We’ve never been more networked than we are right now. LinkedIn has 467 million members, Twitter has 319 million active users, and more than 1 billion people are active on Facebook.
So why are so many of us so bad at networking?
Connection possibilities seem boundless, but we’ve become so obsessed with the metrics of it all that we’re losing sight of the real purpose of networking, according to networking and collaboration thought leader Janine Garner.
Her new book is called It’s Who You Know: How a network of 12 key people can fast-track your success and in it she puts forward a very persuasive case for why we should stop treating networking like a numbers game and think more about the quality of our connections rather than the quantity.
“We’re living in a world where the explosion of social media and access via technology has absolutely opened up significant opportunities to connect not just one to one but many to many,” Garner tells me.
“However, I think in this world of connection we are becoming increasingly disconnected. I think there’s definitely a role for things like social media. I think networking still matters, but it’s your network that matters more,” she says.
Garner understands why business people especially have become so focused on trying to grow their networks and leveraging those connections in order to drive things like exposure, brand awareness and sales.
But she thinks at an individual level, professionals and entrepreneurs should shift their focus away from amassing sheer numbers to cultivating a “critical board of advisors”.
“Okay, you’ve got the transactional quantity piece sorted, but now it’s about getting yourself smack bang in the middle of a key group of people that are going to help you achieve your personal, professional and business goals,” she says.
“And who are those people? I think that’s the piece people are missing. We’re getting carried away with just surface level connections and many of us have lost this important process of getting this critical board of advisors around us to help us achieve our goals.”
Garner outlines exactly who this board of advisors should be and she says it comes down to a magic group of 12.
“The starting point is working out exactly what you want. So in 12 months where do you see yourself? What do you want to achieve both professionally and personally? Then I would say to someone list 10-15 people who could help you do that. That is the freeze point for most people. Most of them say, ‘Oh gosh, I actually don’t know the right people to help me’.
“So the suggestion I have in the book is to start with a core of four and then evolve to 12. So think of it as the four elements: fire, earth, air and water.”
Garner says once you break down and assess your network you have to be able to identify the people who can fulfil the following roles for you. These are the four key people you have to have in your network to start with:
“Promoters are the people who help you become more. They are your cheerleaders. They make noise about potential possibilities and they’re inspiring you to dream and to think bigger.”
2. Pit crew
“Pit crew are keeping you stable, keeping you true, on track and present. They are really making sure any untoward emotions are not getting in your way.”
“Teachers are helping you know more, helping you develop your knowledge, wisdom and foresight. They are really challenging you intellectually and helping you become a master at whatever your craft is.”
4. Butt kickers
“Butt kickers are making you do what you say you’re going to do! They are accelerating your journey. They are pushing you to do more and holding you accountable.”
Garner says once you’ve found these people you can then go on to fill out your group of 12 that will make up your personal board of advisors. Imagine each of these as a quadrant:
- Promoters: Cheerleader, explorer, inspirer
- Pit crew: Lover, connector, balancer
- Teachers: Influencer, professor, architect
- Butt kickers: Truthsayer, accelerator, mentor
Garner’s approach is certainly a lot more strategic than just accepting countless random requests to connect on LinkedIn and it’s designed to accelerate your professional growth rather than just boost your metrics.
She says it’s also important to realise that networking is not just about take, take, take. If you’re going to nurture your network, you have to bring value to the table yourself as well.
So next time you’re looking at your network, start thinking more strategically about your goals, where you want to be, and who the core 12 people might be who can help you achieve your dreams.
This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared on SmartCompany.