Why Every Senior Leader Needs a Networking Plan
Do you actively spend time focusing on your network? Do you have relationships in place to get things done at every level? Is the thought of adding networking to your already full plate a bit overwhelming?
For many of us, networking is one more pain in the xxx to think about while we’re busy doing other things. For those who are introverted, it’s even more painful. By the time you get to a senior leadership role, it’s tempting to think you can be done with it, but that is simply not the case.
The Power of Networking
Imagine being able to get things done anywhere in your organization at any level easily. Imagine others selling your merits when talent conversations roll around. In business (and life), getting things done can be a lot easier when you know more people. AND today’s complex challenges often require mobilizing people from areas that don’t report to you and relying on functions outside of your direct authority. Your ability to influence up, down, across the organization and externally will soon be critical to your success (if it isn’t already).
So how do you strengthen your network without sacrificing the valuable time you desperately need to do your job and manage your team?
You build a networking plan.
Building A Networking Plan
1. Make A List
Many of my clients have found it helpful to look at networking through the lens of a bullseye or target. If you picture the rings, the one in the center is made up of the people you already come in contact with frequently (your team, your boss, and your internal or external clients). The next larger ring contains the people you contact less frequently but still know pretty well. These might be peers you have worked with in the past, teams you served on, or committees that don’t meet that often. Outside of that are more layers of people in your sphere of influence with the outer ring being those you know OF, but perhaps don’t know personally at all.
A networking plan challenges you to identify those people and figure out who you need to know better. In some cases, you may need to ask those in your inner circle who they think would be valuable for you to meet and make an introduction.
For starters, I recommend a simple spreadsheet with a few columns. A list of names, titles, the name of someone who could potentially connect you, the date you met them, and notes so you don’t forget what you discussed with them. This is a great place to jot down kids’ names or events they may have mentioned.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Your networking plan should not overtake your life. Spend an hour or two thinking through the plan and set a realistic goal for how many meetings you can handle. One or two a week is fine. This is a long-term game. I met a colleague not long ago that was seeking to have 1000 cups of coffee with people he didn’t know. Most of us don’t need quite that much caffeine, but if you are looking for a new role or starting a business, that may be appropriate.
3. Keep At It
As a senior executive, it’s easy to fall into the rut of thinking you don’t need to do this, or you already know the people you need in your network. I would challenge that. In most organizations, new people start every day and you may benefit from knowing them. Think about lower levels in the organization where you may need an ear to what’s going on. Think about others doing similar roles globally, stakeholders, or senior leaders you don’t know as well. All are fair game. Think of those who you wish knew your name. They are your priority. And if you simply can’t think of anyone to put on your list, ask those around you. They will know.