The office Christmas party season is in full swing, making it a great time to catch up with colleagues you wouldn’t often get to talk to usually and come up with some new collaborations or original ideas for your companies forthcoming projects and challenges. It can also be a good time to maximise your professional network outside of the office and we provide some insights into the value of this.
Diversifying your network
Diverse networks can create new ways of thinking by connecting you to people whose viewpoints, insights, resources and experiences are different to your own according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR). HRB explored studies which showed that the difference between top performers and average ones wasn’t explained by intelligence but by proactively developed networks, highlighting the truth in the old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. This is supported by more recent research which showed that people who are connected across heterogeneous groups and who have more-diverse contacts have more creative ideas and original solutions. The best way to achieve this heterogeneity in your network? Meeting new people by getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new, especially if it’s something you’ll find challenging, whether it’s related to your industry or your life outside of work.
Some networking events send a delegate list in advance, if that’s the case it’s a good opportunity to see who you’ll be networking with; sites such as LinkedIn can provide details of someone’s industry, seniority within the company etc. as well as any potential connections you might have in common. Take plenty of business cards as networking can be a golden opportunity to gain new customers: 98% of businesses rely on referrals to gain new business, yet only 3% have a strategy for obtaining referrals.
Maintain established key relationships
Over time, we often lose touch with people in our network as other priorities crowd in. Reaching out to ask for help can be difficult in itself, but what if the person you need to contact someone you are already acquainted with but haven’t spoken to in several years? Shift your perspective from worrying about being someone ‘who only gets in touch when they need something’ to viewing the opportunity to get in touch with your old contact a welcome re-connection (likelihood is if they haven’t heard from you in years, then you won’t have heard from them either). Acknowledge the absence of contact when you reconnect and briefly update them on your professional development to help set the context of your request. When making the request for help pay close attention to the tone you use, aim to appear confident in that the request is something that the other person can help with, but tentative in that you appreciate they are likely very busy (this also offers them an ‘out’ if they can’t help). Offer to reciprocate and show appreciation regardless of whether they are able to help or not. Finally, now you’ve re-connected, stay in contact even if it’s just an email over the Christmas holiday to check in and wish them in the coming year.