Article first published on www.linked2leadership.com
Collaborative technologies are changing the way we develop and maintain relationships. While they’re making it easier to stay in touch, they’re also increasing the size of our networks. To get the most out of our growing list of relationships, it’s become essential to build a strategy into our networking.
The need for leaders to manage their information network has always been critical. Fat Rolodexes have been synonymous with extensive networks, and as Rolodexes become more virtual, they become even plumper.
As an FBI counterintelligence agent, creating a strategic network around the foreign spy I was trying to recruit was one of the first steps in my investigation. I took a very methodical approach and carefully planned each stage of my operation.
FBI Counterintelligence Strategy
Building a strategic information network requires its own strategy. Whether you are trying to attract a new client or targeting a spy, the techniques are the same. Let me share with you 7 steps that I found useful in building my strategic network:
1. Diversify your Contacts
Don’t stay in a rut and focus on a group of people with interests similar to your own. Throw a wide net and start staying in touch with people who have a different set of skills from those you normally associate with or who are not now part of your networking circle.
Ideally, your contacts should be different from you and different from one another.
Today, connectivity is blending many technologies, and in the process, opening up opportunities in previously unrelated fields.
2. Embrace “Weak Ties”
Deep connections with people take time and energy. They are essential, but when it comes to building a strategic network, research has found that weak ties are more effective than strong ones. This is the reason: strong ties represent people you already know and probably see quite often.
Weak connections, on the other hand, form bridging ties and help you walk into a world you don’t know.
That new world could be the world in which your new client lives. Weak ties stay that way because neither one of you feel the need to contact each other more than a few times a year.
3. Establish Outposts
It’s always been important to have an early warning system that alerts us to a force on the horizon so big that we’re not going to be able to turn it away. It’s impossible to predict where the threat will come from but the forces that will drive change in your world will probably come from outside of it.
Outposts are a group of contacts that live and work on the outskirts of your organization or business and can alert you of change or disruption before it knocks on your door.
Outposts seldom happen by accident. They need to be cultivated and this takes time. These are not contacts with strong ties so you will not be spending a lot of time with them after they’re developed. However, if you build diversity into your strategy, it will be easier to create the various outposts you will need to be forewarned of changes in your world that are coming from outside your field of vision.
4. Engage in Honest Conversations
Never lie to a contact about your motives.
Strategic networks will only work if trust is established. Just as they are an outpost for you, you will be doing the same for them in your world.
Many of the contacts in my information network had innocent reasons for being in touch with the foreign spy I was investigating. Once we understood each other’s goals, it made it easier to carve out where our interests intersected and where they did not. Similarly, build your network around areas of mutual interest by learning their interests and goals.
5. Create Hubs
Some people in your network will be natural connectors—they flourish on networking and establishing relationships. They’re usually outgoing and gregarious. They’re the ones who always seem to know how to get the mix right, whether it’s guests at a dinner party or a recommendation for a new board member. They are your hubs because they make it their business to stay in contact—everyone is a strong tie for them.
Identify the hubs in your community and ask them to connect you with others.
The more hubs you have, the more weaker tie connections you have as well.
6. Surround the Target
Now is the time to put your strategic information network to work. Outposts can help you find a new client—your target. Hubs can provide you with the contacts you need to get next to the target. Chances are good that someone in the hub can reach out to the target.
Stronger ties will need to be developed with the people in direct contact with the potential client or collaborative partner.
The tips I’ve discussed are steps that progressively weave a tighter web around your target—whether it’s a new client or business opportunity. Collaborative technologies make it possible to create even stronger strategies for networking.
How do you use the weak ties in your information network? What do the hubs in your information network look like? How can your outposts be diverse enough to recognize a threat on the horizon? What tips can you share about building strategic information networks?
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