When I speak to groups of leaders I regularly ask them, “How many of you think it’s important to your professional success to grow and maintain a healthy network?” Pretty much every person raises a hand.
Then I ask, “How many of you think you’re doing a great job at managing your network?” Hardly any hands go up.
Then I ask why there’s such a big gap between what they know to be important and what they’re actually doing about it.
The number one answer is lack of time. Most people feel like they’re too busy to network. The good news is you don’t have to spend countless hours at networking events. You can build your network by focusing on your work in a slightly different way.
Here are three action steps you can take to build your network when you’re too busy to network.
First, ask yourself, what kind of help or perspective do I need? Take a bit of time to get off the dance floor and go up to look at your work with a fresh perspective. What are you working on that could benefit from new ideas, knowledge or experience?
Second, ask yourself who do I know? Step two is to identify the partners who can help you raise your game. They may be people you already know. Or, they may be people you don’t know yet but are friends or colleagues of people you do. If you’re still stuck on who can help you, do a little Googling on who’s doing great work in that space and then reverse engineer your way back from them on LinkedIn to identify some people you have in common.
Third, ask for help. Help might look like an introduction to the person you’d like to get to know better. Or, it could be a direct request for help from that person. Either way some fundamental things apply if you want to raise your likelihood of establishing a meaningful connection. First, you have to be relevant to all parties. That means you have to know what’s important to them and address that. Then you have to have a clear declaration of what you’re working on and why it matters. Next, be ready with a clear, simple and easily actionable request that is relatively easy for the other person to honor. Be ready to extend your own offer of how you think you might be able to support their work or goals. That can help build the trust that is the glue of positive long-term relationships.
For more ideas on how to build your network to stay connected to the market and gain fresh perspective, check out Chapter Nine of The Next Level – Pick up an outside in view of the entire organization; Let go of an inside out view of your function.
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