Everyone knows that relationships are the key to success. The vast majority of opportunities come from relationships with other people, so it makes sense to cultivate your network. Your network looks much different today than it did five or 10 years ago, and the ways we network and connect have changed tremendously.
Take a moment to think about how many people you know. Now think about how many people you have connected with in the past week, whether in person, by email, phone, social media, etc. We are more connected to more people than ever before — just look at how many friends, followers, or connections you have on Facebook, Twitter (TWTR), LinkedIn (LNKD), Instagram (AKAM), Pinterest, etc. Technology has shifted our capacity to meet people who share similar interests, and there is massive growth within curated, intentional communities — again, just look at all the subgroups within LinkedIn or Pinterest, for example.
Networking is easier than ever, but we need to be careful. Effective networking — which means establishing genuine relationships — is about sharing opportunities and information, not just getting ahead. It’s easy to connect in the digital age, but real relationships require effort and commitment. We need to be sure that our connections are meaningful and purposeful.
Here are a five ways to help you rethink networking:
1. Re-consider the power of peers. If we become the average of the people we spend the most time with, we need to be very purposeful in how we allocate our time. Consider the number of hours you spend at work and who you collaborate with. Do these people represent who you want to become? Consider who you socialize with. Are these groups aligned with your longer vision?
Action: Make a list of the people you really admire, value, and want to cultivate time with. On a weekly or monthly basis, carve out time to connect with them. Have lunch, go for cocktails, make a phone date, or connect via FaceTime.
Bonus: You must be both interested in and interesting to your peers.
2. Proactively cultivate your network. Think about who is in your network and then “re-think” who you’d like to have in your network. Most people never really think this through. I have my “nifty fifty” – the people who are important to me professionally and personally. Each week, I spend time trying to touch or add value to 20% of these people.
Action: Schedule time to really think about who is in your network, who you’d like to be in your network, and how you can pay attention and add value to them.
Bonus: Create a tickle or tracking system to give regularly.
3. Diversify. Sure, birds of a feather flock together, but diversity is the key to a robust network. I actively seek to have as broad and diverse a network as possible. One of my favorite friends is 40 years my senior, and I include her in most of my gatherings. She is bright, curious, well read, and a great conversationalist. She always brings a unique perspective.
Building on #1 and #2, take an inventory of the diversity of your network. Are they in the same industry, at the same “life stage,” same gender or race? Do they all share the same interests, beliefs, and backgrounds? Ideally you want to be surrounded by people who inspire you, challenge you, interest you, and make you feel fabulous.
4. Give before you get. Better yet, give without expecting to get. Remember, it’s not all about you. Think first how you can be of value to others. What do they want? What do they need? How can you serve them? In what ways can you give to them? Get creative about how you can support them. Share a resource, offer an introduction, lend a helping hand. Don’t be heavy-handed, just helpful. Many people will be touched just to know you are thinking about them.
Look at the people in your network. How can you be of service to them?
5. Reframe the give. Too often nurturing our network can feel like a “have to” rather than a “get to.” One client, a COO of a fast growing start-up, set the goal to connect with one friend every other week. After teasing her about how “lofty” this goal was, we reframed her concept of a connection from a two-plus hour commitment to a potential 20-second text message. Within one hour, she had made three touches that shifted her from feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and isolated to feeling excited, engaged, and like a good friend.
Nurturing your network can also nurture YOU. Feeding your network creates goodwill in you and them, and can re-energize us. I believe in karma — what goes around comes around. The more you give, the more you’ll get.
Action: Reframe the way you look at reaching out. Look at it as a way forward, as a way to reinvigorate yourself, spread joy, and energy. Create a goal of touches every week.
Camille Preston is the founder and CEO of AIM Leadership.