Management gurus typically recommend that Sr. Managers and Executives spend at least 30% of their time engaged in professional networking.
If this advice is to be believed and followed, we should on average allocate 12 hours per standard 40 hour work week to networking.
There is little doubt that a prudent, rational professional networking strategy can greatly benefit a manager. A strong professional network ensures that the manager enjoys a diverse array of skilled and experienced professional resources to draw upon, in addition to knowledge derived from professional seminars and conferences, to support the manager in delivering superior management performance and direction to the organization.
If you are self-employed or enjoy a great deal of autonomy, congratulations. You have a great deal of flexibility in determining how much or how little networking you wish to do, assuming you are effectively managing your affairs and not allowing your affairs to manage you.
However, if you, like most of us, have a direct supervisor, such as the CEO, who is not an enlightened and effective networker, you may have quite a challenge justifying time spent away from the office.
If your networking activities are not generating actionable, easily observable results, then perhaps you are NotWorking instead of Networking.
A lot of useful networking is done on the golf course. Evening cocktails with the local networking group or chamber of commerce can also be productive. However, though these “social” networking events can be productive and useful, individual social networking events can also prove to be a waste of time and resources.
I enjoy attending various social networking functions, and I believe that they are an important resource for the professional manager, especially if the social function is carefully selected. However, I typically consider these to be my low-priority networking activities.
Interestingly, most of the managers I know seem to feel that social networking is the only type of networking event. I promise not to judge executives for whom networking is a necessary exercise to relieve the stress of a fast-paced, high pressure job, and to enjoy a few hours of liquid therapy with professional peers.
However, let’s also agree that this is not the most effective way to achieve the benefits of a proper networking program. This is professional “NotWorking”, not Networking.
Putting the “Work” in Networking
Managing an Industrial Manufacturing or Service company is a significant professional challenge. The manager is faced with a wide range of both challenges and opportunities, distributed across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Even a highly experienced manager won’t have the necessary skills, expertise, and or resources required to provide leadership the team requires to execute all these tasks independently.
Facing an unfamiliar task or challenge is highly stressful for even the most cool or most highly medicated manager. Your company and team doesn’t expect you to instantly have the answer to each and every challenge. However, it is quite reasonable to expect an experienced and competent manager to be able to rise to a challenge and promptly find a prudent and viable solution.
A professional network is a diverse collection of friends, peers, associates, and acquaintances having knowledge, skills, and experiences that are complimentary and useful. If you are a plant manager, the lady who sells fruit down at the market probably doesn’t qualify as a resource for your professional network. However, don’t think that cultivating relationships exclusively with peers having jobs and experiences most similar to yours constitutes a satisfactory and effective professional network. You face a diverse portfolio of challenges, you need a diverse portfolio of professional friends and resources.
Networking in Action
In my professional community, I have some favorite networking venues and resources that I am confident provides me with strong and diverse professional resources, and also directly contributes to my quest for continuous education, improvement, and lifelong learning.
Here in Bangkok, we have a number of excellent Chambers of Commerce, including the American Chamber of Commerce of which I am a member. I routinely attend meetings of the Business and Economics Committee, the Customs and Excise Tax Committee, the Legal Committee, the Aerospace Committee, and the Energy and Environment Committee. I also routinely attend the AMCHAM Monthly Luncheon.
It has not escaped my notice that I am one of the few industrial managers attending most of these meetings. Does that make me a contrarian? Perhaps. However, it also means that I keep myself well informed and abreast of current issues and developments in the areas of corporate tax, customs; the domestic, regional, and global economic environment; best practices in environmental management, and the status and forecast for the vitally important energy industry. The knowledge I acquire makes me a better manager and leader. And the relationships I develop ensure that I can promptly access highly qualified professional support whenever I need it. Naturally, I am also a humble resource for members of my professional network who might seek my advice or insights.
I also maintain memberships in a few other professional organizations and societies, and carefully budget my time to attend events that are most likely to deliver the maximum amount of benefit for the investment of time required.
Who You Gonna Call?
Social media and a wide variety of digital resources, including professional resources such as Linked-in, are rapidly changing the landscape for establishing and maintaining a professional network. However, the business card has not yet gone out of style.
I always seek to exchange business cards with new professional contacts. At least once per week I go through my business cards and enter names, titles, and brief details into my Contacts List. I also search each contact name in Linked-in, and make contact requests for those professionals who are Linked-in members.
I do of course exercise some judgment concerning whom I enter into my contacts list and connect with on Linked-In. However, I try not to be too selective, because when a crisis erupts, you never know what resources you might need urgently. Ten years ago I had a shooting in my factory. Two of my employees were seriously wounded by a fellow employee, who then fled and avoided capture by the police for several days. Immediately following the shooting, I urgently needed a professional security company to secure and protect my plant site while the police conducted their investigation and tracked down the gunman. The shooting happened at 3:00 am, and thanks to my contacts list I had the mobile phone number of a highly respected security professional. I woke him up at 6:30 am, and we had armed guards at the site by mid-morning.
To provide the best leadership and service to an Industrial Manufacturing or Service company, a manager must diligently cultivate a diverse portfolio of professional contacts, and should routinely attend conferences and seminars to expand and update the knowledge and skills required to manage, monitor, and mentor the team. This is a demanding and challenging chore, which justifies the Work in NetWorking.