This year, I decided to be more mindful on how I am building and nurturing my professional network. It's led me to read a range of books on the topic and following a range of thought leaders on the topic.
Recently, I read the latest book from networking expert and author Janine Garner, “It's Who You Know.” It's a fascinating book about how to build a truly effective network. The book in a nutshell asserts that you don't need a massive network, but a rather a strategically small one. A network of twelve specific kind of connections.
Thinking strategically about building your network
In general, thinking strategically is harder than thinking broadly, and networking is no exception. It means you have to look at your network to measure purpose rather than coverage. For me, like most, it would be easy for me to take a broad overview, a snapshot of my network, in order to pat myself on the back. I'd just need to tally up the followers on twitter, friends on facebook, connections on linkedin, and contacts on email. The result? Thousands upon thousands of people in my network.
But here's the rub: out of all your contacts, which ones—as Garner states in the book's sub-title—are the twelve that will fast-track your success? Who are the twelve that will play a significant part in achieving your goals? This is where the strategic thinking comes in. What exactly do you actually want a network for? Is it just in the hope of getting referrals? It's easy to think that way, but an effective network does exponentially more than that.
Networking in bulk is efficient, but not effective
With the age of the internet, it's possible to network in bulk, creating a multitude of contacts heavy on the hope of getting and light in the way of giving and exchanging value, and right there is the problem. Garner makes a great point in the book about this, saying:
At the heart of a successful network lies the concept of value exchange—a mutually beneficial process that relies on more than just a transaction.
That's a key reason to think strategically small, rather than generally big; when you think in terms of twelve people, a power network, you can really put your finger on how you're adding value. It allows you to ensure you're relating with each individual in your power network based on the principle of value exchange.
But when it comes to building a truly effective network, it's not about just having a small number you exchange value with, but having a clearly defined position in mind for each of the twelve spots, which is the premise of Garner's book. It's not actually about trying to narrow down your network to your most successful twelve contacts, or your most well connected twelve contacts; rather, you need to think of your network as a team. Each key person in your network of twelve should play a specific role, much like a sports team. In order for soccer team to win consistently, they don't need twelve great goalies, or twelve champion strikers; what they need is twelve great team members, each specifically good at their position.
We can all build a network without putting too much thought into it, but to build your network strategically in a way that helps to fast-track your success requires you to think in terms of team, not just talent; in quality rather than quantity. It's firstly about understanding the diversity you need in your network, and, secondly, how can you consistently and mindfully exchange value within it.