When my 22-year-old son started his first career role, one piece of advice I passed on, in my wisdom, was to recognise the value of networking. It took a little explaining to this new graduate what I meant and why this wasn’t just management jargon. This is because networking can be seen as dull, self-serving and just a careerist's means of acquiring influential friends and allies to assist them. My wisdom, therefore, was not immediately seen as valuable. Indeed, I think many see networking as something that other people are better at and something we really shouldn’t be transparent about.
But it is only relatively recently, as I have passed 30 years in my career, that I have fully appreciated what networks really are, why they matter and how closely they are tied to everything we do. The phrase "be nice to those you meet on the way up because you will meet them again on the way down" is so very true and applies to many different scenarios.
Of course, we will all have baggage and meet those with whom we just cannot get on. However, I am constantly reminded that the world we live in, be it our sector, any sub-set within it or any overlapping area of interest, is incredibly incestuous. I am constantly meeting people whom I first got to know many years ago. What is really scary is not that a lot of time has passed since our first meetings, but that we each remember particular aspects of our work and personality and these remain as prime impressions of our worth.
Our connections, our networks, are the one constant currency of our worth that we can draw upon as time goes by. Knowing who to turn to, or being available as someone to be called upon, is incredibly valuable. Of course, the knowledge and experience we have is what people often want, but they have to get to you. They have to see you as someone who will respond and be nice about it too.
It can, of course, be difficult to respond when called upon. I am often asked to contact people I know on behalf of others I know. That was, in the past, difficult for me. I am, after all, an Englishman and that means being polite and not being forward is in my DNA. I have long got past this and see it as a compliment to be included in and used as part of other people’s networks.
Our world is now all about connections. LinkedIn is basically socially acceptable professional stalking. Facebook means you cannot hide very much about your life, unless you are really silent online. Twitter is a means of being always available to any individual, beneficiaries particularly. We are networked online in so many ways.
We need to shake off any negativity about networking. We need to see developing networks as about being someone whom others can call upon, and to decide that we will be glad to respond positively. It would be good if we could recognise networking as another core skill to be learned and celebrated. Interviewers for roles should ask candidates whether they are well-networked because this demonstrates a personality that sees the value in people and your own reputation. It is time to stop being shy about networking.
Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlannCEO) is chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer