Networking is a word which can put fear into the heart of even the most confident and experienced leaders, often conjuring up images of making small talk and swapping business cards in a room full of strangers, however we all have professional contacts and investing the time to cultivate and develop this network can reap benefits both personally and professionally.
Your professional network is made up of the people who you have regular contact with for business purposes, this can include current & former colleagues, industry experts, peers in similar roles, other members of professional bodies, your suppliers and customers. People in your network can help each other to solve problems, recommend solutions, make introductions, and learn from one another. People with a strong network can leverage these relationships to help improve their businesses and advance their careers, and having a strong network can help you in many ways, some of which are often unforeseen, but may include
- Developing stronger business relationships
- Keeping up with new ideas
- Challenging your perceptions by seeing how other companies do things
- Increasing your knowledge
- Raising your reputation and profile within the industry
- Creating new business opportunities
- Finding career opportunities
The good news is that you already have a network, even if you are just starting out and with some focussed actions you can grow this into a valuable resource.
Steps to start developing your network
1.Map out your existing network – which might look something like this:
2. Define your goals – Identify what you want to get out of your network. Is your focus on generating sales, developing professionally, giving something back, or improving your professional reputation & profile?
3. Identify opportunities for you to get involved – if this is new to you some good places to start might be:
- Joining a Professional Body
- Attending Institute of Hospitality Events
- Joining a IOH Branch Network Group
- Attending other Industry Events, Shows and Forums
- Attending local industry meetings such as Hoteliers Associations, Pubwatch organisations etc
- Joining local institutions such as Chamber of Commerce
- Finding a mentor
- Becoming a mentor to someone else
- Visiting your competitors or new hotels in your area
4. Use Social Media – Using social media for networking could warrant its own article but it can definitely be a valuable resource to help you grow your network. Sites such as Twitter or Instagram can help you research key people of influence in advance, and to keep up to date with industry news and topics. LinkedIn is a great tool for maintaining professional contacts, especially those who you might not see regularly, however the focus should be on nurturing and developing relationships with people you already have some connection with rather than gathering hundreds of connections with people you don’t know.
It is part of our responsibility as leaders to get out of our own properties sometimes and get involved, visit places, see things and meet people. So, think creatively and look for new opportunities to grow your network.
A good network is based on creating strong authentic relationships built on trust, rapport and common interests. It can be more important to start with a smaller network of strong relationships rather than trying to amass lots of new contacts who you do not know very well.
Building this network will also involve giving something back to others who want to network with you. Regardless of your position, there will be lots of people who look up to you and would value your experience and expertise in your field, so be prepared to help others by engaging with them and sharing your knowledge.
As a summary I would like to share two examples of how I have grown my own network over my career. I will share one example which has helped me personally, and one which has helped me professionally.
i. In 2015 I became a mentor for the Institute of Hospitality’s first ‘Mentor Me’ program where I mentored an aspiring manager. A year later when I applied for the Master Innholders Scholarship I was able to cite this (and other activities) as something I had done proactively to give back to the industry which was instrumental in successfully gaining a scholarship to attend the General Managers Program at Cornell. Having completed the scholarship I then became part of the St Julian’s Scholars network, which in turn helped me to become a Fellow of the Institute, both of which are now key to my professional network.
ii. When I started working in Heathrow I began attending the local Hoteliers Association meetings, whilst I always enjoyed this network I often felt disappointed that few of the local hotels attended the meetings. Over the years, I became more involved with the association and became Vice-Chair, then Chair. Since then we have grown the membership and increased the attendance at our meetings from less than 10 people in the past to usually around 25 today. As this network has grown it has become more relevant, we have been able to influence things which have benefited all the member hotels. Also, as Chair I am often contacted by people looking to engage with us for various topics which often benefit both my own hotel, and the other hotels in the association.
Developing your network can take time and sometimes the results may take a while to show themselves, so be patient and think of the time you are spending as an investment in your future. A good network should give you energy, inspiration and motivation and will allow you to achieve things together that you would not be able to do on your own.
Richard Lee FIH is General Manager of Hilton Garden Inn London Heathrow Airport which is owned & operated by Pandox AB. Richard holds a Degree and Postgraduate Diploma in Hospitality Manager from University College Birmingham and is an alumni of the Cornell General Managers Program, he also has a keen interest in Hotel Real Estate and Asset Manager and holds a Certificate in Asset Management from eCornell. Richard is chair of the Heathrow Hoteliers Association, a St Julian’s Scholar and Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality.
Other networking information and resources:
Mentor Me – To take part in this programme you need to be a current member. It’s one of our most valued member benefits. Find out how to join the Institute of Hospitality.
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