There is a lot written, on this blog and elsewhere, about the importance of building a network of professional contacts as you build your career. During the rough economy over the past 18 months many business executives have seen that the companies who have achieved the most have benefited from the long-term mutually beneficial connections. Networking is cool again as everyone wants to harness every advantage.
But not much is written about what to do once you have developed an extensive reputation and a large database of contacts. Problems occurs with managing your network once you have achieved high levels of success. Networking is different when you are on top of the pyramid than it is on the way up!
Successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, accounting executives, consultants, and others rely heavily on networking on the way up the ladder, but once they are on top, they have issues maintaining the large number of key relationships, and have difficulty finding the time to establish new friendships, while simultaneously keeping up with those who are already in their database.
Many quit the process of networking and cultivating relationships. Some forget the reality that it was other people who helped them along their path and start to believe their own press about their greatness. Other are just overwhelmed by the hours it takes to navigate their high-level, high-pressure careers and just drop out of the social scene.
Additionally, once you occupy the corner office you will have a certain level of fame in your industry and community. This means that your phone will ring with several requests to meet for lunch or coffee, as lots of people will want to "pick your brain". Strangers, friends-of-friends, and other admirers will want access to your calendar. While you don't want to be rude, if you let everyone "pick", you will have no gray matter left in the end. This leads to people closing themselves off from the rest of the world.
Finally, with a large network, you will find there many people who are dead weight or too self-oriented to help you succeed (bad networkers who fail to help you, while always expecting you to assist them). These people can be major time hogs and / or sap your motivation levels while they seek your advice, introductions, and referrals. Knowing too many of these types will turn off the most seasoned networker.
Here are five tips to manage a large network once you have arrived at the senior levels of success:
1. Remember How You Got To The Top. If people in your life helped you succeed, acknowledge that your network was an important key to your success. Then make it a point to help others reach their goals. If you make assisting others a priority, you will be more likely to take action when you see a possible connection that would be beneficial for others. Beware of falsely imagining that you are one who "pays it forward", as most people think they do this even when they do not. We all want to be "good people", but it is easy to get busy and fail to take actions that are not part of our immediate to-do list.
2. Have A Little Time For "Brain Picking". When you are on top, people will desire to know you and gain your insight. Set a small amount of time for such meetings. Two short blocks of time per week (30 minutes each) will allow you to talk to 100 people per year. There were people who made the time for you when you were young and they made a difference in your career. You will feel good about yourself if you can materially impact just a couple of those who seek you out. Also, you never know who might bring you opportunity, so one of the people you give your time to might return the favor and deliver you an amazing return.
One executive I met several years ago had a great policy. He was an early riser and got to work as the sun came up. When random people wanted to meet with him he gave thirty minutes at 6:30 AM in his office available. Few people took him up on the time slot, but that was the way he separated those who were worth investing his attention from those who would waste his time. He did this for "brain pickers" and soliciting sales professionals. Only the most motivated would accept the appointment.
3. Host An Annual Event. It is difficult to keep up with everyone when you have a large network. But if you are a leader in your community, people will want to attend your annual picnic or holiday party. While there is an expense related with hosting these types of events, humans are "experiential beings" and if you are known for bringing the "whose who" together, it will translate to good will in your circle of influence.
4. Network Down The Ladder. On the way up in your career you will most likely establish some great friendships along the way. Together you will "grow up" together and many business deals and referrals will pass back and forth. The mistake that many executives make is they continue to exclusively hang around with their peers (both in age and success levels). The problem with this is that as your network gets older, they will pass many of the day-to-day business decisions to younger members in their companies. As those "kids" start calling the shots, they will send the business to those they know, like and trust. If you have ignored them, or treated them like "children", then they will not send the business to you. This happens often, and senior executives expect that their peers will step in and influence the younger players. However, good managers will not over-ride their own team members, thus leaving you without a link to your best referral sources.
5. Purge The Dead Weight. If you have people in your network who do not mutually contribute, or are simply "takers", there comes a time when you have to move on. I am not suggesting that you "fire your friends" (although sometimes you should), as it is fine to be friends with anyone you enjoy spending time with. But your business contacts whom are not returning the efforts to help you (assuming you are helping them) need to be purged from your "A-List". Review your client list regularly and identify who is helping you find business. Make sure that you treat your best referral sources like gold. Everyone else should always be shown respectful treatment, but you main attention should go to those who understand how to network to help all involved.
6. Surprise People With Something Unexpected. You thought there were just five tips here, but #6 is a bonus. Everyone likes getting a little more than they expected. Often the senior executives stop going to networking events in their business communities because they feel they are "above" such activities. Those at the top claim they "paid their dues" and will skip out on the common folk gatherings that happen around town. But when you are still visible at these events, even on occasion, it positions you as a regular person. Since it is unexpected that you would be there (because of your high level position), you will become even more popular with people. Claiming you are "beyond" networking events makes many view you as elitist, and nobody wants to help elitists achieve more.
Have A Great Day.