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Find time to put yourself about

Relationship-building (networking if you must) is a good thing. But why, what, where, when, how and who?

There are several reasons why. It’s better to understand the people you work with.

There are many times when you need input into a problem – a peer’s previous experience, an expert’s knowledge, a friend’s sanity check – and the wider your circle the better the input.

Such contacts are often a brilliant source of new ideas or opportunities.

And, of course, there’s the networking – it only helps your career if there are lots of people who think well of you.

How, when and where are style issues. There are those, let us call them bullshitters, who are good at making the most of every contact, who can work the room, memorise names and maintain an exhaustive address book.

But we ordinary introverts prefer meaningful conversations and need a framework for this. I list the people I want to see and fix a meeting with them. I start by telling my story – what the company is doing, what issues I’m handling etc – and then, because my ‘meetee’ has been chosen for common interest, the conversation goes where it will.

I’m not trying to achieve anything specific so there’s no need to drive it to anywhere. And I can honestly say that something good comes from every meeting, sometimes something magnificent.

What and who are the big questions. Peers are important for sanity checking.

Arrange a quarterly dinner with five of your opposite numbers, attend conferences, pick a circle of close friends in similar but non-competing jobs for soul baring.

Routinely diarise meetings with work relationships – suppliers, customers, banks and advisers. Get insights from experts – consultants, academics, journalists and potential suppliers. And don’t forget internal relationships – your own subordinates, colleagues, manufacturing operations or union representatives.

Making the time is the only real discipline needed; everything else flows easily.

  • Neil Chisman is a director of several companies and a member of the Financial Reporting Council.

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