Mon, 14 May 2001


Networking for competitive advantage

JAKARTA (JP): Relationships are at the heart of our lives. And it can also be said that our professional relationships are at the heart of our success.

Networking, therefore, has become an invaluable skill, tool or orientation. "It's not what you know, but who you know" is a familiar saying, yet it is only half true.

The reality is, in order to manage a career, have your business grow, or to steer your personal or professional endeavors in the right direction, it is who knows you.

Talent alone will not prevail, nor will skill, experience or intelligence. It is the contacts you have made, and the connections you have established, that contribute to your success.

Success is relative because you know what you want, what you value and what you are willing to do to achieve it.

"Paying your dues" or doing what you have to do to progress is unavoidable, but you can influence the process if you have visibility and credibility in your profession, industry, company and community.

With the increasing use of the Internet and other high-tech instruments, information becomes crucial for competitive advantage. Information becomes power when it is exchanged. In this context, networking enhances both personal and professional aspects of your life and increases your power, position, influence and quality of life.

What is networking?

The late Sally Livingstone, an educator and writer on the subject, defined it as a "reciprocal process based on the exchange of ideas, advice, information, referrals, leads and contacts where resources are shared and acknowledged".

"There is also a spirit of sharing that transcends the information shared. The best networkers reflect that spirit with a genuine joy in their 'giving'."

Networking will work for you if you appreciate the path and process as well as the destination.

In this regard, the importance of developing and refining your follow-up skills cannot be underestimated. There is no process of networking, no sharing of information, resource nor referral that occurs without it. Behaviors and actions support words and the lack of either subverts them.

If you do not have a particular piece of information, it does not matter, as long as you know someone who may have it.

The closest thing to knowing something is to know where and how to find it.

Powerful people have linkages that are plentiful, diverse, and expansive -- and are able to get things done because of those linkages. But do not look only at "powerful" people.

Everyone has something to contribute; some area they know well. The objective is to find out what that "something" is.

How can I begin or refine my networking?

If credibility is an important factor, begin with yourself. When we take time to assess who we are, what we have done and what we know, we will have an accurate picture of ourselves. If there is no focus or particular interest, become an expert in a particular area.

Choose an area of keen interest to you so you will enjoy the books to be read, the conversations to occur, the research to be completed and the diligence required to master the subject.

One way to learn about yourself is by paying attention to compliments. You can learn things about yourself that will be affirming, make you feel good and boost your confidence. Remember that being asked for a recommendation or referral also implies that your opinions are respected.

Do not underestimate your potential to contribute something others may find valuable.

Review your address book or card file.

Examine your network of personal relationships. These are your immediate family members, relatives, close friends, neighbors, casual acquaintances, your family doctor, dentist, insurance agent and your children's teachers among others.

Examine your network of professional relationships: colleagues in your organization and other organizations, vendors, consultants, lawyers, bankers and advertising agents among others.

Examine your network of organizational and community affiliations: community or voluntary organizations, fund-raising groups, chambers of commerce and cultural or civic organizations just to name a few.

Examine opportunistic networks such as the participants of a recent seminar you attended, the person you talked to in the elevator this morning and the sales clerk at the AM/PM convenience store.

Networking takes time and energy, can be inconvenient, may involve spending money and requires your involvement. The benefits, though, far outweigh these factors mentioned. Benefits include a generation of ideas, leads or referrals, advice, emotional support, brainstorming and your positive involvement with people.

The ability to communicate, share resources and network allow us to embrace life and its changes, not just to manage them.

As Irham Dilmy, my partner, added, "networking" is also a form of silaturahim or in Indonesian society, supporting our religious and cultural beliefs.

Embrace networking if you like and respect people, if you want to be a resource and contribute to others and if you appreciate those who have been a resource and contributed to your life.

In the end, it is also seeing the bigger picture of the future. We do things for no reason or immediate return.

"What goes around comes around" is a tenet of networking and of life.

This article was contributed by Pri Notowidigdo, the managing partner of Amrop International, a member firm of The Amrop Hever Group-Global Executive Search.