When it comes to learning best practices, identifying corporate growth opportunities and finding the right people to help execute on a company’s strategic growth plans, the best plan of action for corporate executives is often to surround themselves with smart people, and network extensively. Unfortunately, for many executives, strategic networking can be a challenge. But for those who master some key fundamentals, networking can produce positive outcomes.
So what are some key fundamentals in building a strong network? And how can the network be leveraged in a way to drive results?
According to Sid Fuchs, CEO of MacAulay Brown, Inc., a leading engineering and technical services company, and author of the highly publicized book, Get Off the Bench, individuals must “build a network incrementally, in stages, by leveraging degrees of separation.”
In his book, Sid lays out an eight step framework to effectively build a solid network. Some of these tactics include, “setting a clear objective on what to achieve, creating a scenario and developing a solid plan of action, and identifying what to bring to the table and discover areas of common interests with the targets.”
When it comes to setting an objective, Sid states that individuals “must ask the following: what do you want to achieve? And what is your endgame? The key to any good strategy is a crystal clear vision of the desired outcome. Once you’ve achieved clarity about your ultimate objective, it isn’t difficult to back up and identify the necessary steps to make it happen.” Ultimately, “what matters is that the objective is precisely defined.”
In terms of creating a scenario and developing a solid plan of action, “This step involves mapping out the milestones required to reach the objective,” said Sid. “The easiest way to go about this is to begin with the endgame and work backwards. Start by figuring out the final link in the chain, which takes place before acquiring the objective.” For instance, “If the objective is to expand the sphere of influence, then one should ask, what are the intended contact’s profiles?”
And as far as identifying what to bring to the table and discovering areas of common interests with targets, “People who don’t want to give are pretty much on their own… If you show me a very successful person, I’ll show you someone who not only has a network, but gives willingly to that network.”
Also, “in my experience, providing a service is the fastest and easiest way to gain entrance to a network. It’s also the most enjoyable. Remember, making a good first impression is key.”
While it’s certainly tough to build a solid network, it’s also quite challenging to leverage the network to produce results. Sid offers several effective tactics in his book that he continues to employ throughout his career.
One of the tactics relies on the understanding of the “three types of non-financial ‘capital’…Relational, social and political capital”, and which ones to use under certain scenarios. For example, with relational capital, individuals must invest in relationships between business and their customers. This can “require trust, experience and knowledge at the core” to be built up and spent appropriately, similar to a “checking account where deposits and withdrawals are made in the network, and the end goal is always to end up on the positive side of the ledger”, said Sid.
With social capital, value is placed on “quantity within a network versus how well individuals know the people within their network”. And with political capital, “the proverbial phrase, ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’” can be required, as Sid states, to “move an agenda forward by leveraging relationships, position, power, or financial situation.”
According to Sid, “knowing which type of capital environment to operate in will help with understanding people’s attentions and objectives; the resources required to build the capital; and the amount of capital one is willing to use in order to reach an objective.”
Networking is ultimately, as Sid states, “an art as much as a skill.” And for the executives and organizational leaders who effectively build and leverage this valuable external resource, over time their organizations will see the positive results that drive corporate growth.