Do you feel like networking is not working for you? As a recognized thought leader on Relationship Economics—the quantifiable value of business relationship—that’s a complaint I hear frequently. I’m glad Heinrich Greve addressed it recently in his post on Strategy+Business, Is Networking Good for Business? Yes, But Not Always How You Expect.

I agree with what Greve wrote—as far as it went. He offers a framework for individual and organizational relationships. But he fails to offer a roadmap with a clear route to make networking pay a quantifiable return for your investment of time and energy. I’ll step up to offer just that.

First, let’s review what Greve got right. Considering how individuals network and why, he states, “People have two styles of network building. One is network broadening, [while] the other is network deepening.” He suggests these styles have different applications: the person building a business needs to broaden relationships, but Greve stops short of defining what situation might call for relationship deepening. He excuses that omission saying, “we don’t know enough about networking styles yet.” But I propose that we do know—a major portion of my consulting work is devoted to helping people recognize and deepen their strategic relationships. I’ll share my advice on that in a moment—but first, on to Greve’s second point.

Greve observes that networks help firms succeed with a dynamic similar to individual relationships, and that organizational relationships can assume a hub-and-spoke or integrated mode. He is more prescriptive on this point, suggesting that companies facing disruption and/or the demand for innovation need a hub-and-spoke network, while stable firms should choose the integrated model for its efficiency, reliability, and stability.

He concludes with advice to get beyond the generic “go network”—Think deeply and consult multiple sources of input.

Did that leave you feeling a bit… hungry? Wanting more? Let me feed your need. Here’s the roadmap, and the route, to a network that helps your firm succeed.

First, people do business with people—not organizations, brands, or logos. Therefore let’s focus on individual relationships and let the organizational network take care of itself. You need to identify what kind of relationships you currently have.

  • Personal: Friends and family, people who share your interests, people you could call at 2 a.m. We all need a few of these. Some of them even become key to our professional success. But personal relationships are not where we focus our networking energy.
  • Functional: We all have our baristas and baby-sitters, our colleagues and clients—the people with whom we have relationships in order to get our work done, but who don’t necessarily hold the key to any new opportunities. Like personal relationships, your functional relationships do not need extra networking energy from you.
  • Strategic: These are the people who can really help us grow toward our goals. They can accelerate access, traction, and results. Strategic relationships transform you—if you bring unique value to them. These relationships deserve your focused, sustained energy.

Too many of us spend our time on relationships that are merely personal or functional, when we should be focusing on the strategic relationships we have or could develop.

Most networking fails because people network without a purpose, goals, or a plan. Start by finding your purpose: what greater force is driving you to network? You’ll have to figure that part out on your own. Do it sooner rather than later, because it will become your fuel.

Relationship-centric goals can be direct—short term and quantifiable; or influence goals—things you need to fall into place on your behalf—or equity goals, those intangibles that elevate your personal brand. Relationship-centric goals lead to a systematic plan with milestones and timelines to help you achieve those goals. Your plan should look something like this.

Over time you promise value and, regardless of the situation, job, or project, you deliver. As you deliver that value, you start to exchange what I refer to as Relationship Currency©—because like money, it is a medium of exchange of value. But unlike money, it has a freshness date. You have to keep it in circulation to maintain its value.

As you circulate Relationship Currency, the unique value you deliver begins to be recognized, and you start to accumulate Relationship Capital©. This is the intangible asset that sets you apart. It has a market value, which works in your favor. Relationship Capital lets you take the premium position, escaping commodification.

The sum of your investments in strategic relationships allows you to build Professional Net Worth©. This is your life’s mission, your assets minus your liabilities on your own strategic relationship balance sheet. These are the fundamental measures of business relationships. Once you understand them, you’ll be able to turn networking into superior execution, performance, and results.

Coming back to Greve’s recommendation to “think deeply and consult multiple sources of input,” you should now see more clearly how to “go network.” Whether you’re working a trade show collecting business cards (archaic ritual) or exchanging contact information with someone you just met on a plane, you are creating “on-ramps,” opportunities for relationships to form. It’s on you to invest enough in these relationships to discover if it’s possible to exchange unique value that makes each of you better off for the relationship—in a way only you could. This is Greve’s “broad or deep” moment of truth. Find those relationships worth deepening and use relationship economics to do so. That’s your route to networking that pays a quantifiable return.

Nour Takeaways:

  1. Focus on individual relationships; let the appropriate organization network emerge organically.
  2. Identify your personal, functional, and strategic relationships—then focus on delivering unique value to the strategic ones.
  3. Focus on circulating Relationship Currency, accumulating Relationship Capital, and building your Professional Net Worth. You’ll fuel both personal and enterprise growth.


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