For many, mention of the term conjures anxious feelings because they know it’s important, yet they hate doing it.  Networking guidelines are often vague or non-existent.

So we clam up at the idea of chamber-of-commerce mixers and industry conferences and complain to ourselves (or someone they can vent to without consequence) that it’s not part of our job description, and we should not be expected to “network.” Especially those who play critical, though behind-the-scenes, roles.

However, there’s no single standard that defines effective networking and it doesn’t always conform to the aforementioned stereotypical engagements.

9 Must Use Networking Guidelines

So, if you’re one of those people who dread networking and all its implications, here’s a guide on how to think differently about what networking is, the value it can bring to your career and company, and how you can be a more productive networker.

1. The ability to network is a key indicator of a high performer

Dozens of studies show that a key differentiator between high performers and everyone else is their ability to create, maintain, and leverage personal networks.

It all goes hand-in-hand with the ever-more adopted philosophy that successful outcomes result from cross-function collaboration and the breaking down of silos. Such collaboration by its very nature requires someone to be a good networker, able to establish and nurture relationships with people inside their own company as well as outside.

2. There are three distinct types of networking: operational, personal and strategic

It’s easy to say that everyone’s good at something, but even if you’re not good at any of these, there’s certainly one that’s the least torturous for you. Pick that one:

–          Operational is all about networking to maintain the capacities and functions of your organization (or job) insofar as you’re responsible. If you’re talking about a big company, most if not all of it is internal networking within your company, getting to know people across teams, departments, and pay grades, etc. If you’re a small businessperson, it’s about getting to know the suppliers, vendors, and talent you need to function as a business.

–          Personal networking involves activities designed to enhance your personal and professional development as well as providing referrals to useful information and contacts. This is where chamber mixers and industry conferences fit in. Among the people you meet in the spirit of networking, it’s really hard to say who will really end up being relevant to you in some way (or you to them). Likely, very few. That makes it a numbers game. How many cards can you get in two hours on the convention floor? Since networking works both ways, the more times you hand your card out, the better. It’s all about maximizing your sphere of influence. The more people know of you, the more people—some of whom may be relevant—you have a chance of meeting.

–          Strategic networking is actually an element of strategic planning. What are the future priorities of your organization, and who are the stakeholders and contributors to that future? These people may reside inside and outside your organization, and it’s all about targeting the people who would most likely be relevant to your future plans, long or short term.

3. The ultimate goal of any networking activity is to create a win-win scenario.

“Clicking” with someone in the context of networking is when two people find a way to bring value to each other’s business lives.

As human beings, we appreciate and seek genuine connections with others based on common ground. But establishing these types of connections is not an outcome of a two-minute conversation followed by a swapping of business cards. It’s a process, and it must include follow-up beyond the initial meeting to determine if a potential relationship creates a win-win for both of you.

4. Successful leadership must engage in networking.

Good leaders must invest time and energy into cultivating relationships with bosses, key clients, and peers from other work groups in order to foster understanding of each other’s work, areas of focus, and ideas for future planning.

This can happen through lunches, impromptu or scheduled meetings, phone conversations, or even golf games. Whatever the setting, the focus should be on building trust that allows natural synergies to develop.

5. Develop the personal protocols of networking.

It’s important to be familiar with the personal protocols of successful networking. Here are a few guidelines:

–          Make your name memorable

–          Make it a point to learn other peoples’ names

–          Deal with forgotten names in a way that builds the relationship

–          Know the right time to hand over a business card

–          Learn how to join groups of people who are already talking

–          Figure out how to politely end conversations

–          Learn to deal with the inevitable awkward moments

6. Use examples and stories to demonstrate your expertise, talents and interests

–          Answer “What do you do?” in a way that highlights your expertise

–          Know key events and successes to mention that demonstrate skills and capabilities

–          Be ready with stories that increase the visibility of your organization

7. Choose optimal networking opportunities

–          Go to events where the people you want to know will be

–          Plan how to get the most out of the time and money you spend at the event

–          Only invest time into networking groups where you are getting value

–          Plan how to seek out and take advantage of internal networking opportunities

8. Translate networking activities into actionable outcomes

–          Ask questions geared toward learning about others and developing relationships

–          Listen generously with a bias toward action

–          Be aware of chances to introduce contacts to each other and provide resources, talent, and opportunities

–          Take note of any business intelligence you may come across

–          Encourage and support a networking culture across your organization

9. Understand your personality and networking style, and seek out networking opportunities that fit

If a chamber “mixer” isn’t your thing, maybe something that brings a little more structure to the networking experience is the way for you, such as a breakfast panel discussion, a charity service day, or belonging to a number of dedicated networking organizations whose sole purpose is to provide a forum for businesspeople to get to know one another.

About the Author: Jim Dryburgh is President of The Balanced WorkLife Company. For the last 20+ years he’s been helping executives and professionals with their careers and has built a business mostly from a network he nurtures every day.