Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Your Network Is Not An Add-On

"The Care & Feeding of Networks" ... I recently gave this seminar to a group of C-level executives in affluent, corporate-dense Westchester County, New York.

Like a blast of cold air it hit me: Too many senior executives think about networking as a nice add-on. The reality is that your network, in booms and busts, whether you have a job or don’t, is your most valuable career marketing tool. And just like everything else of value, it requires care and attention.

What do I mean by that? Five things.

1. Segmentation is the first step. Divide all your contacts into categories. Base them on your needs and their potential to fill them. At its core, a network is a barter system. You’ve got to give to get. Title those contacts in each category in terms of promise, such as an A-list, a B-list and a C-list.

2. Commit to proactively caring and feeding the most promising contacts and not neglecting the less promising ones. We need all six degrees of separation and opportunity often comes via weak links.

3. Create a detailed plan to work the A-list. That entails more than just “keeping in contact.” Actually, you are investing in them. As with any investment, you monitor their ups and downs and reach out with both congratulations and offers of support.

4. Establish a thorough but not time-consuming plan to manage the B-list. That might require you set up a database to send useful articles, surveys and personnel changes.

5. Stroke the C-list. These could include some of those weak links. At conferences, touch base with them, during the holidays send greetings, and keep them in your database for milestone announcements about you and your organization.

Your network does require your time and effort. But in this high demand work world executives live in, research and experience demonstrate: Your network is one of your most valuable assets.

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