Business communications Featured

1:17pm EDT October 20, 2006
No matter the size of the company, employees should always be looking for ways to improve their networking techniques. As technology continues to improve, voice and e-mail give people additional options when they need to find a piece of information. However, nothing works as well as a face-to-face conversation capped with a firm handshake.

“Keeping the lines of communication open with as many different sources as you can is going to be vital to the success of your company,” says Erik Balkan, district director of Spherion Staffing Services. “And if you do it well, you will gain a reputation as someone to go to for information, as well.”

Smart Business spoke to Balkan about the importance of effective networking.

Overall, how important is networking?
It’s extremely important, and most of the time it’s vital. If done successfully, it will give you access to information you wouldn’t otherwise have. It will put you one step ahead of the competition. It warrants being done well.

What is networking?
In its most basic form, networking is just an exchange of information. But I believe it’s important for people to understand what networking is not, because there’s a lot of confusion.

Networking is not selling. It’s not using people for your own purposes without them getting something out of the relationship. It’s not coercing someone into doing something for you that they don’t want to do, and it’s not about making someone feel obligated to help out because they feel guilty.

What are the components of successful networking?
Certainly a powerful introduction is one of the most important. It needs to be concise, distinctive and engaging.

Another is how you ask for the information. You should be open and coachable and you need to listen. The person who’s giving you the information needs to feel like he or she is coaching you a bit.

Whatever information you are requesting needs to be clear and concise, as well. There can’t be any kind of hidden agenda. You can’t come across as, ‘If you do this for me, then I’ll do that for you.’

You also need to offer yourself as a resource so that the person you’re requesting the information from will feel that he or she can come to you.

What should people consider about themselves in order to become better networkers?
People should consider their own personal values, such as adventure, diversity, honor, caring and fun. Once people are aware of their real values or value-based goals, they’re really going to be motivated into action and that will strengthen their networking focus. That’s something that’s overlooked quite a bit.

Is there ever a time you would network when you’re not looking for a specific piece of information?
It’s important to keep avenues of communication and your relationships open, even if you don’t currently need any information. Keeping that relationship solid is going to make it much easier to gain information when you need it in the future. It also gives you a good opportunity to pass information on to somebody else. Obviously, the most successful networkers pass on information that’s valuable to other people.

How has technology changed the methods of networking?
In the age of technology, phone and e-mail electronic communication does become a big part of it. But successful networkers are still the ones who do it the old-fashioned way; they’re face-to-face and hand-to-hand. Those networkers will make the biggest impressions, and in a positive way.

If I have two people that I need the same information from and they both have it, and I e-mail one of them and the other one I take out to lunch and personally shake his hand and say, ‘How are you doing?’ it’s much more likely I’m going to be successful with the one I met with in person.

Is networking more important for small companies?
It can actually be more important for employees at small companies because they don’t have the reputation of the big, well-known companies to fall back on. They need networking to gain access to information that somebody in a large company might be able to get, simply due to their association with that company.

Is networking more important to certain industries?
Certainly it’s vital in any sales organization. However, I can’t think of any industry where it’s not beneficial. The bottom line is that anytime you can get additional information you wouldn’t otherwise have, you’re going to be one step ahead.

ERIK BALKAN is district director of Spherion Staffing Services. Reach him at (404) 250-0009 or erikbalkan.spherion.com.