Networking has long been a core business skill and should not be neglected as communications become more digital. The principles remain the same; it's about cultivating social and professional relationships to further your business or career, whether that is online, in work, or through hobbies and extracurricular activities.
The prospect of putting yourself out there can be daunting for some, but it doesn’t have to be. It is important to remember that networking doesn’t have to be done in an overly formal setting, it can be done anywhere – over lunch or dinner, at an event or conference, at a party or even somewhere as standard as the office kitchen.
For those that find networking difficult there are ways to become more comfortable. It can be useful to find a ‘networking partner.' This may be a family member, friend or colleague who is also trying to expand their network. Start by networking internally in your organisation, by reaching out to a business leader for lunch or asking a manager to go for coffee. They will rarely say no.
Networking in the 21st century
The creators of LinkedIn have built their empire around the need for networking to become simpler and more effective. This type of platform has made it easier than ever for employees to grow their networks.
However, establishing a connection on LinkedIn doesn’t automatically mean you’ve made a meaningful connection; just as swapping business cards with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re now a new addition to your network.
Rather this should be treated as a first step. To take it to the next level a bridge must be built, whether by reaching out over email or direct mail on LinkedIn or by arranging a coffee.
While the ability to network is key to building a list of valuable contacts, the ability to reach out and turn to those contacts when you need to is ultimately what makes connections worthwhile.
How can businesses encourage networking among their staff?
Networking should be encouraged internally within every company. At Allianz Partners we run a dedicated ‘Learnscape Programme’ aimed at helping staff network with colleagues they wouldn’t normally work with, in particular the C-suite.
As part of this programme we deliver regular breakfast briefings and morning sessions, and facilitate conversations on a range of leadership topics between senior management and staff. Sessions are open to all employees and are filled on a first-come-first-served basis, with a maximum attendance of 25 people.
This kind of activity gives employees a chance to learn more about each other and discover ways they can support each other in future. It also provides the opportunity for them to understand the functions and goals of senior management, giving them the chance to have a say in company decision-making or bring up any concerns directly with management.
These sessions, although relatively new, have proven positive for the company. They are set to remain a monthly occurrence, with different company department heads and CEOs taking turns to facilitate.
Delivering programmes like this can be mutually beneficial. It gives employees a platform to speak up and be heard on topics they are passionate about. And it allows management to get a true sense of what their employees need and want.
Claire Cusack is director of HR for international health at Allianz Partners