4. Manage it, and work it - An article on professional networking would be lacking without discussing LinkedIn (http://www.Linkedin.com), the largest, most intuitive business-networking site in the world. It is by far the most robust tool in an IT professionals network management arsenal.
Lets say that you meet someone through Wyrkplace, BNI, or Jigsaw, or you happen to obtain a few business cards at a recent chamber of commerce event. There is no better place to begin learning more about that person, and how they can benefit your company and your clients than LinkedIn.
LinkedIn serves many uses. For example, it can help you find new contacts by recommending people who may have something in common with you, whether through a common acquaintance or shared personal interest. In addition, you can choose from a limitless number of special interest groups to join. No matter the use, LinkedIn is the single best place (outside of your MS Outlook Contacts list) to manage your professional network. But keep in mind that to make the most of LinkedIn, you need to spend time maintaining your connections. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to be a phone call or two away from a new relationship with someone that you would like to meet. LinkedIn has set the standard for managing a professional network, and it requires a commitment, so get on, sign up, and spend a few minutes a week getting closer to Kevin Bacon.
5. Analyze emerging issues and share your ideas - In the IT industry, one of the most effective means of bringing a network to you is to share your knowledge in print. Never fancied yourself an author? Thats okay, think about it more like sharing your opinion with the world. Pick a topic that you are passionate about, explain your point of view, and offer advice.
By developing thought leadership persona, you might find that people will seek you out to chat. Writing can take a little time, but it can payoff big. When people conducting research find you, they will find your content, and that can have a positive effect on building your credibility in the marketplace. Blogs are a good way to create and publish content. Once you have subscribers, you have effectively established a network.
6. Help someone else develop their network - A very seasoned colleague of mine at another firm always begins our discussions with a simple question: How may I help you? Many people are surprised at how many professionals they actually know; people that can form the basis for a network.
Once you get out into the mix, people are invariably going to want to get to know you. If you do meet someone, ask them that simple question and they are likely to share a piece of themselves with you. In return, the best way to help yourself develop your network is to help someone else develop their network -- the concept that Givers Gain, which is the motto of BNI. It is a transcendent idea which does, in fact, work.
Much like a network diagram, designing a professional network begins with a theoretical architecture that can actually decrease inherent risks for your career and extend your capabilities and professional reach benefiting not only you and your team, but also your employer and future clients.
By spending a modest amount of time creating the proper network design and utilizing some of the tools above, you will be well on your way to creating circles of influence. Even if you are already a technically savvy executive, having a strong professional network and being recognized as a thought leader in your arena can be just as powerful for you and your organization.
Richard Davis is a partner in Grant Thornton's Business Advisory Services practice where he specializes in enterprise risk management and information technology strategy and alignment. For nearly a decade, Rich has been delivering business consulting services to C-Level executives in the Information Technology, Finance and Operations functions for a variety of organizations in the consumer products, manufacturing, technology and financial services industries. For more information on this and other topics important to CIO's, you can contact Rich directly at 617.543.9647.