How To Exploit Your Network: Six Tips From LinkedIn Founder
Everyone is networking these days: going to conventions, building up LinkedIn contacts and the like. But now what? How can you actually get some value out of meeting Fred at that alumni event, or Jeannette at the sales conference? LinkedIn’s billionaire chairman and co-founder, Reid Hoffman, would like to help.
In a new book called “The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Network Age,” Hoffman and two co-authors spend 147 pages answering various “Now what?” questions. Their early chapters focus mostly on a variety of career paths that people might take, and their advice makes sense mostly for people in “asset-light” businesses such as consulting and high tech, where project-hopping is common, easy and admired. I didn’t find much that was relevant for anyone in traditional manufacturing or a geographically confined job.
But toward the end of the book, in a chapter called “Implementing Network Intelligence Programs,” the authors hit pay dirt. They start with the tremendous tensions inside many companies, where there’s a constant need for good insights about what’s going on in the market — yet also a hard-to-shake dread that if employees start conversing on any basis with outsiders, some precious secrets might seep out.
Relax, say Hoffman and co-authors Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. It’s possible to achieve gain without pain: networking in a manner that collects useful insights from outsiders without betraying confidential data or plans. In fact, the authors propose six discussion topics that are so astutely chosen that they pass the safety test in both directions. You and your counterparts at other companies can explore these areas together in ways that will make both of you smarter, without giving away the goods in either direction.
Here are the six elements in Hoffman’s list:
1. How is a key technology trend shaping our industry?
2. What are other companies and competitors doing that’s working or not working?
3. What are our customers’ sentiments, and how have they changed?
4. Who are the key people in our industry that we should engage with?
5. What are the hiring trends in our industry?
6. Who are the new entrants in the marketplace, and which of them are doing interesting things?
A few years ago, I served on the board of a nonprofit theater company. Our executive leadership — and our most involved directors — excelled at exploring each of the six areas that Hoffman describes. We made smarter decisions as a board when we learned about what other organizations were doing in terms of website design, social media promotion, donor relations and variable ticket pricing. Staying active in the conversation helped us keep up-to-date with industry practices; sharing information in a network that ranged from Boston to San Francisco meant that ideas could flow back and forth without hurting anyone’s competitive position.
Why not make such high-strength networking encouraged within companies, instead of barely tolerated? In the book, Hoffman and team argue that companies should set up a “networking fund,” allowing employees to expense networking lunches. As they point out, “top executives have such lunches all the time, and their company benefits as a result.” As long as there’s a mechanism for active networkers to report back on what they’ve learned, it’s possible for the whole organization to benefit.
(Article and body image via Forbes)