Strategic Networking for Reluctant Networkers

An article by Mark Winkle

Having worked with FDs, CIOs, head’s of supply chain and a wide range of ‘technical’ leaders over the years, it never fails to amaze me, that when we examine a recent ‘development report’, the sum of the constructive suggestions is often ‘go out and network more’, with little if any insight or intuition as to how this might be achieved.

While these individuals are by no means universally introvert, they are typically strong logical and structured thinkers. Consequently, their networking approach needs to be driven by rationality and reason, and in the absence of such a framework comes the oft repeated phrase: “but what do I talk to them about?”

It’s a crucial development area for this group, who are quite capable of networking, but need to make the essential shift to personal strategic networking, so they can achieve their senior leadership and board level ambitions. Often these individuals, who happily and assertively network when they are seeking to deliver a specific role or project related goal, become conspicuously lost when it comes to the personal networking agenda.

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In terms of a coaching agenda we look to facilitate the creation of a new frame of reference that allows the individual to lock in their own goals and objectives. We endeavour to harness their ‘natural’ motivational engine which will drive them to ‘network’ effectively in alignment with their objectives.

The hub of this personal networking process is a rigorous career analysis, which encompasses an in-depth understanding of their individual strengths, motivations and drivers; and is goal focused in terms of their future career landscape.

Only when this analysis is complete are we able to answer the essential question of whether they are ‘ready, willing and able’ to tackle the personal strategic networking agenda.

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Once their personal motivational framework for undertaking the networking process is unlocked, we then start to reframe the networking agenda as a legitimate business practice, using their familiar ‘task’ agenda to achieve their goals. Subsequently, we can then address both intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of motivation to drive their development of this crucial networking skill.

The networking process is additionally reinforced by building clarity around the reasons for targeting people to network with, and the purpose of the contact, thereby providing a ‘natural’ agenda for the ‘discussion’.

Strategic networking is a detailed, planned and structured activity which should appeal to the strengths of this group, and when appropriately positioned it should be possible to overcome resistance to what is, all too often, viewed as a potentially ‘painful’ experience.

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In a coaching context, as we continue the reframing, we move the image of networking away from the perception of it as an ‘extrovert’ territory and recontextualise it as a structured, planned, and well thought through activity, which becomes more ‘emotionally’ appealing and creates clear and compelling reasons to ‘get on with it’.