Five Principles for Building a Strong Network

Posted 03.11.2009

Network1 We’re living through a period when just about every organization is reevaluating the way it does business and restructuring for some combination of productivity, lower costs and innovation.  I was coaching a group of leaders in one such organization this week. We concluded that the strategic management of one’s network is critical in this type of environment. But, let’s be clear.  I’m not talking about a game of whoever has the most people in their LinkedIn account wins.  Rather, it’s about asking the questions, “What am I trying to do and what kind of people can help me do it?” and then acting on the answers.

The leaders and I identified five principles that we think are non-negotiables in building a strong network.  Here’s the list:

Relevance:  These days, most people don’t have the time for the “nice to have” conversations.  They want to talk about and work on things that matter.  To network effectively, you need to work on something that’s relevant and be able to explain why it matters to the people who can help.

Declarations:  Make very clear declarations to your colleagues about what you’re trying to accomplish and why.  Most of the people who can help you will be two or three degrees removed from your immediate circle of colleagues.  The only way you’re going to find them is if the people in your first degree network clearly understand what you’re working on and help you make the connections.

Requests:  So, it’s very important to be clear in your requests of the people in your networks.  (e.g.  “I’m looking for experts in structuring joint ventures so we can bid on a new government contract.  Do you know any experts like that or could you connect me with people who would?”)  Make it easy for your colleagues to help you by making clear requests.

Offers:  Karma is just another word for reciprocity.  Be tuned into what your colleagues are trying to accomplish and be prepared to make offers that could help them.  Offers and requests are what makes the world go round.

Trust:  And trust is the lubricant that makes the offers and requests work.  The linguist, Fernando Flores, once defined trust as the intersection of credibility, competence and sincerity.  To be effective with your network over the long run, you have to deliver on your commitments, demonstrate that you have the chops to do so and act with positive intent.  (Flores, by the way, is one of the thought leaders who first delineated the importance of declarations, requests and offers.)

That’s our list of principles for building the kind of networks that leaders need now.  What would you add to the list?