When driving through Luxembourg, I always marvel at how the once sleepy, agricultural country has transformed its sprawling pastures into glamorous buildings of steel and glass. For 20 plus years, the Grand Duchy has had the highest GDP per capita in the world and new construction sites seem to pop up weekly. Foundations quickly get topped off by girders, hinting at the thousands of people who will soon fill the space with life. Not a bad analogy for business networking, when you think about it.
1. Foundations: Dig Deep to Build High
After contemplating numerous bulldozers hollowing out new excavation sites, it occurred to me: gaping, muddy holes reminded me of the soul-searching I was obliged to do in order to network well. Excavating and putting in the foundation is perhaps the ugliest stage of construction work, yet arguably the most important step. How can we build something spectacular if we don’t do the groundwork? Only after a very honest inventory of my strengths and weaknesses was I able to truly connect with other professionals and not just exchange business cards.
2. Structure for Sustainability
Once the foundation is set, the iron skeleton can be raised. Supporting beams criss-cross at crucial points, allowing an extraordinary weight to be piled on. When I started communicating authentically, relationships with my primary social network, as anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar calls them, improved dramatically. I let go of my perceived self and objectives and allowed myself to be, unapologetically, myself. Friends and family understood me more effectively, rapidly making me more efficient professionally.
No matter how bad the weather is outside, my primary network holds me up. Finally I understand why the company I keep in my off-hours has a direct impact on my career. “Ask yourself, ‘Do I have a real relationship with all of my first-level contacts?’” writesSharon Florentine in CIO magazine.
3. Many Rooms Make a Skyscraper
A bag of concrete alone is unremarkable, but mixed with the right elements by knowledgeable people, the sky’s the limit. Four walls and a floor make a room, and many rooms make a skyscraper. The finance department is planned for a different floor than the communication department, yet they remain intrinsically linked. Your network in London might not have much in common with your network in Mumbai, but you are the common denominator and exponent.
4. Agile Austerity
Despite strategic preparation, both construction sites and business networking also require agile thinking. There’s always something that doesn’t go to plan, like a delivery that arrives early or a key person that goes AWOL. Imagine light fixtures coming in before the ceilings are up. Obviously we’ll store them carefully until we need them. Now imagine you’re in insurance sales and you meet a fine arts photographer. The relationship isn’t perhaps obvious today, although undoubtedly this connection could later benefit someone in your network.
Speaking of things not going as planned, often I find myself excited about introducing two people who have common goals, but they end up having disastrous chemistry. A good analogy would be when the paint for the foyer looks terrible with the marble flooring. They each still have value, so simply get creative and rethink what to do with them. Turns out that the paint works beautifully in the C-Suite, meaning no time or money is lost on searching for a new one.
To create quality in any context, both vision and rigor is required. Be honest about the landscape and how you can contribute. Don’t overwhelm yourself by focusing solely on building an architectural masterpiece, just keep methodically adding rooms and levels as needed. Build vertically or build laterally, just keep growing. As long at the core foundation is solid, additions or renovations are always an option. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a career.
As COO of CityHour, the global business networking mobile application, Kristina’s passion is to change how people perceive and develop professional relationships in order to further their professional, intellectual and emotional fulfillment.