Networking is going the way of the dodo

You know who gets the concept of communities and giving them reasons to (net)work with each other? Religious groups. Political groups. Education groups. Unions. The Masons. You get the idea – a group of people who bring others together because of a compelling reason.

Last week I went along to an evening event hosted by a consultancy and was expecting to be either listening to some speakers share some insights, or be involved in some set of discussions that would be interesting, and if all went well meet some interesting people. The venue was very nice, they hired a space and created it as their own. A blackboard on the wall you could write on, engaging questions posed around the walls, plenty of open space to make good use of, drinks and canapes flowing. It had the promise of being a good night.

Until it became a networking night. Ugh.

Hi, I’m Sukh. This is the work I do. Here’s some answers to some questions you’re asking about the organisation I work for, and what work I do. Here’s me looking blankly at the walls wondering what I’m going to have for dinner. Here’s me asking a question or two to show I am a social person and will engage in some polite conversation. And here’s me leaving after I lose the energy to carry on and no desire to continue.

Networking is going the way of the dodo. The only problem is, the people holding these events don’t see it. They see it as bringing people together who don’t normally have the opportunity, and we’ll let them talk likes adults. We’ll give them the space and the time to just find a natural groove and all will come right by us. We’ll be remembered for hosting the night, we’ll be remembered for introducing people to each other and we’ll hopefully gain some more business as a result.

Networking is going the way of the dodo.

Except, networking for professionals is still a very valuable activity. Word of mouth promotion and advertising is still the single best way to let others know about you and what you do – this is true if you are an internal or external consultant. In a few instances, there will be a connection that is useful to both parties, and new and interesting things will be created from the connection.

Except, networking has taken a drastic change in recent years. Even though events like last week still exist in abundance, what has become increasingly clear is that there are far better ways of engaging people, creating a natural community who want to be at such events, will support them willingly, and promote them to others. In this respect, social media has provided unparalleled opportunities.

As an example, have a look at the DPG Plc Community. Or have a look at the Training Zone community. Or have a look at the Connecting HR community.

Here’s what they do really well. They work hard at giving people a way of having regular conversations every day about topics that matter to them. There are blog posts written, podcasts created, videos shared, forums being participated in, and all sorts of online activity. The people in these communities find value in them, and they find value in maintaining their presence in them. Once they feel they do not want to be or need to be part of the community, they move on. It’s life, it happens.

Here’s what they do next which makes a difference. When they hold social gatherings, they are particularly aimed at their community members, although most will be inclusive and promote new people to be part of the crew. But they get that in having given people an excuse to talk online, all they need to do is give them the opportunity to strengthen those connections face to face, and the community will grow and create its own momentum to move forward.

Networking is going the way of the dodo.

Those community groups I’ve mentioned recognise that you have to have something which draws others in. There has to be a purpose behind the community in the first place. And once they’ve got that – once they’ve got that compelling reason to be a part of people’s lives, they can be fairly assured they’ve got some security with those people. If I give you my time, I’ve given you permission to rely on me. I’ve given you permission to actively seek my views. I’ve given you permission to involve me in conversations. As long as I see the value in doing this, I’ll continue giving you that permission.

What the companies like the ones above forget is that they’re dealing with people. They forget that in dealing with people, you can’t just bring a group of people together without a clear purpose. As a supplier, you’re not the clear purpose. As a group of leaders, you’re not the clear purpose. As a product, you’re not the clear purpose. That clear purpose has to be something like – meeting the people you’ve been talking with online. Sharing practices across different organisations. Creating new ideas and ways of doing things with a group of like minded professionals. Those are compelling reasons to want to invest my time. Don’t just promise it, deliver on it.

Are you interested in applying your creativity in an interesting way? I’m asking people to get involved in Learning Stories to see if they can produce a story about learning which inspires someone to act. The deadline for submission is March 21st 2013. Fancy a challenge?

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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

8 thoughts on “Networking is going the way of the dodo”

  1. I’m a big fan of MeetUp, Sukh and belong to a number of groups. I love the underlying principle of it: strangers organising common interest groups online to meet offline. It’s a fab concept which has really taken off in my home town. In fact when I’m overseas this year, I’ll use MeetUp to mix with the locals in the countries I go to.

    1. I’ve not heard of this type of group before, thanks for letting me know about it. It sounds interesting. I imagine the ‘common interest groups’ is the reason it works well?

    1. I see what you’re getting at here, Patrick. Yes, there was something about the way the event was promoted.

      But this is more than that. This is about the way networking as a thing doesn’t have to be so soul destroying as it currently is.

  2. It strikes me you may have been mis-sold or perhaps when they said networking they meant notworking? 😉 Networking is AOK by me and for sure there are some crap get togethers and LinkedIn groups and whatever you care to mention too. Hope you don’t mind me saying, but this feels a bit like blaming PowerPoint for crap presentations? Cheers – D

    1. I think I may have been mis-sold the purpose of the event, and I also acknowledge I could have checked out the event more to be sure it was something I wanted to attend.

      Networking isn’t ok by me, because I think it’s an outdated way of bringing people together, when there are much more effective and engaging ways of making it happen.

      I understand it still has its place, and that’s a sad state of affairs if we accept that we must maintain them because they’ve always happened.

        1. It’s a good challenge, Doug, and clearly I haven’t been clear in my post to help answer this.

          I think that networking with a purpose is what is missing. ConnectingHR / L&D Connect provide purpose by virtue of what they’re about. So when people come together and connect and network further, it’s because there’s an imperative to do so.

          Where this is missing, is when networking becomes meaningless and an effort.

          Does that help?

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