Others who have what Americans call more business 'savvy' see it as an entree to ongoing business.
  
And more than that, they see networking as ...

An irreplaceable source of on-tap expertise

Business people who make a habit of networking advise you to never forget a name. So do politicians. As case in point was former United States President Theodore Roosevelt.
  
The late President was, in fact, enormously proud of his reputation for remembering names. And he apparently lost no opportunity to boast about his prowess. Roosevelt's ability was so uncanny that a journalist, Frederick Collins, intimated that the President looked in people's hats to get their initials.
  
'And I'm sure he even read both minds and lips,' the reporter said. 'A caller would begin with "I'm Jo-" and before he knew what had happened to him, he had affectionately been called "Jonesy" and shoved out into the hall.'
  
But Collins reported that the President's feat of memory failed when he was introduced to a New York haberdasher named Kaskel.
  
'Mr President,' said the haberdasher, 'I have made your shirts ...'

 'Major Shurtz!' the President interrupted, 'I'd have known you anywhere.'
  
The moral of the story: don't trust your memory.
  
Don't consign names to your cerebral storage; don't keep business cards in desk drawers where they're easily forgotten.

KEEP AN UP-TO-DATE CONTACT BOOK

According to Peters, your security is directly related to:

  • the thickness of your contact book;
  • the rate of it's expansion;
  • the number of entries that emanate from beyond  your company boardroom, and
  • the time you devote to maintaining the list.

Writing about the importance of networking, the editor-in-chief of Success (February 1995), Scott DeGarmo observes: 'Among humans and closely related species, those who become leaders are not necessarily the strongest or fiercest, but those with the most friends and connections'.

You can't always go it alone

Most successful business people invest serious time in cultivating network relationships because they can help immeasurably in:

  • finding a job;
  • recruiting qualified personnel;
  • finding and raising capital;
  • getting expert advice, and
  • tying up channels of product distribution.

SO SET UP A NETWORK

Before you can establish a functional network that works for you, you have to determine why you need one.

  • Clarify the purpose of your network in 25 words or  less. Are you job hunting, head hunting, looking for information, or merely seeking social contacts? If they're all applicable, set up a different network for each.
  • List all your current contacts  -  personal, business (internal and external).
  • List your personal resources: knowledge, skills, experience, interests, talents, expectations and values.
  • List your material resources: equipment (office and/or manufacturing), special facilities, vehicles, etc.
  • Identify and list 'status' contacts  -  people to whom you have access through your membership of professional, recreational and cultural organisations.
     
  • Sort through your contacts to build a 'guys-who-really-know' (GWRK) database on your computer or with a Rodinlex or library card system.

NOW GET YOUR SYSTEM UP AND RUNNING

Follow these five guide lines to help you establish a customised network directory that works for you.

  1. Update your contact list.
  2. Make time to make new contacts.
  3. Accumulate letters of customer delight.
  4. Surround yourself with experts.
  5. Seek advice.

UPDATE YOUR CONTACT LIST.

We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Before you can update your list, you have compile a basic database. And you have to organise it so that you can find who want with the minimum of hassle.

Simply adding names and contact numbers in a book or computer database serves no useful purpose.

To add to the value of your list, classify your contacts under six main headings:

Potential employers.

Experts.

Customers.

Potential customers.

Suppliers.

Potential suppliers.

Even after you compile and classify your list, it rapidly loses value if you allow it to go out of date.

Nothing is more frustrating and useless that trying to reach someone who is no longer where you think he or she should be.

So maintain contact

Set time aside to purge your contact list at least once every month. Use the phone, send faxes or the postal system to ensure that your list is as current as humanly possible.
  
MAKE TIME TO MAKE NEW CONTACTS.

Networking aficionados suggest that you devote a large portion of your business and after-hours time to increasing the number of your contacts.

Internally as well as externally.

'If you spend at least 10% of your time making contacts, you'll never be short of business,' asserts self-made millionaire John Kehoe.  

Looking after business means making new contacts, not once in a while, but consistently, week in and week out, month after month, year after year.'

You find them almost everywhere: at conferences and conventions, social functions, sports events ... wherever you go. And don't overlook secretaries and assistants who often prove to be more useful than their bosses.

Don't ignore
any opportunity
 to add
to your list
of potentially
useful people.

As a matter of principle, I keep comprehensive notes about almost everybody with whom I come in contact  -  names, fax and telephone numbers, addresses and areas of interest plus any other information that I feel is pertinent.
   
When I've needed information in a hurry, my contacts have often proved to be lifesavers.
  
ACCUMULATE LETTERS OF CUSTOMER DELIGHT.

Nothing breeds success like success. Many companies ask me to make presentations based on the strength of word-of-mouth recommendations. Advertising in selected publications also attracts a certain level of response. But letters of customer delight are by far the most powerful draw card.
  
So I go out of my way to collect them.
  
