It has almost become cliché to say that success in business is directly related to people skills.
In particular, I’m referring to people skills related to building and managing strong relationships with the right people. Most of us know this intuitively and want to improve the quality and quantity of our network, but attitudes and reality can get in the way.
Some IT professionals who are still trying to get out of their “technical shell” are challenged by the techniques of networking. Many are confronted by a poor understanding of human relations, and others with plain old-fashioned time management. It never ceases to amaze me how successful business professionals do not seem to be able to prioritize their time allocation to personal, family, networking, and work lives to maximize their satisfaction in life. Proper time management, however, is a topic for another time and article.
If you assume that success in our business life can be directly correlated or even attributed to the quality of our network, you will agree that it is critical to build and maintain strong networks and relationships. I classify these relationships into three categories of increasing importance:
- Partners (or friends)
1. Contacts (like-minded people)
The first step in managing your network is developing contacts by interacting with people on the job and like-minded people outside of work. A contact is someone you know and with whom you have some chemistry and share common areas of interest. Most people are used to hanging out with colleagues after work for drinks or sports. This is the easiest thing to do. You can also join industry associations, technical associations, chambers of commerce, or any other organization where you are likely to meet like-minded people. When done right, networking is a proven method of developing contacts who can be very helpful for certain kinds of narrow situations. For my article on effective networking techniques see here – Networking – the why and how for Professional. If you can develop a network of at least one hundred contacts, they will serve as a great base to get to the next level with some of them – Allies.
2. Allies (advice and connections)
An ally is a contact you can depend on in times of need. Your relationship with an ally is likely to be a quid pro quo relationship, in which both have found many situations to help each other. With an Ally you could get advice, go to an event together, exchange mutually beneficial ideas or provide a reference for a new client or employer. Allies are people who will not only provide good advice but will also make strong connections for you. The goal should be to acquire a minimum of twenty-five allies over time. From this list of allies, you can work on the next level relationship – partners, or friends, depending on how you want to refer to them.
3. Partners (long term/pay it forward)
Partners, like allies, are people you interact with frequently – at least once a month. You care about each other’s well being. You meet regularly and continue to explore and develop the relationship at a personal and business level looking for deeper connections, ways to help each other and add value. When interacting with partners, you should always consider the long-term view of the relationship, never looking for short-term wins. You should work to have at least ten partners in your life and more is always better. With a partner, one cannot have a 50-50 give and take relationship. To be successful in growing partnerships, always consider these to function best as a pay-it-forward relationship.
Win-Win or Win-Lose?
An important aspect of building relationships is your attitude towards ‘Win-Win’ and ‘Win-Lose’. Again, these are clichés, but in business relationships they take on an entirely new meaning. A potential ally or partner will be able to spot an attitude of ‘Win-Lose’ very quickly. You have to be thinking of ways to benefit partners in every interaction and transaction. This is a subconscious attitude that can be developed as a natural tendency with practice over time. I believe you\’ll also discover that having partners you can rely on adds great pleasure in life and business.
Go Beyond Win-Win
As Bob Burg says in his book The Go-Giver, your true worth is measured by how much more value you provide beyond what you take in payment. If you have certain talents that are in demand and it is easy for you to do what you do, consider going beyond the call of duty every time you do something for somebody. It doesn’t cost you much, just your time, but it could mean a lot for the receiver. Doing this enhances your reputation and will bring back huge value in a karmic sort of way, eventually.
Building and maintaining contacts, allies, and partnerships is a great way to improve both our work and our personal lives. Therefore, make time for this. Without it you are missing out on a great secret – the secret of building mutually reinforcing partnerships and alliances that are useful in times of trouble or well-being at home or at work.