Often I’m asked to help implement programmes that will take networking to a higher level within an organisation, firm or business.
‘Stakeholders’ are the core of business networking. We have to be clear as to what we mean by the term ‘stakeholders’. Often participants think only of shareholders, staff and clients. ‘Stakeholders’ are basically any person or entity that has power over your organisation, firm or business – or over you! So, even SARS is a stakeholder in your business and it would be good to build positive relationships with the people there.
Let’s look at some other examples of who your ‘stakeholders’ may be:
- Owners, directors
- Management and staff
- Investors and financers – local and offshore
- Service providers
- Accountants, lawyers, consultants
- Advisory circles
- Organisations, firms, businesses in similar industries
- Your competitors
- BEE funders, groups and individuals
Once you have developed your list of stakeholders, you need to look at past, present and future role-players in each section.
It is also important to explore the benefits (to that firm and to all levels of management and staff) of networking effectively with those people. A good way of doing this is to ask:
What are the benefits of networking with:
- Former stakeholders?
- Current stakeholders?
- Potential stakeholders?
At the workshops, during discussion in the ‘groupwork’ participants usually come up with interesting combinations in each of the above categories and these will be unique to their firm.
Benefits are outlined in both of my books, ‘Networking tactics’ and ‘ABCs of effective networking’ and include:
- Becoming the ‘person of choice’, ‘firm of choice’ – or even ‘city of choice’
- Giving the other party the ‘benefit of the doubt’ when things don’t go according to plan - ‘Absence of malice’
- Providing opportunities for new projects or jobs or additional work with existing clients
- Growing your organisation, firm or business in the market
- Influencing decisions, having more power
- Negotiating prices or fees more easily
- Benefitting from referrals
- Having access to alumni and other networks
- Recognising and optimising opportunities for strategic alliances
- Learning about and exposure to different businesses
- Expanding your horizons though exposure to different ways of thinking and doing things
- Having access to experts and information when you need it
- Knowing who to go to when you are involved in something new
- Being visible so others think of you when there are opportunities
Once we have a clear understanding of the benefits we need to clearly define skills development and the building of stronger networks. (These topics are explored ‘in depth’ in both books and are not the focus of this article, although they are dealt with during workshops.)
The question of how to take networking to greater heights is a complex issue. Examples of successful projects that I’ve been involved in are:
- Holding a ‘one day’ workshop on networking for the leadership and sales teams and then setting up a sustainable 13-week programme for the entire staff. This was handled most effectively during 2009 by Arch Chemicals. Please refer to CEO, Dave Mullin’s feedback in our newsletter (link). He is to be commended on the way he imbued the entire staff with a sense of commitment to the programme. It was a great success and the positive results escalated way beyond just improved networking.
- At a leading hotel the management chose a number of appropriate principles from the ‘ABCs of networking’. The entire staff at every level worked on the same principle each week. Report back and ‘catching people doing something right’ were integral parts of this programme, too.
- An international firm of consultants made a video of interviews with a select group of partners in the New York and Los Angeles offices. Each person was asked to define and tell others their networking background and strategies. This helped to articulate ‘tacit knowledge’, those things that we know or take for granted but have never made a conscious effort to share. It also helped the lower levels of management to understand the networking culture of the firm. Obviously in undertaking a project of this nature there is a huge risk that the DVDs will get into the wrong (competitor’s) hands. However, this project worked for them and I was one of the consultants involved in rolling the programme out in South Africa.
Based on this experience and further work in this field, I developed a template for leaders to use in profiling their approach to networking. In my blog I gave an example using my own details.
The above are some examples of programmes that can be developed and implemented in order to build a sustainable networking progamme within an organisation, firm or business.