One of the few skills most senior executives will admit they need to develop is their networking skill. Even though it is a fundamental aspect of most such positions, the ability to network is often seen as a bolt-on rather than a need-to-have.
I’ve written a lot about the importance of networking before, and mentioned how most senior executives need a pool of around 70-80 influential people who know, like and trust them, enough to be able to confide in them if you need to do so.
Another theme I’ve often explored is the problem that many executives seem to have, where they neglect their network in times of gainful employment and regret this when they are in search of help.
So, how do you keep this group – your inner cadre of contacts – simmering until you need them?
Let’s begin with a little back-of-envelope calculation. The British psychologist, Tony Buzan, stimulated the debate by looking at our retention of knowledge over time, this has been repeated by other researchers in other areas. Essentially, most authors reckon that for someone to feel sufficiently positive towards you, you need to have be in touch every three or four months. So, let’s say that the 80 people need to be reconnected with you every four months – that’s 20 each month, 5 every week, or one every working day. You can put the envelope away now.
In all probability, it would become a terrible chore to write to one person every day – easily do-able, but a chore nonetheless!
Be creative and consider some simple ways of managing this load… A seasonal message – sent for Christmas, or the New Year – is one of their three. BUT PLEASE MAKE IT A PERSONAL GREETING AND NOT A MASS E-CARD! That leaves two more connections to be made for each person every year.
A mixture of a coffee, lunch, or after-work drink with a few – maybe one or two each week, together with a personalised ‘news’ letter sent to most of them once a year… Perhaps a message reminding them to put the clocks forwards or backwards? And, if you are connected on LinkedIn or Facebook, you could always send them a birthday message.
If geography permits then consider inviting some of them to a summer party – you’d be surprised how far people will travel for something slightly different and, with a little creative thinking again, these need not be so expensive. Invite twenty-five to an ‘end of the summer term’ party in June and a different twenty-five to a ‘last of the summer wine’ party in mid-September. The bonding created can be fantastic!
This all calls for a bit of network organisation. A spreadsheet and some forward planning with your preferred diary management tool works wonders. Remember, we’re not talking about massive lists and expensive CRM systems, but a select list of people you REALLY know. If you’re tempted to think it’s too much hassle, bear in mind that it is this cohort of people who will be determining the success of your career well into the future.
NB: Unusually, this article was cross posted on my ‘the-confidant’ and ‘executive-post’ sites as it really applies to each equally. I hope no-one will feel cheated!