Networking is a way to associate yourself with a diverse group of individuals.
These people can provide support, feedback, access to resources, information and collaborative projects or research that will result in better service provision for staff and patients. A secondary aim is to develop yourself personally or your career.
People mistakenly perceive networking as a process by which an individual manipulates a group for their own gain, but it should be a focused and practical endeavour that requires give and take from all involved.
A good networker will set aside time to regularly interact with people in their networks, and you may not necessarily get an immediate return.
Before networking, understand exactly what you wish to achieve. Set a goal that will benefit not just you but your organisation and patients and colleagues.
Then identify networks to help with this. These may be professional associations, online professional groups or committees that you can tap into or initiate yourself.
A strong network may enhance power and political influence, and can push forward agendas more easily than people on their own.
The practical side may not come easily. You need a certain amount of bravery to initiate a relationship, by making that first phone call or introducing yourself to a stranger. Being prepared helps. Have a short introductory statement ready that tells people who you are and what you do.
How to take networking forward
Identify a professional issue that you need help with and find someone who can help you resolve it
- Develop an electronic database of your contacts, using programmes such as Microsoft Outlook
- Join one of the large electronic professional networks, such as LinkedIn
- Set aside time to regularly network with all your contacts
The opportunity to network arises in a range of situations, so your statement must be adaptable to conferences, meetings and social events.
After your introduction, quickly turn the focus back to the individual you are talking to. This will enable you to think how you can work together. Try and take away one key objective or statement that you can follow up later.
Have business cards ready, and be prepared to note down the other person’s contact information in case they are not as well prepared as you.
Keep a spreadsheet or database with information, and details of conversations and previous contact.
You must be tenacious in following up contacts and developing networking skills. If you work on these skills, they will become second nature and part of daily life.
Networks will change and evolve and get bigger the more you use them. A sign of a good network is when someone asks you for advice, and you know someone who knows someone who can help.
This is an excerpt from Clinical Leadership from A to Z by Dickon Weir-Hughes. Available from Amazon.co.uk