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Relationship Intelligence Relationship Management

The Invisible Networking Strategies of Successful People

By Rebecca Hinds

Personal networks have become critical to success in the workplace. 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Whether you're looking to land your next job, advance in your career, or acquire new customers or business partners, your personal network can prove transformative.

Regrettably, most people have a distorted view of what successful networking entails. Contrary to the advice commonly spewed by self-help books, successful networkers do not focus on reaching out to others in order to expand their reach. Instead, they focus on developing “pull” and becoming people who others actively seek out. According to research by Babson University's Robert Cross, developing “pull” rather than “push” is typically four times more predictive of a successful networker.

How do we develop “pull”? Extensive research by Rob Cross and Rebecca Garau revealed 12 invisible network strategies that characterize successful networkers. These strategies fall under three overarching categories.

1. Produce innovative solutions

Successful networkers strategically find ways to leverage their networks to solve problems, identify opportunities, and implement new ideas. They do this by:

  • Tap into a broad network early on in the problem-solving process. Innovation emerges serendipitously from unexpected actions and interactions. Effective networkers have a deep understanding of who is in their team’s network and what each network member can offer. They use tools such as Affinity to query their network and reach far and wide to expose themselves to broad perspectives and increase opportunities to reframe problems. They don’t immediately try to solve problems but instead focus on expanding their reach to minimize the likelihood they’ll overlook important information or insights.
  • Create emergent innovation through open interactions in the network. Effective networkers don’t get affixed to an idea or solution prematurely. Instead, they are open to new ideas and resources.
  • Build purpose energy and trust to earn interest, effort, and creativity. Successful networkers are energizers. When people feel engaged and motivated by a strong sense of purpose they're more likely to propose suggestions and offer resources that give rise to innovation. Successful networkers focus on creating this type of environment.
  • Innovate the work and the network simultaneously. Far too often people want to ensure that ideas are fully-baked before sharing them with their network. The most successful networkers begin to engage stakeholders and networkers influencers when ideas are only partially developed. Doing so enables them to reduce the likelihood of influential people becoming sources of friction later

2. Execute work efficiently

Successful networkers are efficient in the ways in which they execute their work. They foster connectedness by creating influence without authority and adapt their network so as to realize results.

  • Scale accomplishments through networks. Successful networkers invest a lot of time upfront to understand the expertise and aspirations of those around them. This enables them to expand their reach early and understand how to most effectively leverage those around them to create new opportunities.
  • Build individual agility through personal networks. When roles shift and individuals change departments, divisions, or organizations, they often fall short in terms of replicating their previous success. Successful networkers don't rely too heavily on individuals that they've relied on in previous roles. They understand their relationship graph and sphere of influence. Along with some of the most effective networkers in Silicon Valley, they use Affinity to gain a holistic view of the current state of their network and identify opportunities to strengthen it to align with their new environment so that they’re able to effectively adapt to their new role.
  • Cultivate influence without authority through network roles. Successful networkers don’t walk into meetings or presentations without first developing strong relationships and connections with influencers. They leverage informal conversations to vet their ideas with (especially informal) influencers and prep them for conversations. These informal influencers tend to be highly adept at generating interest and excitement among others.
  • Drive results through agile team and unit networks. Successful networkers are vigilant about driving collaboration at key strategic positions in their network that are most critical to performance. They bridge organizational silos where collaboration is most important. They also leverage network edges (for example, newcomers or silos) and bring them into the network.

3. Thrive at work.

Successful networkers realize that collaboration is challenging. They make strong efforts to reduce collaborative overload and adopt strategies to boost their resilience to collaborative overload and to increase their personal well-being.

  • Reduce collaborative overload to regain time and space. Most knowledge workers spend 85% or more of their time each work in email, meetings, and phone calls. Cross’ research has revealed that workers can gain back 18-24% of the collaborative time by being proactive in three key ways. First, they must recognize their personal patterns. Several identity-drivers such as a strong need for accomplishment, a desire to be in the know, and a fear of missing out or a fear of loss of control make certain individuals especially susceptible to collaborative burnout. Successful networkers identify their personal patterns and challenge their established beliefs. Second, successful networkers impose structure by defining clear objectives and establishing rules for how they interact and collaborate with others. This enables them to focus on their priorities. Finally, successful networks alter their behavior. They promote efficient network norms by, for example, inviting only essential stakeholders to meetings, using meeting time for collaborative activities rather than status updates, and adopting efficient email practices.
  • Cultivate a network that draws you to personal and professional priorities. A lot of our career moves and priorities are driven and influenced by other people’s priorities. Successful networkers have a strong understanding of their personal brand and the expertise they want to bring to their network. They proactively build a network that is supportive of this.
  • Make network investments that create a sense of purpose in your work. To be successful, our work needs to have significant meaning. Successful networkers forge relationships that help them find meaning in their work, whether through greater opportunity to engage in creative work or be part of high-impact projects. Contrary to popular belief, our sense of purpose isn’t tied to the work we do, but rather to our work interactions.
  • Buffer your work and anchor in non-work networks to gain perspectives. Successful networkers are in control of their time. They put up buffers such as restricting email checking to three times a day, creating blocks of time exclusively devoted to family and/or pleasure time, and establishing hard stops at various points in the day to prevent burnout. Somewhat counterintuitively, successful networkers also anchor themselves to one or two non-work affiliated groups such as community, exercise, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual groups. They are religious about attending meetups. These group affiliations can prove game-changing in that they provide us with a reality check, help us develop gratitude, enable us to explore to different perspectives, and help us develop resiliency by understanding that we are not defined by our work roles.

Successful networks are strategic about building a network that empowers them to enhance their personal and professional potential. By leveraging tools such as Affinity, they can unearth the invisible potential of their network and give rise to transformative business opportunities.

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how to grow your network guide

Relationship Intelligence Relationship Management