The importance of networking to business success hasn’t changed. However, many people find themselves out of practice, fatigued by virtual meetings, apprehensive toward in-person events and/or confused about how to build and sustain relationships in virtual and hybrid settings.
Today, it’s incumbent upon companies to foster environments that not only encourage professional connections, but also support employees in navigating related challenges and concerns.
Here are three steps to best prepare your teams to (re)connect and build (back) better relationships with stakeholders and prospects (and even one another).
1. Communicate The Priority
Companies have shifted strategic priorities due to the pandemic. As such, many need to reaffirm the continued importance of networking to business success. If employees haven’t heard this emphasized recently, they may need a push from the company to get started again.
Develop and implement an internal communication plan that conveys buy-in from senior leadership, shows internal and external networking is a priority and encourages active participation across all levels within the organization.
2. Develop Interest and Resources
Look to natural brand ambassadors to create momentum and convey how networking benefits everyone — organizationally and individually. Call on senior leadership to lead by example and invite employees to take part in activities. Then, encourage employees to do the same.
For those who are hesitant about in-person events, provide some support on how to navigate them while staying within their comfort zones.
Support employees — especially those who are client-facing and involved with business development/sales — by finding out what gets them interested and excited and what they are comfortable with. Accommodate preferences to drive engagement when possible.
To really set your company apart, provide a list of easy-to-replicate events/activities. Include in-person and virtual options, detailing cost, contact information and timelines that meet a variety of needs. Taking care of some preliminary legwork will enable people to more easily take the next step in creating opportunities to network on the company’s behalf.
3. Promote Accountability
Communicating priority and access to resources, however, may not be enough to ensure employees follow through and network consistently. Accountability measures are essential too. These can be positive in nature, like recognition of individual and team networking efforts that lead to positive results. Seeing what colleagues are doing to create opportunities and drive business reinforces the importance of relationship development and encourages commitment. Incentivizing event attendance and participation is also an option, especially when teams are slow to reengage or inconsistent with it.
Setting expectations that employees follow through and show up or log onto events they register for is also critical. Being a consistent no-show negatively impacts individual and company reputations.
Drive Business Forward
Improving your team’s networking baseline begins with communicating the importance of relationship development and then providing support and accountability measures to succeed at it. The time and resources you invest in building up employee efforts to increase visibility and influence will drive business forward.