After every presentation, I ask the organisers for feedback. Most of it is positive and usually comes in the form of a letter signed a senior executive, if not the chief executive officer himself.
  
I admit unabashedly that these letters bolster my ego. More importantly, they impress potential clients.
  
And they also serve another important purpose.
  
They give me more valuable names to add to my steadily growing list of GWRK.
  
I strongly urge you to begin collecting testimonial letters with immediate effect and use them to promote yourself and your business.
  
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH EXPERTS.

You don't have to employ all the experts you need to run your business  -  not full-time, anyway.

It's important that you periodically check that your circle of experts still exist. The experts you need most at any given time have a nasty habit of dying, emigrating or just fading from the picture. Occasional discreet and informal phone calls quickly establish if they're still in a position to help you. These calls also allow you to determine if any of your on-tap experts have upgraded their qualifications.  

Quick access to an expert via your network can sometimes save a potentially disastrous situation. Suppose a costly project comes to a halt because you can't locate an IT boffin or even a plumber when you desperately need one.
  
You lose.

If you establish a
networking system
and maintain
up-to-date contact lists,
 you'll find exactly
who you need
 when you need him.

Customers as experts
  
And when you think of experts, don't overlook your customers. Each is an expert in his specific field. And they'll be happy to share their knowledge with you if you've kept them happy by providing them with
world class customer service. Even if they can't give you what you need, chances are they know someone who can.

Suppliers as experts
  
The same applies to your suppliers. They're all experts in the own fields. Keep them abreast of developments in your company as well as your future potential needs.

SEEK ADVICE.

You may be an expert in a specific field. But bright as you undoubtedly are, you don't know everything there is to know about whatever you specialise in. There's always a better, faster, cheaper, more user-friendly way of doing things.

If you're meticulous
about networking
and contact
list maintenance,
 you'll never be
short of expertise
when you need it most.

If you haven't developed a network of friends and associates, if you haven't meticulously maintained your list of contacts, you won't know who to turn for and the going gets tough and you need quick input.

SO GET NETWORKING AND KEEP NETWORKING

Robert Mueller, former chairman of the consulting firm Arthur D Little Inc., has developed networking into a science. He defines it as 'an informal way to reach knowledgeable people'. He calls it a strategy that relies on getting around the neatly charted, pyramidal corporate structures to reach the people who know and can do something to help.
   
In traditional, vertically structured companies, channels of communication, as we've already discussed, wind a painfully slow, tortuous path up or down the ladder through and endless chain of regions, divisions, departments and sub-departments.
  
This system of communication, which sends memos fluttering in all directions, thrives in a bureaucratic environment. But in an era when the rapidity of change outpaces the transmission and receipt of communications, networking is the only way to go.
  
So, if you're the boss ...

ENCOURAGE NETWORKING

The GWRK system which, incidentally, Mueller developed, even works in massive multinationals that have a flair for innovation. As case in point is the 3M company. At the core of the corporation's communication system is the motto: 'If you need help, go find it everywhere.'
  
To encourage networking and promote the free interchange of ideas, the company established 3M Technical Forum in the 1980s. This organises regular seminars on technical topics at which researchers and technologists are encouraged to mingle and mix.

Positive benefits 
 
Club Mediterranée, with its head office in Paris, is another multinational corporation that firmly believes in the positive benefits of networking. It uses a staff rotation system is calls 'nomadism' to break down hierarchical barriers and promote personal interaction between staff members.
  
The Club moves the staff from one holiday village to another every six months. In addition, resort managers swop jobs every two years.
  
According to the company, this cross-fertilisation improves direct communication and leads to innovation. Better still, it leads to action.

More robust

At boardroom level, the network concept provides a far more robust system of two-way internal and external communications than conventional systems.
 
If the centre of power at the pinnacle of the a pyramidal structure destructs, the company will flounder and probably die. Even if the system loses only an arm, the centre of power will lose its ability to send and receive communications effectively.

Mueller claims a network is more flexible and less vulnerable because it is designed in the form of a spider's web. The web will survive the destruction of any of its nodes, including the centre, because the remaining nodes remain interconnected.

Flat corporate structure
 
Networking performs best in a flat corporate structure where communications can flow unimpeded throughout the organisation. It provides an always accessible database packed with useful, up-to-the-minute information. It allows you to directly contact the people who know what you need to know.

Once you get the communications flowing, you'll be a better position to test your worth in the market.

SO HOOK INTO YOUR NETWORK NOW
 
Previous   Next

  Authors Note
    Introduction: Prepare Yourself for the New Business Order
     
1. The Evolution of Change
     
2. Give your Company a 'New Look' Profile
     
3. Run Your Own Show
     
4. Lead, Don't Manage
     
5. Cross Train Yourself
     
6. Become a Self-Contained Profit Centre
     
7. Think Network
     
8. Benchmark Yourself
     
9._ Have Heart
     
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