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Building Relationships - How to increase your power and influence

Building Relationships - How to increase your power and influence When I first started consulting, one of my business partners said to me "Bob, you know so many people in the industry and you are known to so many people, your people resources are so valuable to our business." I hadn't thought of it that way before. I'd merely been interested in making as many contacts as I possibly could so that I could build my knowledge of the industry and at the same time, help others.

Apparently, what I had been unconsciously doing was building my network. Now, when I think back to that experience, I can recall the countless times that these contacts asked for my advice, which I gave very freely. The really great thing about my network was that whenever my boss or another senior manager had a difficult or challenging question that related to our industry or profession, I was able to come up with an answer. It was merely a case of getting on the phone to one of my contacts.

Developing personal networks by building positive relationships across the organisation, is one aspect that sets successful managers apart. These networks often survive throughout a successful manager's career.

Networks provide three distinct advantages:

- Access to private information that you might not normally get

- Access to diverse skills, knowledge and advice when you need them

- Power - developing personal power as opposed to formal (positional) power

"You are who you know". Your influencing power is really enhanced when you have a wide network of people. Successful managers call on these people when they need help, guidance or advice.

In prior times, power came through people's roles - i.e. positional power. More and more in today's organisation that is flatter and often matrix, role power is disappearing. Things now get done through who you know, not what role you hold. Power rests with the individual, not the role. So there is both more pressure and more incentive to develop a good network.

The four rules for building and maintaining your network -

1: Build volume and diversity in your network

2: Give, give, give!

3: Make contact with your potential network members

4: Keep in touch to maintain your network

Rule 1: Build volume and diversity in your network

As we all do initially, I networked for friendship. It's natural to start building your network with people who are similar to you in personality, style, career and personal interests. However, the people who have the best networks also have the most diverse networks. Add those people who are different to you in personality, style, likes and professional interests to your network. In this way, you will be more likely to capture the help you need, when you need it.

As one famous author on the subject, Keith Ferrazzi (2005) once said "The best time to build a network is before you need it."

New managers, when building a network, often make the mistake of first looking upwards to their senior managers - surely it is those "up there" who can be of most help. Do not only look upwards - go for everyone. Everyone is a potential network member. Often it is the people that you least expect to be of help that provide you with the introduction or direction that you need.

Sales people reading this article may recall the story James Lavenson of The Plaza Hotel in New York told about his idea to have all employees using their networks to promote sales. You can imagine the scepticism which greeted one of the ladies who worked in the laundry when she asked if she could participate. The result? Well, she organised a luncheon for her small church group. "500 church members showed up for lunch at the Plaza dressed to the heavens and paying cash."

Rule 2: Give, give, give!

It feels really good when you are able to help someone else. But there is another reason for giving. When you give, people are more likely to give back. In fact the social psychologists have a term for it, "reciprocity". The research clearly shows that the more you give of yourself, the more likely people are to help you when you need it. In fact in his recent book "The Happiness Hypothesis", Jonathan Haidt cites compelling social psychological evidence that reciprocity is an inbuilt human response. "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" is not just a saying, it's actually part of our basic makeup.

You might be saying, "Yes, that's OK, but how do I give? How will people come to me? Why should they?" Become an expert. You may recall Kevin Costner saying in the 1989 film Field of Dreams - "Build the field and they will come". Build and promote yourself as an expert and they will come! You need to focus on an area of skill or knowledge and develop yourself as an expert in that field - learn all you can about it.

Rule 3: Make contact with your potential network members

Members of your network should be both within your organisation and external to it. Internal network members are more likely to be of help with getting things done. External members are more likely to be of help in developing your knowledge and expertise. Additionally, both will be of considerable help in developing and progressing your career.

How do you make contact with potential members? Here are some suggestions - you'll probably think of some more as you read through the list.

- When next you are in an interdepartmental meeting or project team meeting, make contact with someone who has impressed you and suggest that you get together for a coffee. Give this person some positive feedback about what you liked that they did in the meeting.

- Ask your boss for the names of some of the people outside of your department that could be of help to you. Call them up and arrange to meet. Make sure you have a topic to discuss, or if you are new to the organisation, you could ask for their advice on navigating your way through the organisational deep waters.

- Arrange to meet with key customers or suppliers of your department or organisation. Always make sure you know as much as possible about your contact before meeting them. Offer advice or help on an area of interest to them.

- Regularly attend professional / industry events. Make a point of making contact with at least two people at each event. These are people that you will definitely call later and meet with. They are in addition to all the people with whom you will swap business cards during the event.

- Join Industry and professional or trade associations, local chambers of commerce, etc. Make contact with at least two people with whom you will later meet.

- Join special interest group committees, or if your time does not permit, offer to speak at their sessions or conferences. Once again, make contact with at least two people with whom you will later meet.

- Finally, as was said before, develop yourself as an expert in a particular field. Become known both inside and outside the organisation as someone "who knows a lot about that". In this way, people will start to beat a path to your door.

Rule 4: Keep in touch to maintain your network

Making the first contact is obviously important. However, keeping in contact over the longer term is the only way to maintain your network. This requires some discipline. If you are that way inclined, then you're off to a flying start. If not, then make your diary work for you - e.g. all of the computer planning and diary systems have the ability to enter people's names and follow up dates, so use these aids.

Some ideas for keeping in touch ...

- Draw up a list of your contacts.

- Make a note to stay in touch on a regular basis. A minimum time is every three months.

- Diary to contact a certain number of your network members every week. In this way, you can spread the load evenly throughout each quarter.

- Send people emails on areas of interest to them.

- When you come across an article or website that may be of interest to someone, send them the details.

- Invite people to coffee or lunch.

- Put people in touch with other people who may have similar interests or needs.

Influencing - a real benefit!

As a colleague once said to me "I've noticed a real side benefit to influencing. People like being around people who use their influencing skills well. Good influencers seem to exude a sense that things happen when they're about. They don't sit around wishing things were different whilst moaning there's nothing they can do about it. Nor do they blame others or complain about what needs fixing. They see what needs doing and set about getting it done."

About the Author:

Bob Selden is the author of "What To Do When You Become The Boss", a practical "how to" for managers. If you have a management challenge, visit Bob at www.whenyoubecometheboss.com/ to find an answer. Alternatively, you can phone Bob on +41 61 921 66 51 between 9 and 5 (GMT +1)

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