“And the beat goes on.................................”
Networking vs. Friendship Building
All of us, but especially younger managers, are constantly advised to network; to build a large bank of professional contacts as a way to advance one’s career and to enhance one’s job performance.
Networking is touted as a way to gain knowledge about the arena in which we work; to identify the players and become familiar with how things are done; and to expand personal links to an ever wider circle of new links. It is sometimes defined as the cultivation of alliances that will expand one’s opportunities, including the opportunity to develop new relationships. Networking is frequently cited as valuable when one is job hunting or starting something new.
There are, of course, lots of ways to network - from joining associations or groups to attending conferences and conventions. And while it takes some time, over time one can, without too much difficulty, amass an ever larger circle of professional contacts, and ultimately develop working relationships with at least some of those people. Follow up to newly met people is essential to move beyond merely collecting business cards and phone numbers. The goal is to build at least some relationships. Takes time and effort. But otherwise, while you may get simple questions answered from your network, you won’t get much more out of it.
Unquestionably, there is value is this activity. And that is especially true for novices to the field.
But networking has its limitations. And the advice to network, often ignores the value of building friendships. While networking can alert you to opportunities with which you may not be familiar, expand your base of knowledge about your area of work, introduce you to people in the field and even help with your personal brand - those with whom you effectively network, while they may be happy to help you when they can - are not really invested in your career or success. The real value in networking may be that it opens doors so that you can build real relationships with some of those you meet, and ultimately solid friendships with a few of them. Much of business success - no matter what the business - has to do with successful relationship building and the building of real, lasting friendships. That’s true in political advocacy, career advancement, job hunting, the awarding of grants and more.
For it is friendships, built over time, that will best serve you. Actual friends are more valuable to you in the long run than even a huge network of professional contacts. Decisions involving you will almost always be more likely to go your way when you are friends with the decision maker. Other things being equal, more times than not a favorable decision that might impact your future and your success, will be made in your favor if the one making the decision is your friend. Friends do favors for their friends. And much of business has to do with having favors done for you. The old axiom: “It’s not what you know, but who you know” should include the corollary that: “it’s who your friends are”.
It’s just human nature. We all tend to protect and help those in our tribe.
Nowhere is this more important in our field that in the development arena. Development officers should invest the time and energy to become friends with program officers at funding organizations and with potential donors. Too many development people believe that simply knowing who the funder is, and what they fund and do not fund is all that is necessary. They think if they have a good case to make and their proposal is solid, that is all that is necessary. That overlooks the fact that there are usually more sound proposals than available funds and that hard choices need to be made. Friends in the right places may help to tip the balance in your favor.
I am not suggesting that funders approve proposals from their friends that are inferior to others, or that their processes are flawed by according weight to friends' proposals that do not otherwise measure up to the competition - just that a personal friendship will almost always enter into the decision making process in some positive way. This is true in politics, job hunting and every other area of business life.
So while networking is good advice, my best advice to all leaders in our field, is to build relationships and make some good friends. In my opinion that will be more valuable to you longer term than the biggest professional network.
You can’t make friends with everyone you meet. Often times, friendships depend on mutual interests and share perspectives and even chemistry. And friendship is always a two way street - to have a friend you have to be a friend. Bottom line: You can’t have too many friends.
Have a good week.