THE NETWORK INSTINCT:
WHY BNI IS AN ADVANTAGE
Work hard. Keep your head down. In doing so, you will be recognized and advance. Not true.
Face it. It's the people with the large Rolodex who are moving ahead in the workplace. The old saying, "It's who you know," is spot on, but not in the negative way that is has come to be used.
We are witnessing the redefinition of work at all levels from physical labor to knowledge. We need to move faster and with agility to compete. There is a move to empowered organizational principles such as flat organizations and teams. Many people resist change, but with change comes opportunity. Networking is one of those opportunities, and it becomes a primary tool for success if we understand it better, practice it, and actually do it well.
Just a few decades ago, the primary work contract was to find a job – not a career – stay there until we are 63 years old, and then retire and sit on a beach for the rest of our life. That contract was broken by many employers, and job security became a fairy tale in the traditional sense. Companies no longer considered employment a life contract, but some people still do. It's a myth.
During this decade, the free agent, small business and entrepreneurship became real and primary choices for many people as we tried to find professional freedom and expression; however, the free agent choice cannot exist in a traditional paradigm of big business institutions. In other words, while many of us have become entrepreneurial in our own businesses, or behave that way while working for a firm, there are many who still believe that the old contract of work – staying in one job for life - is still in place. As a result, many people are ignoring the value of a network. So while the work contract has changed, people and relationship behaviors have not changed.
In many cases, people have been taught by their institutions that networking is not necessary and not a good and valuable behavior. It may be that networking behavior is suppressed on purpose by institutions to keep us right where we are, but regardless of the reason, some people still believe that networking is a political behavior. They believe networking is used for the sole purpose of finding a job or is something that only sales people do and is a form of self promotion and politics. They would be right if life existed in a cubicle. It doesn't, and we need to engage in the world; we need to know how to network.
In my research, I set out to prove that there was a better return on investment (ROI) for people within a network if they held a strong relationship with people. The theory was that we would need to have better and deeper relationships to achieve more success and ROI.< In other words, good relationships meant more ROI value. The study surveyed 10 BNI networking groups (184 BNI members) in the greater Manchester NH area. In the study 3642 dyad (2 people) relationships were measured for strength to determine if stronger relationships traded more referrals than weaker ones. In other words, will I receive more referrals from my friends or people who consider me their friend?
My theory was proved wrong, but it was proved with a statistical level of significance, that the further away our relationships are from one another, the more referrals we will trade. In other words, BNI members provided more referrals to people they did not have a good relationship with yet. What people are doing, instinctively, is providing more referrals to people they are trying to complete the relationship gap with – extending gifts to people they want to be their friend.
In reality, networking is an instinctual behavior. Once taught out of us, networking is now a critical tool for success and is emerging at a rapid pace, as evidenced by the Internet and social networking applications, such as Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, that are taking hold because they are more useful to us at this point. Fundamental change in our economics, politics and business is creating a new paradigm of operations, new tools, new applications and new opportunities if we are looking for them. Look for them.
Networking groups and on-line communities will become the norm. It's only a matter of time. BNI has proved it works, and the research discussed proves that networking – networking that provides a return on investment – is something we all do instinctually when we get outside "business as usual."
The network instinct – go with it.
Dr. Russ Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, a Bedford-based executive leadership coaching firm. He can be reached at (603) 472-8103 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be twittered @RussOuellette or Facebooked – Sojourn Partners.