We’ve all encountered people whose primary goal is to create a vast network of “contacts”. These folks supersize. They have an enormous collection of Facebook friends and they exchange business cards with everyone they meet, inviting one and all into their LinkedIn network.
But what do their “contacts” actually mean to them? Do such collectors of contacts follow networking best practices and act as a resource? Would they actually even recognize many of their “contacts” if they ran into them at the grocery store? Too often, the answer is no.
I’ve had the experience of being sucked into the clutches of a few super-networkers and found that when I emailed an easy and uncomplicated question, my inquiry went unanswered. Needless to say I severed the association but I’m sure my absence is neither missed nor even noticed. Who can keep track of or maintain contact with 500 connections?
Well I’m happy to report that at last there is data that supports what has long been my gut feeling about networking. Apparently, when it comes to our network of relationships, size matters and smaller is better.
Robert Cross, Associate Professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and Robert Thomas, Executive Director of the global consulting firm Accenture’s Institute for High Performance, contend that the most effective networks focus on high-quality relationships, ideally with people who come from diverse levels of the corporate and/or socioeconomic hierarchy. Cross and Thomas found that a properly functioning network consists of about 12-18 people. The ideal network provides guidance, exposes us to fresh approaches to decision-making and problem-solving, challenges us and also gives us validation and encouragement.
A diversity of professional and personal interactions pays numerous dividends, socially and professionally. We get to meet and rub shoulders with those who’ve lived different lives and therefore have different values, perspectives and experiences. We learn how to become more flexible and resilient. Our decision-making capabilities improve because we incorporate additional information and we become better leaders and better business people.
Take a look at who you know and who you consider to be a member of your network. Who looks out for you and who do you look out for? Cross and Thomas recommend that we cultivate relationships in these categories:
- People who share or expose you to new information or expertise, e.g., giving the heads-up on happenings in your business environment. This could be a client or someone from the chamber of commerce or other business group.
- Peers in other industries, who can open your eyes to what other organizations consider to be best practices or smart business strategies.
- Powerful people, who can open doors, make introductions, cut through red tape, provide useful inside information and mentoring.
- Those who know and validate validate your work and can provide feedback and challenge you to get better (maybe a client, peer or boss).
- Peers in a business similar to your own, but who are based in another geography and therefore allow you to discuss business strategy and not worry about competition.
- People who provide personal support, good friends and family you can call on when things go wrong and you need to talk.
- Outlets for spiritual and physical well being: fitness, meditation, religion, volunteering, sports and hobbies.
As you review and perhaps revamp your network, look to include people who bring good energy, people who bring out the best in you. Build relationships with people who see opportunities and know how to reach for them. If you’ve been gestating an important goal you’d like to achieve, think about who in your network can help you get there? Is there someone you should reconnect with?
Most of all, remember that networking is about building and maintaining relationships, whether or not there is an immediate need to call in a favor. Reciprocity rules, so maintain contacts, reach out and reconnect to good friends and colleagues and be generous when they are in need.
Thanks for reading,