NETWORKING MAKES A COMEBACK
What exactly is networking?
A network is a connected community of professionals with related business interests as far as definition goes. It can include your colleagues – past and current, your school and college alumni, your clients or partners or people you meet at work functions or conferences.
And pre-Covid you would have different ways of staying connected with each of these people groups. There is no one way to manage these relationships. Different professional relationships are cultivated by varied means – you might meet former colleagues occasionally for a drink, stay in touch with conference contacts through emails and possibly exchange greetings with vendors and clients. So, how has it changed now?
Two years post the pandemic, a lot of us are still working remotely and sometimes in complete isolation, so networking seems far-fetched. As Companies slowly get people to return to work or adopt hybrid models of work, there is an air of uncertainty still and some folks are actually feeling apprehensive about in-person contact, not to mention that face to face communication seems to have gotten rusty! After months of Zoom and Teams life, seeing your colleagues face-to-face can get a mixed reaction. While virtual meetings were great to get people together without having to get them on a plane, and it allowed for side conversations on the chat which could never happen in a face to face meeting – they had their limitations. You cannot infer peoples body language as astutely, nor just interrupt with a thought. And in the new world of now, it seems that people have forgotten to network.
But here’s the thing. When you learn swimming or learn to ride a bicycle, you can still get back on track after a long gap – it may be a wee bit wobbly as you come back to it but you get back the hang of it. You need to consider networking similarly. Working remotely may have given the gap for a while but you should be able to pick up from where you left off though you may need to do it a bit differently in the new world. It is also an opportunity to approach it systematically and in a focused way.
Let’s see how.
The disruption of the pandemic also led people to re-evaluate priorities personally and professionally. People focused on their goals and what they wanted to achieve. Some left their jobs to pursue what they wanted to or did some things that they had long been dreaming of. They felt encouraged to reach out to people who could help them in their quest, or be in a position to help someone achieve his goals – and that is precisely how networking is making a comeback in a subtle way. It’s about making meaningful connections with the intent of collaboration.
So how do you network effectively?
Is it a mere collection of visiting cards at functions and events, cursory nods to people at work and team lunches? In today’s day your network is your networth – and to make it meaningful the perspective has to change. It’s not about what you can get out of it, it’s more about what are you bringing to the table. It is not happenance. It’s actually a long term plan and focuses on human connection.
How many of you have been contacted on LinkedIn and accepted connection requests only to get a message within hours to buy their product and service? That’s not what you want to do. Real connection is reciprocity at its best – high impact and meaningful.
Networking effectively starts with you. Your goals and what you value. The next stage is to think of people who can help you towards your goals – which means looking beyond the immediate circle and having a more diverse population in your ecosystem. This can give you exposure and insights which you would not have access to by virtue of remaining in the circle you are in. It opens up what you can offer to this microcosm of your connects. The underlying current is leading with the objective of how you can help. A process which enables you to learn what your capabilities are and articulating them well.
I have seen on many occasions that people who I did not think were relatively important for a project I had in mind or considered them influential for what I had in mind, ended up being pivotal to me. They had made the effort of getting to know me, and in turn I trusted them enough to share my dreams and hopes. I have learned this lesson after years.
When you connect or reconnect, make it engaging and meaningful for the other person too. Deepen the connection and ask about their hopes and dreams rather than making polite conversation. That way you know how to help at the opportune time. It is not mere handshaking at common events and talking about the weather.
Be genuine. Some people may not want to share their goals, so don’t push. Build bonds. Follow through when someone has sought your help. Be genuine and offer to help when you are able to and build confidence and trust.
Now when you go back to office make it a structured effort. Seek out people who you can learn from, ask people in other functions about their roles whether virtually or in person. Just be straightforward that you want to understand what they do so that you can help them whenever needed. This curiosity instils compassion and harmony.
Should managers take the lead in fostering this at work?
Absolutely. After 18 months, the whole world and in turn whole organizations have collectively experienced something together. The pandemic impacted everyone. The C-suite is not the only function that needs to build better connections, everyone does. Managers can continue with Monday ice breakers and team building activities that had started virtually.
So, ARE YOU NETORKING OR CONNECTING?