With the holiday season behind us, it’s time to prepare for the year ahead. As an aspirational manager, one of the things you absolutely need to pay attention to is your network. Consider this: at holiday parties, mixers, and events, you probably had the opportunity to reconnect with people you don’t see every day. Additionally, you likely sent season’s greetings to contacts you didn’t get to meet up with in person. So why not build on that momentum to strengthen and expand your network?
Why managers need networks
Despite the fact that recruiters and thought leaders alike have been touting the advantages of networking for years, many managers still don’t spend sufficient time and energy developing their networks. For some, it’s because they’re so busy with their daily responsibilities that attending a networking event encroaches too much on their already sparse free time. For others, it’s because they find networking distasteful and don’t want to come across as too assertive to people they hardly know.
However, according to an INSEAD article titled “Networking is vital for successful managers,” the truth of the matter is that every manager who wants to advance needs not one, not two, but three networks. The first is your operational network: the people you work with in your company and your industry to get your job done. This includes your employees, external stakeholders, clients, and suppliers. The second is your personal network. This consists of people you meet through something other than your job, for example roommates from college, people you work with at your local charity, or friends from the gym. These people are important because even if they’re not in the same professional field as you, they can offer you personal support and fresh insights. Finally, there’s your strategic network: peers and senior executives in your field with whom you share a mutual professional interest in advancement. If you really want to move up, this is the network you need to focus on and solidify.
Creating a networking strategy
Now you understand what the three different types of networks are, it’s time to determine which of your contacts fit into which network. Make a list of everyone you connected with during the holiday season, noting where you met them, what you discussed, and what their contact details are.
Then, for each person, assess whether he or she is a part of your operational, personal, or strategic network. Make sure to save the list to a separate file so you can add or edit it at any time. Alternatively, you can use a networking app like Contxts that allows you to list and organize contacts in your phone.
With all of your contacts organized into the most relevant network, consider the most appropriate ways to keep in touch. Your operational network is the easiest, because you communicate with these people on a daily or weekly basis. Keeping up with your personal network can be more challenging, so make use of the tools at your disposal. Facebook remains a great way to stay in touch with personal friends; and you can also put reminders in your phone or tablet for birthdays and events. This provides you with a thoughtful yet informal way of connecting.
Strengthening your strategic network is the most challenging of all. It’s important to only reach out to someone if you have something meaningful to communicate. One of the best ways to come up with relevant topics to discuss is to follow these people and/or their companies on Twitter. You can also follow influencers on LinkedIn to find industry-related discussion points.
Knowing how to stay in touch and what to discuss will only be constructive if you actually interact with the people in your networks. Set aside some time every day to follow and participate in conversations and reach out to people individually. Remember: the more you interact with your contacts, the stronger your network will become. Once you’ve built a solid foundation, you can expand your network by asking your contacts to introduce you to some of the people they know.
Building solid operational, personal, and strategic networks is an ongoing endeavor. By spending some time interacting with your contacts every day, you can greatly strengthen and enhance your circle of colleagues, friends, peers, and leaders.