Professional Networking – Well Connected But Not Well Respected

June 10, 2009 at 1:02 am 8 comments

For many of us, our professional networks are an integral component in our past, current, and future success.  As a result, we vigilantly watch over those relationships and selectively grow our networks with the right blend of new connections.  We carefully invest the time in building mutually beneficial relationships and enriching the connections of people in our network.

In fact, I highly doubt that there is a person engaged in networking that would disagree.  However in my networking activities, I have noticed an alarming trend that seems to directly challenge that concept.

I have recently come across a number of highly connected people that, while engaging, visible, and well-liked, are not professionally respected.  I know…it doesn’t make sense…but I have found myself in the following types of conversations with troubling regularity:

  • I have to connect you with [name], you’ll really like them!  Just one word of caution (usually as a whispered aside); [name] isn’t that reliable of a business person…be careful of what they tell you or promise.
  • Have you met [name]?  I’ll connect you.  There’s one thing about [name] that you need to watch out for…
  • Ooow, you know who you HAVE to meet? [Name].  They’re awesome…well awesome in this one area…ignore all of the other stuff – you’ll know what I’m talking about – but listen to them about xyz.

So what is going on?  People I respect are suggesting that I invest my time in connecting to people that are not respected.  Have we attended too many empty networking events?  Has networking become a numbers game? (Quick: how many connections do you have in LinkedIn?) Are we losing our way?

I don’t think we have a pervasive problem.  While I know there are some people that talk a good game but can’t deliver on their promises, I think that we are honestly and authentically engaging one another.

I believe this problem of ‘well connected but not well respected’ is simply due to a lack of focus and action.

Perspective | My Take On Networking

I consider myself to be a relative novice in professional networking.  My real education began just three short years ago when I happened to hear Keith Ferrazzi speak at a ‘new media’ conference.  A uniquely authentic speaker among a group of narcissistic Internet marketers, I was driven to pick up his book Never Eat Alone.

As I read through Never Eat Alone my eyes were pulled wide open by the possibilities of networking…and all of the opportunities I had let pass me by in my career.  Prior to this epiphany I was an accidental  networker , waiting for opportunities to find me; all too casually floating in and out of business relationships.  So I began taking responsibility for creating and maintaining my professional network through value-added connections.

Over the last few years, especially in my days of small business entrepreneurship, I came to find the value of committed, responsible networking by:

  • Connecting with great people.
  • Sharing experience, knowledge, and perspective.
  • Extending networks by facilitating thoughtful, relevant connections.

I certainly made some mistakes as I explored the professional wilderness of networking.  Learning from my experiences (and mistakes) I have created the following personal philosophy for networking:

  • Return Value – Equal To Or Greater Than The Value I Take (more on this in a few paragraphs)
  • Help Create Meaningful Connections
  • Follow Up
  • Deliver
  • Listen (even when I think I have a better story, idea, or anecdote)
  • Stay True to My Personal Brand
  • Engage Authentically
  • Apologize (see previous statement on mistakes)

I am still continuing to improve and grow my networking philosophy.  With each new connection I try and build on my approach.  For example, I have recently been learning a great deal about personal branding through the unique professional experience of Cindy Kim.  Cindy’s perspective on personal branding blends traditional PR with Social Media and journalism, which has led me to focus on building a message that can be distributed beyond my comfort zone of Internet mediums.

By adhering to my philosophy, I am able to explore and integrate new concepts into my networking approach.

Back To The Problem | Connected But Not Respected

To me professional networking, at its core, is simply creating personal relationships that are motivated and measured by business objectives and goals.  Most of those relationships are initially built on personal rapport and shared interests.

As a result, there is a personal bias that understandably creeps into our networking engagements.  Generally, we like the people that we choose to bring into our networks.  And so we afford these people generous professional allowances because we like them as individuals.

As business people, however, we ultimately demand results; at some point a professional relationship has to be challenged by its ability to concretely return value.

Timing now becomes a key determiner of success.  The more time interacting on a basis of rapport (lunches, coffees, meet-ups, emails, conversations, Retweets, blog comments, links shared, etc.) before a real challenge, the greater the likelihood we will introduce personal bias.

