Business networking for HR is one of the most effective marketing and prospecting method you can use to grow your business. But if done incorrectly, it can be harmful to your business.
Business networking is a lot more than giving out business cards. It is about building trust. For HR the networking is a lot more than meeting people. It is about connecting with the right people.
Business networking is a lot more than collecting phone numbers. It is about staying in touch, about listening, addressing needs and looking for opportunities all at the same time.
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It is how as a HR we approach relevant business networking sessions that makes it work for us. Networking is about being authentic and genuine, building relationships and trust, and helping others. Although increased sales is the end goal, don’t participate in business networking to sell.
Build relationships and sales will follow naturally. People have to trust you before they’ll do business with you or refer you. Relationship capital is an immensely valuable part of business success. Put your energy, intention and attention on business networking.
When Henrik Balmer became the production manager and a board member of a newly bought-out cosmetics firm, improving his network was the last thing on his mind. The main problem he faced was time: Where would he find the hours to guide his team through a major upgrade of the production process and then think about strategic issues like expanding the business? The only way he could carve out time and still get home to his family at a decent hour was to lock himself—literally—in his office. Meanwhile, there were day-to-day issues to resolve, like a recurring conflict with his sales director over custom orders that compromised production efficiency.
Networking, which Henrik defined as the unpleasant task of trading favors with strangers, was a luxury he could not afford. But when a new acquisition was presented at a board meeting without his input, he abruptly realized he was out of the loop—not just inside the company, but outside, too—at a moment when his future in the company was at stake.
Henrik’s case is not unusual. Over the past two years, we have been following a cohort of 30 managers making their way through what we call the leadership transition, an inflection point in their careers that challenges them to rethink both themselves and their roles. In the process, we’ve found that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information—is simultaneously one of the most self-evident and one of the most dreaded developmental challenges that aspiring leaders must address.
Their discomfort is understandable. Typically, managers rise through the ranks by dint of a strong command of the technical elements of their jobs and a nose-to-the-grindstone focus on accomplishing their teams’ objectives. When challenged to move beyond their functional specialties and address strategic issues facing the overall business, many managers do not immediately grasp that this will involve relational—not analytical—tasks. Nor do they easily understand that exchanges and interactions with a diverse array of current and potential stakeholders are not distractions from their “real work” but are actually at the heart of their new leadership roles.
Like Henrik (whose identity we’ve disguised, along with all the other managers we describe here), a majority of the managers we work with say that they find networking insincere or manipulative—at best, an elegant way of using people. Not surprisingly, for every manager who instinctively constructs and maintains a useful network, we see several who struggle to overcome this innate resistance. Yet the alternative to networking is to fail—either in reaching for a leadership position or in succeeding at it.
Watching our emerging leaders approach this daunting task, we discovered that three distinct but interdependent forms of networking—operational, personal, and strategic—played a vital role in their transitions. The first helped them manage current internal responsibilities, the second boosted their personal development, and the third opened their eyes to new business directions and the stakeholders they would need to enlist. While our managers differed in how well they pursued operational and personal networking, we discovered that almost all of them underutilized strategic networking. In this article, we describe key features of each networking form (summarized in the exhibit “The Three Forms of Networking”) and, using our managers’ experiences, explain how a three-pronged networking strategy can become part and parcel of a new leader’s development plan.
Identify which networking events you should attend. Pick groups that’ll help you achieve your goals. Find venues that make sense for your business. When you register for an event, schedule it like a meeting.
Determine how often you should be networking. How many times in a week, month, or quarter? Visit as many groups as possible.
Attend events with a plan and always try to learn something new. Prepare yourself for the event. Develop open-ended questions to ignite a conversation. Bring business cards but don’t give your business card to everyone you meet. Give cards to those who ask you for it. Try to sit with strangers. Don’t forget to mingle.
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Keep track of people you meet. Keep in touch with them and deepen your emotional connection. Establish a mutual beneficial relationship with other business people and potential clients/ customers. Meet with the group members individually so you get to know them better and try to build quality connections. Consider other group members as resources. focus on the group; listen and think about how you can help them. Focus on giving. Build trust within the group.
An important part of conference management is the conference evaluation. Most association conferences are repeated annually so it is critical for the planners to make an assessment of the quality of symposium sessions, speakers and overall experience. It will be less likely that association members and guests will attend future conferences if their previous experiences are mediocre at best. Only by getting relevant feedback from those in attendance will you ever know how well your conference was received and who you can count on to provide quality presentations for your future conferences.
A good conference planner will have a clear understanding of their goals and objectives and have an effective review process in choosing speakers and session topics. These instructor selections often come from personal encounters but most come from the recommendations of others. Speakers, session topics, venues and amenities don't always provide the kind of quality desired and need to be weeded out. You can accomplish this by providing attendees with an easy conference evaluation tool that will assist you in making the necessary changes in environment, personnel and material that will assure a more successful conference in the future.
What kind of questions should you ask?
With a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the conference in mind, prepare a comprehensive list of questions and associated measurable responses regarding individual speakers and sessions. Question responses will be either "Yes / No" or multiple level responses such "Excellent / Good / Fair / Poor" or "Strongly Agree / Agree / Neutral / Disagree / Strongly Disagree" to name a few. Search the internet for examples of conference evaluation questions. The measurable values usually would be higher the more positive they are as in Excellent being a value of 4 and Poor being a value of 1. The result would be calculated as a mean and provide you with a quick glance at the overall response to a given question. It is customary to provide an overall evaluation section in the survey to capture the general sense of the success of your conference which would include site location and amenities and the impact that the conference overall will have on an individual's career or practice. Some open-ended questions or comment sections should also be provided to give the attendee opportunity to more freely express their personal insights and observations. All of this data will be extremely helpful to you in planning future conferences.
What is the most widely used evaluation instrument?
At the present time, paper OMR evaluation forms are the most widely used conference evaluation instrument. They are often combined with a web version of the survey for those more inclined to use their computers in the evaluation process. It is helpful in this situation to provide wireless 'hot spots' at the conference site for immediate participation while things are fresh in their minds. However, many attendees will prefer to respond online when they return to their home or office. The data from both of these sources can be combined and the tabulated results put into a readable report generally containing such things as response counts and tabulated percentages and mean values for easy review. The OMR and web survey process is best facilitated by a company with the tools and experience. They can also assist you in preparing your questions, and designing, printing and scanning your evaluations and preparing your reports.
As one responsible for conference management, you look forward to positive feedback from your attendees to assure you that things went according to your best laid plans. However, negative feedback is also very helpful in making sure you get the best resources for your next event and continue to grow into a healthy professional association. Make sure to set aside a part of your budget for the conference evaluation process and find a reputable company to help you. May your next conference be better than ever!
Do not expect to receive benefits right away. Do volunteering work for network groups to stay visible and give back. As a responsible HR you must show up regularly and on time, show others how you deal with business meetings and associates. Give quality referrals and leads. If someone gives you a referral, follow up on it in a timely manner. Follow through quickly and efficiently on referrals you are given. Take a referral seriously.
Don’t spam on social networks. Use the platforms designed for HR to build relationships and expand your network.
Limit self-promotion. Don’t sell. Build relationships. Be as helpful as you can. Share relevant information with others as people love to learn new things. Participate in discussions. Let others know you’re real. Be approachable. Treat your online connections just as valuable as your offline connections.