The Key to Successful Networking? Build It Before You Need It

posted by WMC

I like people, so fundamentally I like to network. I like to meet new people, and I like to stay connected with all the amazing and talented people I have worked with throughout my career. I find that I learn something new from every conversation and in turn I hope that I help others learn, gain new perspective, or make a new contact. And yet when I get busy, I let my network lapse…and then I don’t have the network I need when I need it!

So why have there been so many times in my career when I have not stayed connected to my network? Simply, I have fallen into the trap that many of us struggle with—the demands of everyday work (and life) get in the way. At multiple times in my career, I have been involved in large, complex, urgent projects or leading important strategic changes. These are the times when I have become heads down and ignored my network, focusing only on what was important and urgent.

This is an accepted method of time management, popularized by Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in which he puts forth the concept of using a 4×4 matrix to determine the priority of work tasks and projects. This system can be very effective; by categorizing tasks by how important and urgent they are, you can easily focus on what is most important and most urgent. I have successfully used this framework to help me focus when I am engaged  with multiple and potentially conflicting priorities.

Even so, I would like to shake up this way of thinking. While it is supremely important to focus when we have commitments to large projects or strategic initiatives (as our performance is usually tied to being on top of current priorities), we simultaneously need to be able to maintain a network from which we can gain information, connections, and support. Often succeeding on an urgent and important task is tied to accessing experts, picking up best practices, isolating potential critical pitfalls, and/or hiring the right people quickly. All of these critical success factors are tied to having a strong, diverse, and trusted network in place that you can access when you need it.

If you need to start building a network comprised of strong, trusting relationships when you are in the middle of an important and urgent project—you will probably not be able to access the advice you need when you need it. What I have found from experience—and from advice from my network—is that it is always best to build your network before you need it.

Nancy Icely is a partner at our Toronto office. You can find her original LinkedIn article here.


The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.