The Workplace Collaboration Series: How to Build a Better Professional Network

By Daisy Hernandez, Global Vice President of Product Management, Enterprise Collaboration at SAP

SAP Jam’s Daisy Hernandez sits down with influencers in enterprise collaboration, for external perspectives on how people communicate in the workforce. Today’s Q&A is with Dorie Clark, adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and contributor to Harvard Business Review.

Collaboration tools should empower employees to connect with other teammates, industry/company experts, partners and other third-parties that are close to the business. However, recent research shows that the majority of business leaders are not interacting as much as they should with both internal and external stakeholders. With the ability to make new connections every day, Dorie Clark explains how to forge relationships with professionals outside your network for a holistic perspective of business and the world of networking.

Dorie is a marketing strategy consultant, professional speaker and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business ReviewTIME, Entrepreneur, among other respectable publications. She is the author of Reinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), which has been translated into several other languages and her most recent book, Stand Outwas named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. Magazine and was a Washington Post bestseller.

Today’s conversation centers on the networking in the digital era based on Dorie’s recent article in Harvard Business Review, titled “Start Networking with People Outside Your Industry.”

Daisy Hernandez (DH): You wrote in Harvard Business Review that it’s important to connect with professionals beyond your expertise. Why is this so important in the digital age?

Dorie Clark (DC): There are two main reasons it’s essential to connect with professionals outside your area of expertise. First, you put yourself at risk if your network is too narrow. The corporate world is changing fast and if your network only consists of your immediate coworkers, you have very few people who can help you if your job is in jeopardy or if you’ve been laid off. Second, a limited network translates into a limited perspective. If everyone in your network has the same background, it’s highly likely they’ll also think alike and see problems in the same way, stifling innovation. Those are two important work-related reasons. A third reason why a diverse network matters is personal fulfillment – life is simply more interesting if you have connections with everyone from architects to bakers to zoologists.

DH: You also outlined multiple strategies to expand your professional network – which approach do you think is the most impactful strategy? And, which one is your favorite?

DC: Perhaps the best and easiest strategy for expanding your network is asking the people you respect which contacts of theirs they think you should meet. People tend to know others like themselves, so if you have a filmmaker friend, she probably knows other people in the arts, and can help expand your network in that direction. You’re outsourcing your networking to your best and most trusted contacts, so they’re almost certainly going to have good suggestions for you.

DH: What is the role of technology in helping people make these connections?

DC: Technology makes connecting with others easier than ever before. Every week I have video calls with new contacts from around the world, whereas in the past I would have had to settle for a voice call (which doesn’t have the visual immediacy) or wait until the person visited my city, which could be months later. Of course, the trick is using technology effectively to follow up and keep in touch; many people drop the ball after the initial connection, rendering it moot.

DH: We at SAP advocate for enterprise collaboration with context, so that systems are structured to make it easier for relevant employees to connect and share information. So, why should you seek out people in places where there could be fewer commonalities and understanding of your career compared to people in your industry?

DC: In the short-term, it makes more sense to rack up connections in your own industry – after all, these are people with whom you could theoretically do business tomorrow. But, that’s a bad long-term strategy. Instead, you need to cultivate a network that is both deep and broad, because that breadth enables you to thrive in the long-term, since you’ll be staying on top of new trends and perspectives, and accessing new most others don’t have access to.

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