Michael Dulworth is the author of The Connect Effect: Building Strong Personal, Professional and Virtual Networks (Berrett-Koehler, January 2008) and the President & CEO of Executive Networks, a leading provider of HR-related executive peer networks.
The major difference today is how easily it is to communicate with your network via the Web. Some research has pointed out that the maximum number of active network members is in the 150 range. But that research was done before the Internet. Today, it may be possible to establish and maintain a much larger network because the technology is widely available to assist in managing a network contact base, plus email makes it so easy to actively communicate with a large number of network members. So today it may be possible to have an active network of thousands of members.
The Connect Effect is the positive outcome derived from having a strong, vibrant network. As more and better connections are made by an individual, the more likely The Connect Effect will occur. I talk in the book about entering “The Network Zone” which is much like what is described as “being in the zone” in sports. The Network Zone is achieved when your network is so broad and deep that almost anything can be accomplished more efficiently and effectively through your network. What also happens in The Network Zone is that positive unintended things occur as a result of your network – like having someone call you up out of the blue with an amazing new job opportunity.
NQ stands for Networking Quotient and I developed a tool for measuring people’s NQ so they can know what’s working and what needs improvement regarding networking. Just like a person’s IQ (or Intelligence Quotient), everyone has an NQ and my book features a brief questionnaire that measures an individual’s NQ. The NQ questionnaire has two major sections: the first asks about the scope and strength of your network; the second asks about your networking activities. Understanding your current NQ is important to making changes or improvements that can raise your NQ score. The good news is that raising your NQ is totally within your control which is not the case with your IQ which is pretty much determined by your genes.
Everyone networks everyday; they just may not think they do. Everyone talks daily to a family member, a work colleague or a friend and this is a form of networking. Additionally, most everyone meets someone new everyday. The trick is to find a way to build and maintain your network that is comfortable for you. This is where personality, style and preferences come into play. If you’re an introvert, you may not like large gatherings. So meet a contact for lunch or go online and build and communicate with your network in this manner. Networking is not simply the act of going to social or “networking” events to try to meet new people. I’d argue that networking needs to be thought of more holistically and approached with a deliberate process mindset (i.e., “Have I networked today?”).
Second, I’d stress that most people’s networks are a lot better and stronger than they think. They’ve just not taken the time to map their network or to think about who the important contacts are within their network.
There are multiple ways to map and analyze your network. My favorite way is to describe your networking journey in a narrative summary while in parallel creating a network tree diagram. In the book, I describe how my network has formed since birth, starting with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends of the family, my friends, school friends, business associates, parents of my son’s friends, etc. If this is done in chronological order, you can see how your network has formed over time and how it has grown, sometime slowly and sometimes very quickly. I talk about Network Accelerators, which are situations in which a network grows exponentially. In my case, going to college at the University of Michigan was a Network Accelerator for me. U of M has one of the largest alumni populations in the world so by going to this university I’m able to tap into this incredible network.
A personal brand is just like a product brand. It is how you are viewed by your network member or a potential network member. What I talk about in the book is thinking about this idea in detail and describing (i.e., writing down) your brand identity. How do you want people to view you? What do you want people to remember you for? What picture are you trying to leave in people’s minds? The answers to these questions will help form a personal brand. It’s important to remember however, that a personal brand is not hype. A personal brand has to be genuine; the real you will always come though in the end.
A PBOD, or personal board of directors, mirrors a company board of directors in its composition and intent. The idea is to select from your network a small number (5-10) of diverse people that you turn to for important advice, counsel, coaching and mentoring. My PBOD includes my father, my best friend, a business colleague, a member of my company’s board, a cousin, my wife, an old boss and my college roommate. The members of your PBOD care about you and are willing to help you with difficult personal problems, job and career challenges, etc. and provide sage advice and guidance.
As I said earlier, the Web has transformed our thinking about networks and made it much easier to network with people throughout the world, 24/7, 365 days a year. Connectivity with people in our networks can be instantaneous via IM (Instant Messaging). We can also use global positioning to know where all of network members are at a given point in time (if they provide us with this access). Social networks like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are becoming platforms for all types of social interaction. All of these innovations are radically changing the nature of networking and many of them are extremely positive in nature. However, many of the people I interviewed for my book talked about how depersonalizing these online forms of networking can be. They talked a lot about the need to establish a personal connection with network members face-to-face before online forms of networking can be effective. This may be a generational issue, however, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
I asked this question to the over 30 people I interviewed for the book. They said that networking would become increasingly important in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. They said that reciprocity (the quid pro quo of networking) is the key to successful networking (whether face-to-face or virtual). They said that technology (mainly the Web and mobile devices) is going to transform networking in ways that we can’t imagine today. They said that the younger generations are going to change the world and solve many of mankind’s major dilemmas because of the networks they can form and leverage. As the management guru Peter Drucker said, “The leader of the past knew how to tell; the leader of the future knows how to ask.”