The Power and Leverage of Network

by José Luis Alvarez (INSEAD)

Be professional about networking

We need to take networking seriously because it is central to how individuals and businesses thrive, Prof José Luis Alvarez of INSEAD Corporate Governance Centre told an ILA conference. A strategy and tactics are needed to build an array of contacts to help growth and innovation.

“Networking is not about love, but exchange,” José Luis told the ILA conference “The Power And Leverage of Network” on 26th June at BGL BNP Paribas on the Kirchberg. Networks are nothing less than “sources of power and influence” he added, saying they are “pathways of information flow and coordination.”

Build trust, build connections

We all need close family and friends to provide the “safety-net” emotional and practical support we crave as social beings. Then we need the favours, advice and mentoring available from around 100-200 close associates, and the wider network of thousands of acquaintances can provide essential sparks of originality.

Yet we wont build these relationships without building trust. José Luis suggested that generousity is the foundataion of a strong, functional network. This goes from being open to helping people when you can, through to engaging wholeheartedly with small talk. Also, people think better of us when we write thank you notes, remember birthdays and entertain at home. Ideally you will also participate in committees, task forces and join associations to take this to the next level.

A long term plan

To many people this approach comes naturally, but others might find it somewhat cold. Yet networking is about mutually beneficial relationships, and others want to meet you as much as you want to meet them. Indeed José Luis recognises that there is a danger of being perceived as overly pushy. He recommended taking a long-term approach, being open and engaged with people at every social occassion, but not necessarily with an end in sight. When contacts are made in a more organic fashion you are more likely to be trusted.

That said, he suggested we all make a plan. “Think about the type of people you need to meet for you and your business’ benefit, and make a list and write it down,” he said. This means seeking out people with diverse backgrounds and experience. We will naturally acquire dozens of contacts from our millieu, and this is important, but these people will not add the extra value you need. “You already know what people like you know, so you need to make wider connections,” José Luis added.

Networking is work

However, he warned that “networking is boring.” At a work related drink, the easiest thing is to team up with old buddies, but José Luis said “if you feel at ease when networking then this might be a sign that you are doing something wrong.” Make time to talk to people you haven’t met yet, but then reward yourself at the end with chat with your old cronies. Complement face-to-face connections with interactions on LinkedIn and Facebook. We have accountants to keep track of economic capital, so use technology to record your store of social capital.

This is how people become network “linchpins” and “brokers” who connect different groups. This is useful on so many levels, from helping with career advancement, to help on a complex project, through to bringing an unexpected spark of creativity and innovation. “Networking is like buying more lottery tickets,” said José Luis, “the more you have the greater the likelihood that you will have a choice of opportunities.”