8 Simple Ways to Bolster Your Network
If you don’t know Heidi Roizen, perhaps you recognize her from the 2000 Harvard Business School case "Heidi Roizen," in which she discussed how to effectively build, maintain, and tap a professional network. In the case she highlighted three key elements of successful networking: access to the right people, your performance in and after the interaction, and your consistency over time. She's applied these elements to every role she’s had, from tech entrepreneur to Apple executive, and from corporate director to operating partner at venture firm DFJ.
I recently asked what's changed--and what hasn't--about how she networks in the digital era. Here, in her own words, she shared her advice:
1. Social media can help speed connections …
I follow a lot of people on social media and read their material. It’s really terrific that people have these platforms now, and you can go find them and develop an understanding of a person based on what they’re willing to put out there publicly. In fact, I started a blog recently--in part because, when you’re a venture capitalist, you live and die by the quality of the people attracted to you and seeking capital from you. I think the more you put yourself out there in social media, really defining what’s important to you, the more you end up attracting the kind of entrepreneurs who resonate with your thinking.
2. Don’t confuse social media connections with actual intimacy.
Social media creates a false sense of intimacy, particularly when people choose to expose a lot about themselves. Social media has allowed us to have broader relationships, but at the end of the day human relationships haven’t changed. Everyone has to set their own limits about how accessible they will be. For example, I get a lot of requests for LinkedIn connections, and if I know both sides of the equation, or I feel like it’s a reasonable request--someone has a job opening, someone else is looking for a job--I will probably accept. But if somebody is trying to take two steps: "Dear Heidi, will you please send this to someone you know who knows the person I’m trying to reach?" I just refuse all of those. I’m not going to ask my network to do things on my behalf when I’m not in the equation.
3. Build relationships based on giving.
There’s a great book called Give and Take, which talks about the givers, i.e. those people who do favors with no expectation in return. Being a giver is a good thing and there’s research that shows the most successful networkers and people are this way. In essence, you’re building up human capital in the capital bank, not necessarily knowing how you’re going to spend it.
4. For broad exposure, serve your industry.
Trade associations are a lot of work and you don’t get paid to do them. But participating in them can amplify your presence in your industry beyond the scope of your company. Not only will you meet other leaders, you’ll also have a shared endeavor. And one of the best ways to build relationships is through a shared endeavor.
5. Embrace the power of weak ties.
I do think that technology has increased our ability to maintain weak ties with people, and that has value. There’s a lot of research and writing about weak links being potentially more powerful than strong ones. And I’m a big believer in that. Because of technology and social media, in less than a minute I can find someone I haven’t been in touch with for 10 or 15 years, look at LinkedIn and see what they’re up to, and be able to re-establish that link in a more efficient and meaningful way. And by the same token, sometimes you can rule them out just as efficiently and say, "Oh, they’re clearly not interested in this thing anymore."
6. If you can’t find the win-win, maybe you shouldn’t ask the favor.
Personally, I feel uncomfortable reaching out to someone I don’t know well [and] asking a favor when the benefit is to me and not to them. That said, I think sometimes you can build a relationship with someone you don’t know around a genuine ask if there’s a win-win. For example, sometimes I reach out to people I don’t know when I think that they should be contacted by a journalist, and I think it would be a good win-win, or when I know a quality person who is looking for a job and the company has an opening. But I think if you’re at a point where you’re trying to build a relationship because you already want something, you’ve already sort of screwed up.
7. People can only drink so much coffee.
I get asked for favors by people I don’t know all day long. Most often, it’s "I heard you speak, I’m at a juncture in my career, I’d really like to buy you a coffee and sit down with you." Well, I get probably 10 of these a day, which makes it impossible for me to do. If that person were to think about my day instead, maybe what they’d say is: "I’d like five minutes of your time. Here’s my résumé and I have two questions to ask you--here they are." I’m more likely to say yes to that, even for someone I don’t know, just because they’ve packaged it in a way that allows me to be helpful. When I ask a favor I think, "How can I make this so easy that they won’t mind doing it?"
8. Help people connect the dots.
Just because everyone knows who you are doesn't mean you don't need to remind your network about you. Several years ago, when I wanted to be considered for board of director positions, I sat down and, over the course of eight hours, wrote 150-something individual e-mails to everyone I knew well enough who was on a board, in service of a board, or a C-level executive. "Here I am; here are my board qualifications; here’s a link to my website that explains more about my board service. If you think I would be an appropriate candidate for a board that you work with, please let me know," I wrote. One night at a party I ran into someone on the TiVo board and he said, "I'm so glad you reached out, because I've got an opportunity for you." Even though he already knew me, my refresher made him think of me for this board, which I ended up joining.
This piece was originally published by Stanford Business. Follow Stanford GSB @StanfordBiz
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