mfgteamwork-300x228.jpgI’ve always seen the power of networks; however, there is a heightened sense of urgency surrounding the topic for those executives who would like to thrive in today’s new normal business environment. In just the last month, I’ve witnessed countless examples of the critical importance of networks. You’ve run out of materials and need urgent attention. You need to find an exceptional leader ASAP. You have a technical challenge and don’t know where to start. The answer = the power of your network.

What is a network? For a recent presentation I gave on leveraging social networks to drive operational performance, I referred to Webster’s definition of social networks – “a network of friends, colleagues and other personal contacts”. A network can take many forms from in-person to on-line, etc. Options are endless in today’s information overload society.

Although we could talk for pages on the topic, I thought we’d focus on a few questions to start: 1) What’s the value of a network? 2) What is the current state of your network? 3) Where do we start?

1.  What is the value of a network? - Relationships! This cannot be understated in its value. None of us do business with companies. We do business with people. Take a step back from there – we do business with people we know, like, trust and respect. It’s as simple as that.

Perhaps you think it doesn’t relate to you in your current position? Wrong! We never know what will happen from one day to the next. You might be let go from your job. You might get a challenging yet critical assignment from your manager or CEO. You might get a visit from an unhappy employee or the Chairman of the Board. An unexpected event might occur in your personal life (whether good or terrible, it requires immediate attention). Where do you start? In my 20+ years of experience as a business consultant, former VP of Operations & Supply Chain, and as a trade association leader across multiple industries and globally, the answer never varies – with your network.

For example, I’d go to my well-connected relationships to ask for advice in the best ways to search for a new job. I’d go to my industry and functional network contacts to ask for help in researching my critical assignment. I’d go to my organizational development contacts and mentors for help with the unhappy employee or to answer the Board member’s question. And I’d go to whichever expert relates to my personal situation. Recently, my 20-year-old cat whom has been cared for by my adoring parents for the last 12-14 years was dying, and it was traumatic. It helped that my cousin is a veterinary expert. The bottom line is the following: What could be more important than your network?

2.  What is the current state of your network? - This is most often overlooked yet is an essential step in creating a powerful and enduring network. Who is in your network? I guarantee you that no matter how bad you think the state of your network is currently, there is something there to start with – everyone has someone in their network. How have you been treating your network? What do you receive from your network? Prior to jumping on the bandwagon to meet all sorts of new people to add to your network, it has proven extremely valuable to take stock of your current network. Nurture your network.

3.  Where do we start? - So, at some point, we realize we need to expand and build our networks. The first key point is to not neglect your current network! Otherwise, you are 1 step forward, 1000 steps back. Not a recipe for success. Beyond rule #1, it is a good idea to think about your objectives. What are your professional goals? What types of projects will you need to focus on in the next several years? What types of issues continually arise? What opportunities are you pursuing? How do these questions correlate to your skills and your current network? Be clear on your goals.

Next, identify the types of people you’d like to include in your network. What is their core philosophy? It is surprising how often this question is ignored until it’s too late. It’s a waste of time to build a network of people who do not align with the way you do business and your principles and values. What expertise do they have? Are they a functional expert? Industry expert? Is geography important? (Are in-person meetings important?) Do they share a common passion? Do you enjoy spending time with them? Are they members of your extended supply chain?

Success or failure boils down to the power of your network. Do not overlook this essential building block for success.

Prioritize developing a talent edge and everything else will follow. It isn’t capital intensive and doesn’t require precious cash so why not give it a try?

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