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News & Press: IoDSA in the Press

Networking can curb shortage of skilled directors

02 April 2013  
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South African directors sit on more boards than directors in other countries. According to research by credit bureau Inoxico, on average, board members of SA’s 20 biggest companies also sit on 14 other boards – around twice the average of seven board positions in Europe.

"Part of the reason for this is that traditional networks are perpetuated by the current incumbents on boards when board positions are filled,” says Ansie Ramalho, Chief Executive of the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA).

"However, the IoDSA believes that by learning networking with others, would-be directors will be able both to access business skills and raise their profiles in the business community – thereby enlarging this sought after pool of qualified directors.”

Build mutually beneficial relationships

Taking charge of one’s career path may begin by simply attending a networking event where one is likely to meet with others and form mutually beneficial relationships.

According to author Helen Nicholson (Networking: How to get your black belt in business success), who addressed IoDSA members at a recent event, the secret to effective networking lies in putting effort into building authentic relationships with those to whom one might add value, and vice-versa.

"The best networkers are curious about others and regard networking as a long-term career strategy,” she says. "Strive to nurture relationships even if there isn’t an instant connection. It’s not about big-game hunting, it’s about farming.”

Also, Nicholson says the best networkers operate from an ‘abundance’ mentality. "Networking is not about 50/50 exchange, but if you’re not getting anything back from a business relationship, you’ll eventually stop giving.”

Build your personal brand

As Nicholson explains, more doors open in business for those with the most powerful personal brands. "Survey colleagues and friends to find out what you’re already famous for – and tweak and change if necessary. The more clarity you have about who you are, the more confidence you’ll inspire in others.”

When it comes to consistency in one’s personal brand, Nicholson recommends paying attention to everything from one’s personal appearance to tone and timbre of voice. She also cautions regarding the careful use of social media.

Pay attention to those you’re networking with

Given the difference between men and women in terms of their communication styles, Nicholson says it’s no surprise that men generally network better than women.

Although women are naturally relational beings, "Women’s natural reserve can get in the way of networking,” she says. This is true for example where women may feel awkward about contacting a mere acquaintance, whereas men – whose business networks are on average five times the size of women’s – are less likely to feel sensitive about making such a contact.

Build your networking toolkit

Nicholson says it’s important to have your networking resources on hand at all times – and to know how to use them properly. "Keep business cards neat, clean and available!” she says. "Learn to treat others’ cards with respect, paying particular attention to cultural practices, especially when dealing with business people from other cultures.”

Nicholson also recommends perfecting a short, sharp summary of who you are and what you do. "One’s 10 second ‘elevator speech’ should include just enough information about yourself and how you solve others’ problems through what you do to secure their interest in you.”

Working the room

Finally, when it comes to networking events, it’s important to practice the skill of ‘working the room’. Nicholson suggests approaching groups of three people, listening to hear if what they’re talking about interests you, and then using one’s body language (nodding, smiling, eye contact) in an attempt to be invited into the group.

"Make sure you have something to say, as small talk leads to big talk,” she says. Reading widely, especially publications that don’t target people like you, is particularly helpful.

"Arrive early and stay late – that’s when the best networking happens,” concludes Nicholson. "And most importantly, follow up your records of people you’ve met with the intention of giving; adding to their lives. It’ll only be a matter of time before they respond.”

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