So, to me, the general root of the problem is that we invest too much time in building personal relationships without a true professional challenge.  Consequently, we create incredibly high professional expectations based solely on personal interactions; unrealistic expectations that simply cannot be met by that individual’s professional ability.

Rapport + Shared Interests = Personal ‘Like’ Bias
Personal ‘Like’ Bias x Time Without Challenge = Expectations
Expectations > Actual Ability = Connected But Not Respected

Right, so I explained professional networking with an equation…moving on.

The Solution | My 1:1:1 Theory For Productive Professional Networking

I believe we can help solve a majority of the ‘Connected But Not Respected’ problems by quickly assessing and creating honest, realistic expectations for our new connections.

Generally we make new connections through large meet-and-greet events or initial, casual conversation made through introduction (phone, email, etc.).  From there we usually find ourselves in the one-one-one ‘meet up’ scenario where we look to personalize a connection over lunch, coffee, cocktails, etc.  While there is usually a great deal to talk about (we’re all exciting, interesting people right) there is little sustainable value.

Enter My 1:1:1 Concept

My 1:1:1 Concept is a networking practice that I recently created and have been field testing in my new connections.  Inspired by David Allen’s philosophy of ‘next actions’, the 1:1:1 is a framework for creating value-added actions that will follow a networking ‘meet up’.

1-1-1 Networking Framework

Breaking Down the 1:1:1

Each person in a networking meeting has a 1:1:1 responsibility:

  • 1 shared, collaborative action
  • 1 individual action
  • 1 week; both the shared and individual action can be, and must be, completed within one week of the meeting

The Collaborative Action

  • This is an after-meeting action that require a reciprocal or collaborative effort by members of the meeting.
  • The collaborative action can be as simple or as complex as you agree to – provided that action can be completed in one week…no exceptions.
  • Simple Action Examples:
    • Both active Twitterheads?  Agree to actively follow each other on Twitter and respond to at least one post during the week.
    • Connect via LinkedIn.
  • Complex Action Examples:
    • Create a new online networking community via Ning based on organizing like-minded professionals around [shared interested].
    • Collaboratively write/record an article/blog/vblog.

The Individual Actions

  • An after-meeting action that represents an item of unique value that you can return to your new connection
  • Here again, the individual action can be as simple or as complex as you agree to – provided that action can be completed in one week…no exceptions.
  • Simple Action Examples:
    • Sending a link/information on a relevant topic that was discussed.
    • Facilitate a connection within your network.
  • Complex Action Examples:
    • Review and provide your feedback on a developing initiative where your expertise/experience/skill can provide unique perspective (e.g. email campaign, financial plan, sales operations process, etc.).
    • Provide some direct insight into a business (e.g. analyzing website analytics, competitive analysis, etc.).

How The 1:1:1 Can Help

Through the early introduction of actionable follow up in our networking efforts, we quickly have an idea of:

  • A new connection’s ability to deliver on their agreements.
  • The level of quality in a new connection’s work.
  • A sense of how well we collaborate with a new connection.

With this framework we are balancing personal rapport with measurable results; creating expectations built on experience rather than promise.

There will always be those networkers that cannot ‘walk the walk’ and will need to be cast out of our sacred circles.  However, I believe we can positively affect the trend of ‘Connected But Not Respected’ by recognizing our responsibility to maintain a strong network and challenge one another to create results rather than just rapport.


Entry filed under: Professional Networking. Tags: , , , , .

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy Kim  |  June 10, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Great blog post Chris. This is a great topic given how quickly things are changing, especially when it comes to social networking and building out your personal connections. Before LinkedIn, Facebook and other social networking sites were limited to the people you knew really well (either through work or your circle of friends). The introduction of the new Web 2.0 tools have made it easier to connect outside of your comfort zone (the only trouble is you have no background information on that person except for a quick bio and what they write about). Either way, I think what people have to remember (regardless of whether you are inside or outside your circle of network) building and maintaining your personal brand is just as critical. Just because you’re connecting via twitter doesn’t mean upholding your brand experience is less important when you meet someone in person. In fact, it’s just as important. The advent of the social web has made it easier to build a broader network but also when you look at the bigger picture, it’s still a small world. That person might know someone who knows someone… and the cycle continues. Either way, anywhere you connect, be genuine, honest, prompt, respectful, reliable, ethical, etc. You get my point.

