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Develop your networking skills


A manager’s success depends on their ability to understand different working relationships, and an ability to invest in these through networking – according to Dena Michelli and Alison Straw – who reveal the secrets of successful networking at a session at HRD 2000 today.

"Networking isn't something that everyone feels comfortable with, it fills some people with dread and causes great anxiety. You can develop networking skills consciously by scripting, rehearsing and lots of practise. You may think you're not a natural but you probably haven't had the opportunity to develop in this area", adds Straw, Head of Learning and Development, Selfridges & Co.

"Networks can give you access to resources and political muscle, and in the longer term people who can open doors, sponsor and teach you the ropes. Knowing the right people can make a real difference to your career," adds Michelli, Consultant, Potentia International. Networks can also be unstructured and informal – personal contacts are just as important and help us to live more balanced and fulfilled lives.

The ultimate aim is to build and manage productive relationships. Networkers need to have a destination in mind to make progress easier to monitor. During the session, both speakers will provide useful frameworks, encouraging delegates to ask themselves vital questions like who can help in the short and long term.

"Individuals will need help with entry into networks, they should ask themselves questions about the types of people they should surround themselves with, such as 'foundations' on whom we depend, or sounding boards or 'sherpas' that will help to achieve objectives."

Michelli stresses the importance of setting goals from the outset. Networks have to have a clear purpose. Examples include professional and external, strategic or personal. A strategic network may exist to gather information on data or trends enabling us to tackle situations or take action before problems occur.

We also need to identify the types of people who will help - it is important to choose well. 'Hubs' for example are influential sources of information and providers of helpful contacts, or 'informers' who provide fresh approaches and perspectives whilst recognising problems and opportunities – networks, depending on their nature, need to be balanced and made up of key types.

During the session, it was stressed that effective networks first of all need establishing but it doesn't end there, they need maintaining, nurturing and pruning. People also need to practise networking behaviours to make themselves noticed. These include keeping commitments, showing appreciation, and a degree of altruism.

Michelli continues: "Whilst helping to achieve balance and support in all aspects of our lives, being part of networks makes us more visible, especially if you've identified the 'hubs and sponsors'. Networks as well as giving us pleasure, can also increase employability; potential employers may be interested in you solely because of your networks and key contacts. It cannot be stressed enough, networking is a highly valuable activity, it holds rewards for all if managed conscientiously".


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