    • 2. Chris Hewitt  |  June 14, 2009 at 6:25 am

      Great point Cindy and thanks for the comment. Today’s accessibility of information and new connections demands a new level of rationalization and productively review of those people that we include in our circles. As you mentioned, we have to preserve our personal brands; and doing so requires that we assess: 1) our ability to return value in the networking relationship and 2) the capability of that connection to reciprocate. Connecting has now become the ‘easy’ part of networking…our focus needs to shift to the real value of networking relationships.

  • 3. Don Leatham  |  June 10, 2009 at 11:27 am

    Chris – Very insightful and helpful. Thanks for showing how important “adding value” is to personal brand and professional networking!

    • 4. Chris Hewitt  |  June 14, 2009 at 6:26 am

      Hi Don. Thanks for reading and sharing the feedback!

  • 5. Bryan Ehrenreund  |  June 12, 2009 at 9:23 am

    Chris…very interesting and thought provoking! Thanks for taking the time to write and share your thoughts. This is a great sociology project and observation you’ve made. Web 2.0 tools have definitely accelerated the speed with which we now have the ability to connect but it doesn’t replace the base core fundamental values many of us place on developing long lasting relationships whether they are in our personal or professional lives. Such values as honesty, trust, integrity (your word is your bond), respect and living up to the commitments one makes are all vitally important in my view and serve to increase the chances for a successful relationship. Unfortunately you might be touching on a breakdown in these core values within our society as a whole which only gets amplified at warp speed with today’s technology and social networking tools.

    I’m a half glass full type of guy so I like to be optimistic and give everyone the benefit of the doubt regardless of what others say then form my own opinion. I hope what you’ve experienced isn’t a pervasive problem and only disconnected expectations for what each wants from the relationship but if it’s not your suggested 1:1:1 approach will definitely aid those who need help in quickly identifying potential problem relationships early on.

    I also think and hope a good dose of common sense should prevail. Should we find ourselves in this situation we should all quickly move on! Focus and nurture the mutually beneficial professional relationships. Business as in life is to short!

    • 6. Chris Hewitt  |  June 14, 2009 at 6:40 am

      I really like the sociology perspective Bryan…you’re right, there is likely a whole socio-experiment that could be conducted to understand the evolution of networking in our ‘2.0’ (and soon to be ‘3.0’) world. I agree, it seems that the distance we can put between ourselves in today’s world of networking has led to a growing (although not pervasive) issue of carelessness with our networks. A quick email here, a direct message there and we can quickly infect others’ networks with non-value added connections.

      I also take a ‘half full’ approach to life/business/networking and work to find the good in a situation. I have found that the 1:1:1 positively supports that the ‘half full’ spirit as I can approach a new connection, even one with some caveats, objectively and with an open mind…knowing that I will be able to quickly (as you rightfully put it) assess this new connection for sustainable value.

      Really interesting commentary…thanks for sharing!

  • 7. rsaling  |  June 24, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    This is a great post and comments Chris. After reading 2 books: Referral of a Lifetime and Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty, I try to be a consistent follower of this approach adding value and following up, etc.
    I have ran into several people in the last nine months who I question the point of their networking. There is no follow through or delivery of promises. When I am at an event, I try to assess a mutual value quickly and ask for a follow up meeting to discuss further. If there is not a mutual value then I prefer not to take up the person’s time away from meeting someone who can be of benefit. It is so easy to connect just for the sake of it but true business relationships suffer. If I were in sales, I wouldn’t try to sell you a $2000 piece of equipment on our first or even 2nd meeting. The rapport and trust need to be there first.


    • 8. Chris Hewitt  |  June 26, 2009 at 8:00 pm

      Great points Richard, mutual value and rapport are essential building blocks to new network connection…the sales analogy is so true!

      Thanks for sharing.


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